The Job that Never Ends

December 20, 2010


Teachers usually have to teach lessons for somewhere between twenty and twenty four hours a week and, we can probably take twenty one hours as a reasonable figure. These lessons are meant to be thoroughly prepared, with a range of activities (i.e. not just working out of a textbook) all aimed to be at exactly the right level for the class, and differentiated for differences in learning style and ability within in the class. If each activity takes only four minutes to plan on average then even a three part lesson with no differentiation would take twelve minutes to prepare and longer if homework is to be set. To plan a lesson with the variety it is meant to have, would take at least twenty minutes for every hour, so planning would take seven hours a week for the truly conscientious teacher. Teachers normally have form tutor responsibilities as well, that usually take about twenty five minutes a day, or about two hours a week.

Of course, students are entitled to feedback for their work. A school’s marking policy is likely to require that students books are marked every couple of weeks. Marking is not meant to be a matter of “flick and tick”. Work is meant to be assessed and levelled and formative written targets included which should take some time and reflection to do properly. If a teacher averages ten classes of twenty five students and each book takes five minutes a fortnight to mark then that will require about ten hours a week for marking books. Every student should also have homework at least once a week which will again have to be marked and levelled, which even at three minutes per homework per week would take another twelve hours a week. Even if there may be marking that can be put off until the holidays, or weeks without homework, then the marking of coursework and mock exams should more than fill any lost time.

During the week a number of other responsibilities are likely to be scheduled. “Duties” before school, after school or at break are likely to take up at least half an hour in total if you include the time to get there or back. Meetings (both in the form of briefings in the morning and after school) are meant to be limited to a total of an hour a week but rarely are.

According to the school rules, teachers should be giving detentions for everyday offences like refusal to follow instructions, lateness or not working. In many schools teachers have to do their own detentions, so if the policy is followed (and this one really gives away the fact that this is all based on the unlikely situation of a teacher doing everything they are supposed to do) then we would expect every teacher to do half an hour of detentions each day. A similar amount of time would be spent on referrals if teachers were to follow the discipline policy to the letter.

We’re not done yet. Parents also deserve feedback. Teachers are expected to attend something like five parents’ evenings a year (I believe the limit may be six, although obviously it is less for teachers who only teach some year groups) each of which is about two hours long. Every student is meant to have a written report at least once a year, and often shorter progress reports for at least one other time of year. Fortunately schools are moving towards computerised report systems which can be done by ticking boxes, although some still expect a certain amount of personalised comments that may take longer. Even if we can cut this down to five minutes per student then we are still talking about another twenty hours a year. It is probably also not unreasonable to suggest that another ten hours a year will be spent on other forms of communication with parents, such as letters home, phone calls to parents of misbehaving (or even high-achieving or improving) students, following up absences or concerns, although this does seem to vary drastically between schools. Altogether communication with, and feedback to, parents should account for about forty hours a year, or one hour a week.

So let’s total this up for the week:

Classroom activity and preparation: 30 hours

Marking: 22 hours

Duties and meetings: 1.5 hours

Detentions and referrals: 5 hours

Communication with (and feedback to) parents: 1 hour

So we are looking at something around 60 hours a week, or half as much again as the average full-time job. Now there are people who thrive on long hours, but teaching is one of the most stressful jobs there is and teachers usually need some time in the week to unwind, and as a graduate profession where early retirement is common it is hardly rare for teachers to have young families to look after, and we should recall that the majority of teachers are likely to have at least some extra-curricular activities or additional responsibilities which increase the workload. Given these hours, it hardly seems possible that many people could survive for long in the profession.

Of course, the (very) obvious explanation is that nobody, and I mean nobody, does the job to the letter. Students mark their own homework, or homework is not set. Marking is not to the required standard. Lessons are lacking in variety and differentiation (or worse, they simple aren’t terribly appropriate to the students). The discipline policy is rarely followed to the letter (I have often felt like I am the only teacher in a school spending an hour a day following up behaviour, even though I know many teachers experience far worse behaviour than I do). So what does it really matter?

Well, all of the things I have listed can be demanded at the drop of the hat. Managers can always ask for evidence of extensive planning; check on homework; check marking; criticise failure to manage behaviour, and generally require the full sixty or more hours of work. Any teacher is vulnerable to the manager who decides that they should be made to do their job to the fullest possible extent. New teachers will always be overwhelmed by what can be demanded of them until they realise where there is room to slack off. We are all inadequate teachers if subjected to enough scrutiny.

The reality of this means that:

  • Many people quit teaching feeling they aren’t good enough to do the job properly.
  • There is a constant incentive to follow a career path that gets you out of tough classrooms and into either a less challenging school or a management position.
  • Teaching is ideal for bullying managers; they can always find some failure to use against a colleague.
  • Most school policies (discipline, teaching and learning, assessment, performance management) are simply a fantasy that nobody will ever follow to the letter and are only there to cover up what is really going on.
  • In the average school teaching no longer attracts people with extensive outside interests. It will not suit aspiring novelists, local councillors, amateur musicians or indeed people with any hobby (other than blogging or drinking) despite the fact that such people might have much to offer.
  • Conscientious teachers will suffer. Leaving teaching (or at least leaving teaching in battleground schools) can feel like waking up from a coma to discover the world has moved on without you.

Unfortunately the political mood appears to be towards worsening rather than improving the working conditions of teachers. Academies, in particular, are adding to the duties described above with covers and more lessons. The chances of an honest appraisal of what teachers can or cannot be expected to do seems further away than ever.




  1. You’re spot on with this (especially the bits about blogging and drinking being the only hobbies we can have these days).

    This year I’m not teaching, but last year when I was I totted up the wordcount of the coursework I was marking for just my AS classes as over 500,000 words. Add to that GCSE assignments and coursework, A2 investigations and drafts and you were into the millions. Now, I’ll defend coursework as an effective tool for assessment, but when you look at that huge pile of marking you have to wonder when you can fit it in, alongside all the other areas you talk about above.

    I’m genuinely unsure of what the answer is to this problem, but I think you identify many of the issues accurately.

  2. At my FE college, we also have 24 class hours/week. We survive by not issuing homework and never marking anything except the coursework required to pass the course.

    To reduce preparation, classes often have a 10 minute teach then a 70 minute activity.

    All this changes dramatically for the annual class observation where we make sure that all the boxes (like differentiation) are ticked.

    A vocation has become a drudge and it’s such a waste.

  3. This is a fantastic post – thanks for taking some of your valuable free time to write it! I get so pee’d off at all those people who moan about our long “holidays” and how we only work half a day. And as we know, your estimates for the time it takes to mark and plan lessons are on the conservative side. I’m now, on the first Monday of the Christmas break, sitting here marking recent assessments and recording all the data – it’s taken me about 2 hours to do just one class, and that’s without having to write substantive comments.
    I have two schemes of work (plus resources) to finish which I’m also going to try to do today because I don’t want them hanging over me and I’d like to spend a bit of time with my family this Christmas!
    I sometimes think that the only thing keeping me in the job is the fact that in the area in which I live, I’m unlikely to be able to find anything else that will pay me enough to be able to support my family (I’m only on M5, but that’s still better than the average pay around here!) or mean that I can at least be at home with the kids during the holidays even though I work half the time.

  4. I love Dilbert too, probably for the same reason. I’ve thought about doing a Dilbert for teachers but they’d never believe it.

    Don’t worry, you’re not the only one, they really are mad!

  5. you forgot to mention the mentoring of new aspiring teachers, which are not factored into our non contact arrangements. I have waved cheerio to my last student since i physically have not had the time to give him this year in our post offsted panic stations position. Our aspiring deputy vying for the due to be vacated heads position cancelled the teaching and learning session he had planned for our last meeting of the christmas term only because of the amount of pressure he had been subjected to and not for any christmas kindness on his own part.

    I spend every minute i am free with my 6th form students to get them through their coursework and exams, that is what matters most to me.

    • The despairing part is that Perry, Enemy of Education, ran partially on the “strong schools” we have in Texas. How can things ever get better if people lie about how bad they are?

  6. Not to mention that teaching one hour in a horrible class can be easily as exhausting as three hours of normal work (and ruin your whole day).

    Like having a difficult and wild class of 6-years old kids… hopefully never again!

  7. Five mins per book to mark? Three mins for homeworks? Including a formative comment, and a next steps target? Not in my subject. And then there’s BTEC… the endless ‘evidencing’, the reams of repetative paperwork… it’s enough to drive a person to drink (and blogging). The kids keep asking me why there’s been no school play this year. Perhaps one day I’ll tell them about the three am alarm or the all-nighter sessions that barely keep me on top of all the ridiculous hoop-jumping my ultra-ambitious head deems so utterly vital.

  8. As someone who doesn’t teach can I just offer every respect. I know I could not do it. I give numerous impromptu “lessons” to kids and adults but I would not last 1 year in our current school system.

    I just hope that you find enough of those rare occasions when a light goes on in a kids mind as they grasp something for the first time or have an interest awakened to keep you going through the slog of trying to teach those who have little motivation to learn amid the trials of the “system” you have so well outlined.

    Again I say respect!

  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by thesvelteone and thesvelteone, Andrew Old. Andrew Old said: The Job that Never Ends: Teachers usually have to teach lessons for somewhere between twenty and twenty four ho… http://bit.ly/hTaHDZ […]

  10. Right on the button. I agree that some of the estimates are conservative and I you didn’t include the summer term preparations for the next sept. New schemes of work for a new course every single year without fail. Every single year.
    However I always tell recruits straight away to ignore the official policies.
    They are not do able. But the job is…..

  11. Tactics:
    1. Spend 10 mins per lesson getting the kids to self mark homework. This require no planning and is very helpful for students.
    2. Marking books in class whilst kids are doing a quiet task. No need to Cary heavy books home and you only need to mark sections not the whole book. Everything can be glance marking. Takes 2 mins for one book so in 10 mins I have seen 5 kids.
    3. Set regular tests. Takes no prep time.
    4. Have students peer or self mark the test using green ink in the following lesson..this takes no prep and is superb for motivation and learning. I have rarely found a kid cheat or mismark. You can always remark any awkward questions later.

  12. I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said. What annoys me most is that heads always pull out the line of work, life balance whilst springing yet another new initiatives on you.

  13. 5. Intersperse scemes of work with ‘low impact’ lessons like videos, projects, straightforward practical tasks, poster making, quiet bookworm etc. Kids enjoy these and if used sparingly are beneficial.
    6. Use PowerPoints made by companies from time to time. Instead of ‘chalk n talk’ you have ‘click n talk’.
    7. Preperation and marking work rarely link to good teaching and learning for the kids. I know teachers who worked till 2 am prepping and had riots in the classroom. I know teachers who wrote detailed feedback to all home works and the kids just didtn care a hoot. Equally I know teachers who taught off the cuff and NEVER marked who had the kids eating out of their hands in all types of school.
    Provided you sidestep the petty beurocrats the job can be very rewarding and i hate to say it but 13 weeks holiday a year is hard to beat. Expect zero sympathy from a desk jockey with 4 weeks hols a year and a piss poor pension.

    • 7. ”Preperation and marking work rarely link to good teaching and learning for the kids. I know teachers who worked till 2 am prepping and had riots in the classroom. I know teachers who wrote detailed feedback to all home works and the kids just didtn care a hoot. Equally I know teachers who taught off the cuff and NEVER marked who had the kids eating out of their hands in all types of school.”

      See your point, Marking and proper prep often fails on the principle that to do it is so time consuming that it leaves the teacher completely drained and exhausted hence why to actually do the job ‘properly’ you are too tired to engage with the class a result and bad behaviour is inevitable. I know as I have done it myself-everything extensively done but it leaves you burnt out and it’s not sustainable, Worst advice I hear is that marking will diminish bad behaviour- truth is that the kids who care about marking generally are the ones who behave regardless, the kids liable to kick off couldn’t care jack what gets marked or what you have prepared.

      I think that prep for class does help somewhat with behaviour as it leaves you less stressed and you can get the kids on task,nothing is worse than entering a class with no idea of what you are going to do especially with a challenging class, but having said that the reality is that you still can’t have extensively planned powerpoints with singing and dancing activities for many lessons simply as there just is not time. To teach off the cuff requires a very good subject knowledge and experience of the curriculum, it also depends on the subject and on the class in front of you. With a challenging class you need to be very on the ball. For example as an English teacher of 1,5 years I can only really think of one topic now that I could teach off the cuff with resource free and just chalk and talk, with everything else I’d need at least a resource made or photocopied for each student.

  14. Spot on although, i am a poet and novelist who still tries to get on. It obviously helps my teaching but i have to hide it from SMT. Shame. I do so little school work and discuss amazing topics, discussions and work in class, all of which is more or less made up on the spot, it makes a mockery of the whole thing.
    I see others do ‘what they are supposed to’ which works out that they are on about £4 an hour.

  15. Posters have talked about not jumping through the hoops for a lot of the lessons. Well, in a small school that is just not possible. In Primary you HAVE to jump through the hoops every lesson because you are observed every week; the HT may just walk into your classroom, or a TA will say something, or a child will be grilled, or a prent will go direct to the HT. We also have at least 3 lots of marking every night which has to be done, books are looked at frequently by HT, DHT or subject leader in Eng, Maths. There are aspects of the list that primary don’t do, or do less of, but that is balanced out in other ways. Maybe the children are less in your face. The crappy paperwork is looked at each wweek and has to be done in the right way- and this is what killed me off.

  16. I am a teacher, of over 30 years, and I am quite sure that I did a better job of teaching when I worked in an environment where I was allowed to “run my own show” – certainly pupils & parents were delighted (I had the good fortune to teach in the independent sector). Nowadays I am required to tick so many boxes that I spend time looking for tricks to cut down the workload – it’s not what the job is supposed to be about. I may be a good “classroom practitioner” but am I really a better teacher? .. I doubt it.

  17. This is so interesting to read. Last Thursday (the day before the Royal Wedding), I decided to leave teaching, after 5 years. Heading home on that sunny Thursday with the prospect of a 4 day weekend and parties and fun….I was consumed with stress, and so physically tense it was unbelievable. I wasn’t happy that I had 4 days off: I was stressed because I had so much to do. I’ve had enough of ‘failing’ to do my job properly even though there are not enough hours in the day to do it ‘properly’. The behaviour in my current is school is excellent, but it has been described as a ‘time-demanding school’ (ha!!) It’s nice to see that I’m not alone!

  18. Well, this makes me feel so much better, just to have someone say it!
    I’m pretty sure I don’t spend 5 hours a week on detentions and referrals (perhaps between an hour and one-and-a-half hours) but I can in no way plan a lesson in 20 mins and also cannot mark homework in 3 minutes (I know it was just to illustrate the lengthy hours even in the quickest scenario). It’s more like 15-20 mins per piece of work.
    I’m always feeling inadequate and lazy because I can’t make myself work the unbelievable hours I’d need to , to do all this properly. Generally I *either* mark *or* plan ‘properly’.
    I’d love to try more new things and develop my classroom practice so I do less ‘teaching to exams’ (I was deeply disturbed by reading Warwick Mansell’s ‘Education by Numbers’) but I haven’t the energy I had when I started teaching 12 years ago and so I end up cutting a lot of corners so I don’t have to stay up until midnight.

  19. Great blog, very honest, insightful and accurate. But how to we get this across to the large swathes of the public (and the right wing press that they read) who truly believe that teachers only work 9-3.30, spend most of that with their feet up on a desk bossing kids about, and get a totally undeserved 12 weeks holiday a year?

    • I would love for those who put teacher’s down and belittle the profession to spend a month in our shoes. The FE sector is taking a beating, during a time where students are forced to remain in education until 18 we are facing massive funding cuts. I am personally responsible for 40 students in my tutor group and another approximate 50 across other courses, they each do about 20 assessments each. This can lead up to nearly 1000 individual peices of work requiring marking over the academic year, with a 2 week required turnaround on marking for each assessment. Even at FE level, we have to mark and feedback on spelling and grammar, some assessments are practical (performances that often finish past midnight, and not talking one a year, we did 15 evening events, 4 parents evenings, 4 open evenings, 6 evening training sessions, 3 exhibition events, all event finishing after 9, most after 11pm.
      In addition, schemes of work per module (currently teaching 18 modules) schemes of work can be up to 30 pages long each, individual lesson plans for every session, individual assessments, approx 40 individual assessments per course, each needs to be checked, I then have to check and write reports on other staff’s marking. This doesnt even take into account devising lessons and creative teaching. Furthermore, FE gets a kicking. Not sure what these 12 weeks of holiday is, we can take just under 5 weeks max, but not 2 weeks in a row, and not at the same time as someone else in the department to ensure that there is someone on call at all points, we can take TOIL for working overtime but only during holiday time and within a certain time limit so we often lose it. Even in FE we consistently have to liaise with parents for weekly updates. I didn’t have lunch because I either have meetings or am running lunchtime classes for the additional teaching groups we have. All during a time when we are being told we will be subject to performance related pay based on progression, which for my students is uni or employment. Most wont go to uni because of cost (out of my hands), and most college leavers dont go into full time jobs directly (again out of my hands) yet thats what will be graded on! Dont get me wrong. I love my students, i love being in the classroom, i just wish there was more respect for teachers and the work we do rather than the usual, “but youve had 12 weeks holiday to relax in!!!” arghhhhhhhh

  20. […] The Job that Never End […]

  21. […] written before  about the ridiculous size of the teacher’s workload and my views on workload will colour […]

  22. […] of hours unofficially required of them. If you don’t believe me, just ask this teacher (https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/the-job-that-never-ends/) who has very thoroughly totted up the amount of hours of responsibilities a teacher has. Read the […]

  23. […] in 2010 I wrote a blogpost entitled “The job that never ends” which attempted to calculate how many hours it would take to do every part of a full-time secondary […]

  24. absolutely fantastic article – especially the bit about how vulnerable we are to bullying. I pointed out to a manager recently who was going on about how I should want to be the best teacher I can be, that I also want to be the best husband that I can be and the best father that I can be. Failing miserably at the moment. I can’t help admiring a colleague who claims he says at appraisal that he has no interest whatsoever in becoming outstanding and that he is not going to change now as he is already a product of the system.
    Anyway must go. Have a test to prepare!

  25. […] Firstly, the sweet spot for lesson related work looks like it is somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes per lesson.  The reality is that there are plenty of schools where the baseline expectations of teachers don’t fit into 1 hour per lesson.  The result is the scenario described by Andrew Old as The Job that Never Ends: […]

  26. […] to hear of new ideas to address the on-going issues. This blog by Old Andrew sums things up nicely https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/the-job-that-never-ends/ […]

  27. you forgot to mention the new focus on pupil premium students which means supposed to be having a seating plan for every lesson with the pp students clearly marked, after school booster classes, having to upload resources and homework on showmyhomework and having to differentiate it,the requirement by some heads to have good wall displays,having to respond to emails,having to do good phonecalls home then there’s the class from hell that leaves you so emotionally drained after just 1 class they hinder your ability to complete any tasks let alone function after seeing them…

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