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Teachers Work Fewer Hours than Other Professionals (And We're Not Counting Summer Vacations)

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at 6:00 AM

National data shows that on average teachers work fewer hours per week than people in other professions--nearly three hours a week less. That's according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ohio’s Teacher of the Year skipped breakfast.

Worthington middle school teacher Tim Dove had a cup of coffee at home and was in his classroom by 6:45 Monday morning. Twenty minutes later students began to wander in. Some chatted with Dove, the 2011 Teacher of the Year, about everything that happened the night before; others made a beeline for him to get help with last night’s homework. It’s not uncommon for him to be with a dozen kids by 7:15 a.m., Dove said.

About twelve hours — and one cafeteria lunch — later, Dove would pack his bags to head home to his wife and dog and three hours grading practice research paper citations, a set of essays and a geography quiz and preparing for Tuesday’s classes.

Dove says work days like this are standard for him and his colleagues at Worthington’s Phoenix Middle School, which has a longer school day and a different model than most traditional public schools.

But they're not the norm.

National data shows that on average teachers work fewer hours per week than people in other professions--nearly three hours a week less. That's according to this 2008 analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (brought to our attention by the Buckeye Institute). The analysis is based on interviews from 2003-2006 conducted as part of the American Time Use Survey.

The data includes both time in the classroom and time spent grading papers at home. It doesn’t include vacations and doesn’t account for the intensity of different types of work.


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About the study
  • The data is drawn from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey. The survey provides nationally representative estimates of how, where and with whom Americans spend their time.
  • The data used for this analysis covers nearly every day of 2003–06.
  • Survey respondents were asked to account for how they spent their time during the 24-hour period from 4 a.m. the day before the interview to 4 a.m. on the day of the interview.
  • Survey data was collected for all seven days of the week, so it captures time spent working on the weekend, early in the morning and late at night.
  • For this study, “teachers” refers to people whose main job is teaching preschool-to-high school students.
  • The other professions to which teachers are compared include health-care professionals, business and financial operations professionals, architects and engineers, social services professionals and managers, as well as legislators, news reporters and podiatrists.

[/module]Jeffrey Keefe is on the faculty at Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations. He's also a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank that supports public policies that "protect and improve the economic conditions of low- and middle-income workers."

He says the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ findings are in line with other research on how much time teachers spend working.

"The study is showing you what the average teacher does. And the average teacher is probably showing up at 8 a.m., leaving around 3:30 or 4 and, later in the day, grading and preparing and putting in a couple more hours at home," he said.

The required work day in the Cleveland public schools, for example, is 6 hours and forty minutes, including a 40-minute lunch break.

There are a couple reasons why the national data clashes with some teachers’ experiences, said Rachel Krantz-Kent, the author of the BLS study:

  • Because teachers are more likely than other professionals to hold more than one job, when some teachers talk about working long hours, they could be factoring in the time they spend at all their jobs combined.
  • And, because the data just accounts for one’s main activity during a particular time, a teacher who graded papers while watching TV at night might identify TV watching rather than school work as her main activity.

“It’s easy to argue that if one was mainly watching TV than this is how it should be recorded in the data. However, if the teacher was also providing some attention to grading papers during this time, she may not feel like she had much of a break from work,” Krantz-Kent wrote.

[related_content align="left"]And, of course, there is individual variation: Just like some office workers come early and stay late while others clock out right at 5 p.m., some teachers work long days, while others only put in eight hours.

Compared to teachers in other countries, U.S. teachers work more hours per week, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an organization including 34 countries founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.

But the OECD survey just asked teachers how many hours they worked in a typical week on school-related activities and then multiplied that by the “typical number of instructional weeks per year.” That’s a less accurate way of measuring how people spend their time than conducting telephone surveys, the method used in the BLS analysis.

When we got Tim Dove, the Teacher of the Year, to describe his day to us that Monday evening, he stepped us through it, hour-by-hour, as accurately as he could.

Dove has been teaching for 31 years.  As an Ohio State University adjunct professor, book author and educator, he’s not the norm, and his work day isn’t necessarily either.

“All I can tell you is what I do and the people I work with here do,” he said.

But Dove said his schedule—and his job—suits him.

“I like coming to work. It's my vocation and my job and my work: It's all three,” he said. “It always has been.”

Tomorrow: See how two different teachers spend their days, hour-by-hour.

Note: A previous version of this story misstated the how data is collected for the American Time Use Survey. Data for the survey is collected through telephone interviews.

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