It’s not uncommon for teachers to clock in extra hours each day to ensure they meet students’ academic and social-emotional needs. But everything from answering emails to grading papers adds up: A typical teacher works about 54 hours a week—with just under half of that time devoted to directly teaching students, a new survey finds.
The nationally representative survey of more than 1,300 teachers was conducted by the EdWeek Research Center between Jan. 9 and Feb. 23 and commissioned by the Winston School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College. It was designed to replace the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which ran for more than 25 years and ended in 2012.
Teacher dissatisfaction appears to be at an all-time high, the survey found, with heavier workloads in part to blame. While teachers have always, to an extent, known that good teaching takes a lot of time, and workloads overall have increased over the years, the pandemic has complicated their schedules even more, say teachers.
In the last two years, they’ve had to juggle regular teaching duties with covering classes during staffing shortages; preparing for sudden pivots to remote learning; figuring out how to get every student to grade-level learning after interrupted instruction; and supporting students with greater mental health needs.
“In general, teachers work more than 40 hours a week during normal times, and this is anything but normal,” said Lynn Holdheide, senior adviser for the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes for Research, which provides technical assistance and consultation to states and districts to best support their workforce.
While teachers cited the need for better pay to match the amount of work they put in each week, they also said support systems to help manage their workloads are crucial. It’ll take logistical changes such as reworking school calendars and prioritizing the social-emotional needs of both students and teachers, they said.
Teaching involves more work than the general public recognizes
Those who do not work in schools may point out that many other professionals also work more than 40 hours a week, including taking work home with them. Those outside education often make arguments that teachers get summers off.
But if you take a closer look at what actually goes into good teaching, how much time that takes, and how teachers are compensated for that work, you’ll find that teachers’ work weeks are in many ways just as taxing, if not more so, than in other careers, and that they receive much lower pay and less public respect, Holdheide said.
The general public needs to consider that teachers’ work doesn’t end with the day’s final school bell. And it’s not just about lecturing at the front of the classroom.
Teachers look at data to assess how students’ learning is progressing and where they need to be. They care for the well-being of multiple children at a time. They may not teach in the summer, but they review curriculum, study and understand academic standards, learn about and prepare to use new research-based learning strategies, and more.
“A good teacher is constantly developing and growing and that does take time,” Holdheide said.
Yet in the new Merrimack College Teacher Survey, 74 percent of teachers slightly or strongly disagreed that their salary was fair for the work they do.
And 63 percent slightly or strongly disagreed with the idea that they have a lot of control and influence over their schedule such as the classes they teach and non-academic duties they take on, which Holdheide said can contribute to anxiety.
Patrick Jiner, a 7th grade math teacher at Lake Middle School in Denver, said that lesson planning can take up a lot of time that competes with other demands in and out of school such as being able to attend his daughter’s recitals.
If you teach the same grade for multiple years teachers can use lesson plans more than once, he added, but if you’re switching grades or need to cover other classes, regular lesson planning takes up more hours.
And sometimes teachers get overlooked for school leadership positions if they’re unwilling to take on extra work outside of contracted hours, Jiner said.
But very often the extra work is driven by students’ needs. For instance, Jiner had a student get into a fight with their parents and confide in him about it. It took 45 minutes to talk to the student, talk to the parents, and in that particular case, contribute to a police report about the incident. It was an emotionally draining experience after a regular work day.
“As a teacher, you’re more than just a teacher. We’re parents, we’re friends, we’re counselors, and I think we have this drive in us that we just push forward no matter what’s going on,” Jiner said. “And sometimes it’s at the detriment of our own mental health and our own stress.”
The pandemic complicated an already complex workload
If teachers were already noticing heavier workloads over the years, the pandemic exacerbated the challenge of not having enough time to get everything done within set work hours, teachers said.
Karen Lyon, a transitional kindergarten teacher at DeVargas Elementary School in San Jose, Calif., had to make her own lesson plans for remote instruction during the start of the pandemic, but also had to draft instructional guides for parents to be able to help their children learn at home.
At the same time, thanks to the pandemic, students and their families are displaying greater social-emotional needs. Teachers are still processing those changes.
Afia Lewis, a 6th grade math teacher at Ardmore Avenue Elementary School in Lansdowne, Pa., was overseeing younger students recently when a kindergartner pushed another student off a bench. When Lewis asked why she did that, the student said their peer “tried to share food and it’s COVID and it can make me sick so I just tried to get it away from me because I didn’t want to die.”
In another instance, Lewis was trying to teach an introduction to algebra. When she checked in with her students at the start of the class, one confided they were scared because of the fighting in Ukraine. The student didn’t know Ukraine is in Eastern Europe, and far from the United States. So the class briefly veered into a geography lesson and discussion of what the war means for the U.S.
“They have to be able to digest feeling safe first, before they can digest what a variable is,” Lewis said.
And that’s all emotional work Lewis has to juggle with addressing her own daughter’s needs.
Shifts between remote and in-person learning and the lack of substitutes to cover for teacher vacancies took away crucial hours needed for lesson planning, one of the things teachers wish they had more time for. And when teachers took time off for illness or other reasons, leaving another teacher to switch gears, it often led to feelings of guilt.
“I developed a sinus infection early in the year, and could not come in until I had a negative COVID test,” said Lyon. “And I felt horrible about it.”
Support for teachers involves logistical changes
While teachers hope for more pay that fully takes into account the labor they perform each day and week, they argue that there are also strategies that can be put in place to help manage all the responsibilities that can’t be shrugged away.
Lyon from California once had access to support teachers in the district who would go to different schools to model lessons and share lesson plans and ideas for how to teach specific classes. That helped to shave time off teachers’ prep work in a collaborative way. But thanks to budget cuts, she said, that support and time for collaboration has ended.
“We need to have the time to collaborate so that we could brainstorm off of each other and develop lessons,” Lyon said.
The Lewis and Clark Montessori public school in Damascus, Ore., switched to a four-day school week this school year, said middle school teacher Caitlin Spanjer. So while the workload hasn’t gone down, it’s more manageable because of the time Spanjer has on Fridays to get it all done, including handling parent and professional development emails, lesson planning, and more.
In the five-day workweek, if Spanjer attends a six-hour professional-development training on a Saturday, her weekend is cut short without giving her time to either rest or catch up on work for the week ahead. In a four-day workweek, attending that training feels more manageable.
Jiner, the Colorado teacher, has seen success in time management after his school leadership fought for the school to have its own calendar separate from the district. That gives the school leaders agency to set specific days off that work for their staff.
“That gives us extra hours of planning time that we would not normally have if we were following the district’s calendar,” he said.
Still, as national conversations around teacher pay continue, Holdheide, of the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, said there’s an opportunity to take lessons learned from the pandemic and act on them.
That means administrators rethink what they are asking teachers to do on a daily basis and what student expectations are. It means looking at whether there are opportunities to leverage remote learning to bring in a specialized teacher for virtual classes in rural areas where otherwise it may be harder to hire; it means asking the broader school community whether school hours and days should shift.
“We’ve been talking about re-envisioning the way education K-12 is happening,” she said. “Maybe this is just the push that will finally get us over the edge to make some of these changes we’ve talked about.”
Data analysis for this article was provided by the EdWeek Research Center. Learn more about the center’s work.
Staff Writer, Education Week
Ileana Najarro is a reporter for Education Week covering race and opportunity in schools across the country.
A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 2022 edition of Education Week as Here’s How Many Hours A Week Teachers Work
How many hours a week do teachers actually work? ›
“In general, teachers work more than 40 hours a week during normal times, and this is anything but normal,” said Lynn Holdheide, senior adviser for the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes for Research, which provides technical assistance and consultation to states and districts to best ...How many hours do teachers work in a day? ›
Hours of Instruction in the Classroom: 1,170
Every school is different, but for the most part, teachers are in the classroom for about six hours a day. Personally, I have a 25-minute lunch, but this is usually spent with students as they make up work or use my classroom as a quiet space.
In fact, the average teacher brings an additional 2-3 hours of work home with them at the end of each school week. Most schools are in session for roughly 36 weeks a year, so that adds an extra 100 or so hours onto a teacher's yearly workload bringing us up over 1900 hours a year.How many hours a week do teachers work in the US? ›
The 54-hour standard also may be used for teachers since accurate time records aren't kept. For other exempt employees the district may work with individual employees to determine the number of hours worked in the preceding 12-month period to establish eligibility and calculate intermittent leave allotment.How many teaching hours should a teacher have? ›
Teachers can be required to teach on 190 days, the maximum length of the pupil year. They can also be required to work a further five non-teaching (usually inset) days, the hours for which count towards the 1,265 hour limit.How many hours do most teachers work? ›
Professor of Economics - University of California, Santa Barbara.
Full Time in California
According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, working 40 hours per week qualifies employees as full-time workers.
It is acknowledged that the weekly limits of 23.5 hours in a post primary school and 25 hours in a primary or special school will include any time a teacher is involved in class cover.Do teachers work 55 hours a week? ›
Teacher workloads have reached an unsustainable level. Our research of over 18,000 NSW public sector teachers has highlighted that teachers are now working an average of 55 hours per week.Why is teacher burnout so high? ›
The burnout crisis in teaching has been exacerbated by a national educator shortage — enrollment in teacher preparation programs has plummeted, a trend amplified by the pandemic, and schools throughout the U.S. are competing for a shrinking pool of qualified teachers.
Should a teacher teach for full 8 hours a day? ›
As per Section 13 of the Republic Act No. 4670 or the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, any teacher engaged in actual classroom instruction shall not be required to render more than six (6) hours of actual classroom teaching a day.How many hours is a full teaching load? ›
While most people expect to work a 38-hour full-time week, our public school teachers are working far more. In fact, teachers are working an average of 54 hours per week (43 hours at school and 11 hours at home) due to the increasing administrative demands on them to meet compliance standards.How many hours is a full time primary teacher? ›
Wholetime Teacher - means a teacher who is contracted for 28 hours 20 minutes per week in a Primary School and 22 hours teaching per week in a Post-Primary School.How many hours do teachers work 2022? ›
For the academic year 2022/23, this has been changed to 1,252 hours. This time is known as 'directed time'. The 1,252 hours limit (for 2022/23) is pro-rated for part-time teachers.How many hours is 4 days a week teaching? ›
Well in my experience full time teaching is around 60 hours a week. Much more than full time. So, 4 days is 40 or 50, depending on how much you're expected to do on top.Do teachers get paid for 52 weeks a year? ›
Well, the short answer is Yes. But that's not an entirely popular answer. There's a (perfectly understandable) misconception that teachers are only paid for their teaching weeks, and that this pay is then spread over 12 months for convenience.Why is teaching exhausting? ›
Teachers work longer hours than many other positions, which often leads to burnout and stress. Some of the many contributing factors are lack of resources, work-life balance and political issues. Teachers are losing what little time they have for planning due to sub shortages, which is stretching them thin.How many lessons should a teacher have in a week? ›
The internationally recommended class size is 40 students per teacher. The team proposes that secondary school teachers should handle a minimum of 32 lessons of 40 minutes per week.Do teachers have a heavy workload? ›
Teacher workloads are as high as they have ever been, or even higher for those who are tasked with adapting their teaching to a digital education. There are ways that teacher manage workloads, however. A few simple actions can go a long way towards a better work-life balance.How many hours of sleep do teachers need? ›
So, to sum up, the bare minimum for teachers is 7 hours of sleep per night.
How many hours is full-time 4 days a week? ›
The state labor code 515 (c) definition of full-time hours in California is 40 hours per week, and those who work less than 40 hours are defined as part-time workers.Do teachers get money when they retire? ›
Teachers' pensions in most states, including California, are defined benefit systems. After retiring, teachers receive pension payments in a manner defined by the rules of the pension system. Most workers pay into Social Security. California government workers pay into CALPERS. California teachers pay into STRS.Are teachers entitled to a lunch break? ›
It should be noted that all teachers are entitled to lunch and break times. However, the length of break and lunch times will be different from school to school.How many months sick pay do teachers get? ›
SSP is payable to any employee for a maximum period of 28 weeks in any spell of sickness absence. Where teachers are receiving full sick pay, SSP will form part of that sick pay. Where teachers move on to half sick pay, SSP will be paid on top of half pay until the period of sickness absence reaches 28 weeks.