BY CLAUDIA SWISHER
“Boy, Swisher, you must really like your cushy teaching job … the three best reasons to teach: June, July, and August, right?”
Too many non-educators do believe as a teacher I’m under worked and over paid. I knew I spent a lot of time at home, before and after school hours grading and recording and planning … but even I was surprised last week when I logged my 320th hour since the beginning of school.
Eight weeks of extra work for my day job since August. These are hours on top of the full days with 150 students, meetings, planning during the contract day. Duty, and other supervision. All within the contract day.
I’ve worked 348 hours extra…in approximately 140 days of school so far this year. Full days at school and then 348 hours of extra work outside the school day. I’ve worked two full months extra, while doing my full-time job these last six months or so.
So, what do I do in those hours? Mostly grade and record student papers. I have taken papers to Washington, DC, to Santa Fe, to Chicago, even to Germany! I am never without student work to read and grade and record. All the research shows students learn best when they receive timely feedback on their work. That means a fast turn-around on papers they turn in.
In order to do that, I grade at home, at night. I’ve organized my week so I can sit at home in my chair and grade. Some school nights I grade for three hours; some nights, only one. Over the weekend I typically spend 10 or more hours grading and recording.
I also log considerable time outside the school day planning. Another piece we know from education research is that we must use every moment of the class … bell-to-bell teaching and learning. My planning must be pitch-perfect. I can’t waste my students’ time fumbling for work, running to the office to make copies, or trying to “wing” a lesson.
Of course, this level of planning allows me to be flexible and respond to the demands of the day and the little glitches along the way: technology not working, unexpected assemblies, fire drills, massive student absences for activities or illnesses.
Every teacher can add his or her own unexpected interruptions; but solid planning allows me to be ready for the unforeseen and act accordingly.
All this brings me to my motivation for keeping track of my hours outside the classroom. Is it to beat my own chest, trying to prove I’m better than others? Is it to turn myself into an education martyr? Is it to fuel my own anger in this climate of teacher-bashing? Absolutely not!
I’ve always been curious about the uncompensated time teachers spend after contract hours. Years ago I read an article about a teacher who did what I am doing, just keeping track, documenting. He noted that when all his extra hours were added to his contract time, he worked more than a 52-week year – he just did it in many fewer days.
I am tired of non-educators complaining about our “six-hour days” and our “180-day contracts.” I knew instinctively I worked more than that, but I had no evidence, just my gut feeling. I know others will take data seriously, and that would give me a way into the conversation about teacher time. So, with the help of a handy iPhone app, I started keeping track … to see where I spend my time.
I wanted to see if my time reflected my values. I value genuine, personal responses to every student. I value quick turn-around on graded papers; I value seeing my students read my comments on their graded papers the day after they turned them in. I value that dialogue we can have. I love seeing my students put down their books when I give them back their papers, so they can read my comments. As a friend pointed out, that’s true, authentic assessment of student understanding, no bubble-sheets needed.
I value planning, researching, and creating lessons and work for students that is authentic and relevant and important.
I wanted to see if I indeed spend my time outside the classroom on these parts of my job. I’m happy to say the evidence does support my values. I’m proud that I have evidence that my practice matches my values.
Now, let’s return to that conversation at the beginning of this piece … teachers have such an easy job, with all that time off. Let’s see if the myth stands up to reality. What does 348 hours of extra work look like in the school calendar? I’m going to assume an eight-hour day, 40-hour week for the rest of my discussion.
We started school on Aug. 18 this year … a late start. May 29 will be teachers’ last day. We were off Labor Day, two days for Fall Break, three at Thanksgiving. Our Winter Break this year was short: only seven days. In January we were off for MLK Day, in February a day for Presidents’ Day. March will see a five-day break, and then the long haul of April and May with no breaks.
That adds up to 20 days of enforced break, not for my convenience, not my choice, within the school year – that adds up to four weeks. Summer break will be 12 weeks, give or take a day or two.
So, my 328 hours of extra work so far this year means that I’ve worked through every “vacation” day, including Spring Break, which I haven’t celebrated yet. Four weeks of my 328 extra hours has already been invested back into the school year.
Four of my eight weeks of extra work is already accounted for, and the other four will begin chipping away at that summer break people love to beat me up with … I’ve already worked all of June, and I’m into July. My 12-week summer has now become an eight-week break, but this isn’t the end of the tale. We have over nine weeks of school left, and I’ll continue to count my hours. That three-month “vacation” will be mighty short once I subtract all the days I’ve worked for free, essentially volunteering my time.
Am I the only teacher working extra hours? Not by a long shot. All teachers come early or leave late or take homework to do at home or come back to school on the weekends. Some do all that, and work with students during the weekend. All teachers put in extra time. All teachers don’t choose to document their investment as I have decided to do. But if they did, we’d see the amazing power generated in this country by its teachers.
Some teachers have told me they’ll never keep track of their extra hours. They’re concerned they might begin resenting their jobs and their time if they actually saw the hours accumulate as I am seeing mine. Some are concerned this will appear to be pulling a “poor me” act.
I can only speak for myself. I am documenting my investment in my students and my practice to make sure I’m using my time for the right reasons. I’m documenting my hours to have solid data to counter those critics who tell me I’m overpaid and underworked. I’ll be able to show my hours of work, and I’ll be able to express my conviction that I’m a stronger teacher for these extra hours, and my students have benefited from my time as well.
The Oklahoma Observer’s front-page headline [March 10 issue] asks the provocative question: Are teachers overpaid? Dunno. But I surely know I’ve chosen to over-work myself in order to do the job I’m proud of.
Interestingly, my app “pays” me $10 an hour for every hour I log … That $3,280 would help my family a lot, and might go a long way to soothe their feelings of abandonment for all the extra hours I spend on schoolwork.
UPDATE: Since I first wrote this piece, I’ve continued to read and respond and grade and plan and attend meetings and communicate. I’ve now reached 358.75 hours of off-contract time. Now nearly nine weeks of time donated to my students and to my school.
– Claudia Swisher teaches at Norman North High School and is a National Board Certified Teacher. She is a frequent contributor to The Oklahoma Observer.