In Conclusion

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Finally, after nearly a month, they were caught. Two of my pupils, who for several weeks have been entering classes they don’t belong to, and whistling mid-class. One teacher succeeded in catching them red-handed, and brought them to my manager for a hearing. It was a harsh talk, and it included a real threat not to let them finish the year. And they’re seniors and all. But as difficult as it was for me to thing they would not graduate together with the rest of the class, I was relieved that this story finally came to an ending.

But the sense of relief was short-lived, for immediately after the talk with the pupils my manager asked me to stay in the room with him, and reprimanded me for not being as involved in the story as I should have been, letting it go on for nearly a month. He said that if I had only set aside some time the issue could have been dealt with long ago, and then we wouldn’t be forced to threaten the kids they won’t graduate.

I went home severely agitated, and decided that I wasn’t going to put up with this any longer. You give everything you have, never stop thinking, trying, planning how to do things better, and in the end, get shouted at. That’s it, tomorrow morning I’m letting my manager know that I’ve had enough. I’ll finish this school year with my pupils, of course, but that’s it. I’ll try to get back into academia, maybe go in a completely different direction, but of this I’ve had enough.

And then I realized that tomorrow was Monday, and my manager won’t be at school. And how can I threaten to resign if he isn’t even there?

Hold on. Tomorrow isn’t Monday, but Friday. And it’s Hanukah vacation anyways. And clearly, my pupils can’t go in to classes they don’t belong to, since all the teachers know their pupils by name and by face…

That’s the dream that woke me up a couple of days ago.

You don’t need Freud to reveal the guilt that I feel as an educator for not doing enough to allow my pupils to grow, learn, mature, to be happy.

And no, this says nothing special about me as an educator. These are sentiments that I know many of my colleagues share. Since this, perhaps, is one of the aspects in which the teaching profession is one of the toughest – you can never tell yourself that you’ve really succeeded, that you’ve completed your role.

But wait. Before you explain to me that I’m wrong, that other professions are much harder, that in return for my difficulties I’m getting excellent working conditions, that no one forced me to do this job…

I have no need for your pity. Nor am I trying to compare myself to anyone else. My choice of this profession was done freely and out of a number of options, and most days I am thankful for having the privilege of being a teacher and an educator. Despite all that you’re going to read here, the bottom line is that I truly believe there is no profession more exciting, more satisfying or as meaningful as education.

But our education system is in trouble. And it’s not because of the teachers working in it, but because its structure and functions are inadequate to the needs of 21st century society. And what I seek to do in this post is to shed light on one aspect of this inadequacy, and to offer a different, perhaps more radical point of view, as to what needs to be done in order to provide our children with high-quality education.

So how many hours does a teacher truly work?

Last summer I was approached by the economic section of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation to respond to the issue of the vacations teachers have. The clip,  which to my great surprise received quite a large number of viewings, came out – like any three-minute clip attempting to tackle a serious and complex issue – somewhat superficial and more aggressive than i thought it would, but it touched on a real question, which kept my busy on a daily basis throughout the passing year – how many hours does a teacher work, but for real?

The issue of school vacations is obviously not new, and arises anew every summer. It is related, of course, to the question of teachers’ salaries, but also to much broader issues of the organization of the system as a whole, as I shall attempt to show here.

As an educator, dealing with the number of hours I work is rather annoying – after all, education is a matter for the heart, not the clock. It is all about relationships, about quality and not quantity. But the two cannot really be disconnected, both from my point of view as an employee, and from the point of view of the pupils and the education they receive. So even though it isn’t the most important thing, and although I would rather deal with the how and why, I decided – early in the previous school year – to keep track of the number of hours I work every day, divided into types of activities.

So, what did I find there?

During the year in which I carried out the count, between october 26 2016 (which was the first school day after a vacation, which allowed me to prepare the Excel file for monitoring my work hours) and october 25 2017, I worked 2,090 hours.

365

If we divide this number by the number of days there are in a year, we’ll get 5 hours and 42 minutes of work each and every day. But you’re right – such a count isn’t relevant to anything.

So, if we divide this number by the number of days in which I was supposed to work according to the school year, we get 11 hours and 48 minutes of work in each of the 177 days of the school year. However, last year I stayed at home with a sick child 4 days, and took two more sick days for myself. Assuming that no one thinks I was supposed to work during these days, we get 171 days during which I was supposed to be working. This results in 12 hours and 12 minutes of work every day. By the way, if you just add to the 177 days of the school year 104 days of weekend vacation, you’ll end up with 84 days of vacation I get as a teacher. By all accounts outrageous.

monthly

But let’s take a deeper look at things. According to the Israeli National Insurance website, in the examined period the were 252 work days. If we subtract from this 12 days of vacation, which are the minimum required by law (before taking into account seniority and other factors), we get 240 days during which I was supposed to work last year, if the government were to equalize teachers’ vacations with those customary in the rest of the economy.

ספירת-ימי-עבודה

So, if we divide my 2,090 work hours over the past year by the number of days a “normal” employee works, we get only 8 hours and 42 minutes every work day. Whoopee! I’m just like everyone else!!!

Just a couple more figures, before we take a look at the contents of this work.

Over the past year I worked, on average, 3/4 of an hour every Friday, and in general I worked on every third Friday.

Saturdays? Over the past year I worked in 28 of the 52 sabbaths, and on average I worked one hour and 40 minutes every Saturday.

And again – don’t respond with ‘there are plenty of employees who work on weekends. No one should be forced to work on weekends, and it is our responsibility as a society to make sure that is made possible.

Now – why is all of this important at all?

by-assignment

According to the collective agreement between the teachers’ union and the Ministries of Finance and Education, a teacher’s FTE is composed as follows:

teacher-position

Looking back once more at the actual results, we see the following:

365

Several conclusions stand out:

  1. The share of actual teaching hours is half of what the collective agreement defines (and even more, since in counting teaching hours I included individual hours as teaching hours).
  2. The share of hours dedicated to preparing materials and to checking exams and papers is twice as allocated by the agreement.
  3. The share of hours dedicated to meetings and teacher learning is almost 4% more than planned for.
  4. There are assignments the collective agreement doesn’t take into account at all.

Oh, one last important piece of data – I performed all (or nearly all) of the teaching hours i was allocated. Honest.

What, in my opinion, can we learn from all of this?

  • It is not possible (and in my opinion not desired, either, but that’s a story for another post) to increase the number of teaching hours, since every frontal teaching hour requires more than two hours of overhead. The only way to do this, if we still want children to learn more hours yearly, is to increase the number of teachers in the system.
  • Teachers work much more than the general public believes. And that is fine. As the calculations show, teachers don’t necessarily work more hours than employees in other professions. The biggest problem is the manner in which teachers’ work is organized along the year, with no flexibility at all – for the teacher herself and for the system alike.
  • Another thing, that doesn’t arise from the data but I find hard to dispute – there is great variance between teachers in the composition and nature of their work. There is a difference between teaching disciplines, between teacher roles, stages of education, etc. But all teachers work hard, and a lot. If only the school, in collaboration with local PTAs, had flexibility in determining the composition of teachers’ assignments to adjust between those who need more frontal hours and less overhead, and those who need the opposite; between those who excel in individual teaching and those who are wonderful lecturers, the aggregate working hours of all teachers in the school could be utilized much more effectively.

So, is it really a matter of quality, not quantity?

When I am forced, in order to fulfill the requirements of my position, to work many hours at home well beyond formal work hours;

when the overwhelming feeling is of an endless chase after assignments;

when it is unclear what are a teacher’s precise areas of responsibility, leaving everything to the responsibility of the teacher;

and when the bureaucratic demands – reports, meetings, teacher’s learning… continually grow in time requirements, continuously sending a message of distrust in the teacher’s ability to carry out her job,

then it becomes clear from where comes the guilt. It is clear why teachers feel unable to reach all of their pupils. It is clear why parents feel, that the education their children receive is inadequate. Because it’s not just a feeling – we, the teachers, find it more and more difficult to successfully carry out our job, and it is all our children who suffer from this.

True, this tracking of work hours in anecdotal, and I am far from claiming to represent such a large public. No individual teacher can, and that is why a widespread, national survey of teachers’ work hours is required. Sadly, it seems that none of those responsible for the direction of the education system – neither the ministries of education and finance, nor the teachers’ union – have an interest in conducting such a field study, and they prefer the status quo, the bickering over this addition or another to teachers’ salaries, which – important as it is – has no real chance of changing the grave situation our education system is currently in.

So, I’m done counting work hours. Just like before I started counting, my main occupation is with relationships, interpersonal connections, the welfare and wellbeing of my pupils. Just like before I started counting, it is clear to me that if only I had more time, I could have done so much more. The guilt remains. But so does the immense satisfaction from this job, the happiness I find in working with teenagers, and the belief that despite it all, I am able to do something, small as it may be, to make this world a better place.