The 70-Hour Work Week

It's a beautiful Sunday morning and I'm grading reading logs while my wife is out hiking.

This has been more or less the norm for the last three years of my life. I learned  slowly that teachers work over 70 hours a week. This is not an exaggeration.

If you're a teacher, I'm going to tell you how we can get back some of hour free time. If you are a student, a parent, or someone who cares about the future of education I'm about to tell you why we need to take back our time.

But first the numbers, which will probably look familiar to a lot of you:

A teacher:

  • Is usually on campus from around 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 or 6 p.m. at night.
  • Goes home and spends a few hours of grading and lesson planning, shopping for supplies, and calling students' parents
  • Frequently attends trainings and special events on the weekends
  • Falls asleep thinking about issues with specific students, what do do if the new lesson plan doesn't work, or things he forgot to buy for the lab.

I did an exercise recently where I calculated all the time I spend at work, traveling to and from work, shopping for things I need for work, doing outside prep work and grading. I tracked the average amount of money I spend on supplies for the classroom and labs, and calculated how long I "worked" for those items based on my hourly rate.

If my results are typical, you spend about 74 hours a week being a teacher.

Take Back Your Time

Yesterday someone suggested a daily practice recommended by a business writer named James Altucher. Basically what he recommends is that somewhere in the course of your day you brainstorm 10 new ideas.

I'll write another post sometime about the benefits of doing this. My 10 ideas of the day are ways that we teachers can get more free time in our lives.

Why is this important?

If you're a teacher, or someone you care about is a teacher, you already have your answer. For everyone else, here are the benefits of a teacher who follows any of my suggestions:

  •  Teachers will come up with more fun and interesting activities
  • Students will learn more, and have more free time themselves as the result of a more flexible class
  • Our society will be filled with more intelligent, creative, self-directed people
  • Local economies will get a boost as teachers spend more time (and money) at restaurants, shows, art fairs, and public events
  • The teaching profession will attract more ambitious, creative, hard-working individuals

The 10 Ideas

This is not a perfect list. This was a 10 -minute brainstorm over my first cup of coffee. Some of these ideas won't work. You can probably think of better ideas. But it's a start. I'd like to do a blog post on each one of these, if I ever have enough free time.

Anyway, here you go:

  1. Flipped classroom. You've heard of it. Are you doing it? I'm getting there. This guy is years ahead of me. I'm even making a small side income by selling video biology lessons to a homeschooling organization
  2. Hand off full responsibility to your students for anything that needs to be memorized (dates, formulas, vocabulary, etc.). Make them use Anki or show them how old-fashioned flash cards use to work
  3. Assign video games that provide practice in grammar, spelling, math operations, biochemical processes, etc. In a future post I'll show you some of these and tell you how you can design your own. Grade them based on their score in the game
  4. The teacher could help students create a blog and post their essays on it. Peers (and you) can post comments on the blog. Each student could be asked to critique one specific thing about an essay.
  5. Give students points for the amount of reading they do. They prove they've done it by completing a reading log that asks them to summarize and critique what they read. Let them "level up" as they acquire a certain amount of points.
  6. Create a research lab. This is meant for science class, but could be adapted to other subjects. The first phase is a "cookbook" where they follow very specific instructions for a hands-on activity. Once they've done a few of these, in a month or so you have them follow a task step-by-step that will lead them to the answer to a question you've posed. Finally, they are ready to write their own questions and design experiments to answer them
  7. Differentiate by levels of motivation. Students who really want to learn and students who really want to get an 'A' pose different sets of issues. Those who simply want to pass and those who don't care fit into another category. It's not hard to set up a classroom that caters to all of these groups. I'll show you how in a future blog post.
  8. Train students to use rubrics, and gradually give them more responsibility for grading themselves and each other
  9. Only require teachers to be present at a faculty meeting if they really need to be there. How many man-hours are wasted by meetings? Information can be disseminated by email and video. Surveys and voting can be done online. How often do you really need everyone in a room together to reach  decision? (This one requires the cooperation of administrators. Have you asked them?)
  10. Have kids present what they learned in class. If you follow the first several suggestions on this list, you can create a culture of self-directed study. Once you've done that, students will enjoy sharing (and showing off) their knowledge in debates, Socratic circles, and similar activities. You can grade them on the spot with a rubric which you've shown to them ahead of time.

OK, I know some of these ideas will piss people off. Even the useful ones will require yet MORE of your scarce time to set up initially. But isn't it worth it?

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