How Much Time Do Teachers Spend Teaching?
The chart above comes from this link on PISA’s report showing how much time teachers spend teaching each year. In Governor Christie’s recent state of the state address he called for longer days at school and a longer school year. I wonder why he feels this way. I also wonder why “the one-size-fits- all” proposal is ever taken seriously by anyone who understands education. Does every community need a longer school year? A longer school day? Look at the chart above. Look carefully. Look at the amount of days United States teachers teach. 180. Now look at the amount of days teachers teach in South Korea, one of the highest scoring countries on the most recent PISA tests. 220. Here is the kicker. Look at the number of hours American teachers teach versus the hours South Korean teachers teach. 1,097 versus 836. It’s not even close. American teachers teach over 200 hours more than their South Korean counterparts in 40 fewer days every year. Yet, our scores are significantly lower.
I choose not to get into a discussion about the scores right now because that is not the purpose of this blog. You can read about how I feel about the validity of PISA scores here.
So, American teachers teach more hours in a shorter amount of time and the Governor is asking for more days and more instructional hours? How about school all year long? What? Are you kidding me?
Not really. I actually would like to see school all year long as the Governor is somewhat suggesting here. I would argue that two months off is excessive. As a former Japanese teacher I can tell you what two months off does for language learning. Math and other subject area teachers would probably share my same opinions on this.
Why a longer a school year when the chart above shows we already teach more than 200 hours longer than those with whom we are trying to catch up? Well, I don’t want to increase instructional hours, but I want to make them more meaningful. This is the difference between the Governor and me, and it is a significant difference. Let’s keep the hours the same or even lower them, but spread out those hours across the whole year and provide teachers with more time during the day as other countries with whom we are playing catch up to on the PISA test scores. We can still have summer vacation. It would just be three weeks. We could extend the length of some of the other holidays too. I digress though because my point is not to discuss vacations but to reexamine learning as well as how we structure the typical day for teachers. Since teachers have the biggest impact on student learning shouldn’t we look at what they need to be more effective?
You see, all of the ed reformers out there point to the international benchmarks such as PISA to validate the need for the changes we are experiencing today in our profession: Common Core, SGOs, SGPs, new evaluation systems, and more and more high stakes tests such as PARCC here in New Jersey. What these ed reformers refuse to look at is what exactly are these countries doing with their teachers that we aren’t doing? They rarely discuss that because it is far easier to just change the standards, add more tests, and proclaim from their corporate and political offices that they are improving education. Are they? Show me the evidence that their proposals and policies are proven solutions to what ails our system.
What exactly do South Korean teachers do with over 200 more hours a year not teaching? What do those teachers with less instructional time in all those countries such as Finland (another top 10 country on PISA whose teachers teach 677 hours in a 188 days) do with the extra time? They have more time to create more effective lessons and assessments, collaborate, mentor new teachers, and other vital forms of professional development. Maybe this is why their students achieve better on the international benchmarks. Maybe what those who want ed reform need to be looking more closely at is the amount of time we provide our teachers to prepare, deliver, and assess in order to provide a top-notch college and career ready education and learning experience that is needed for an ever-increasingly more competitive world.
Start by looking at what countries like South Korea and Finland do, and look at how they treat those in the teaching profession. Start there. Please. We really do not need anymore accountability measures and certainly do not need anymore high-stakes tests. Does anyone really think that the vast majority of teachers aren’t doing all they can to educate their students? Is making them teach more with less time going to make them better?
I do not support the status quo. Are there changes needed in education? Yes. Do we need to rethink learning and school? Yes. Adding more instructional hours is not the answer however. We need to do what all those other countries do for their teachers.
So here’s my new rule. Politicians and corporate reformers are no longer allowed to discuss the need for ed reform and how our schools are falling behind (PISA, TIMSS, etc.) without also discussing the need to reform the typical teacher day as all other countries such as South Korea and Finland do. Why don’t they do this? Why is this not part of the conversation? That is the question I have for Governor Christie and all the other ed reformers who don’t quite understand what is really needed to reform, not deform, education in my humble opinion. What do you think?