Are teachers hard-working professionals?

Dirk Van Damme
Head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress division, Directorate for Education and Skills

Average number of 60-minute hours lower secondary education teachers report
having spent on the following activities during the most recent complete calendar week.

Time is no doubt an essential dimension in the identity – and its perception – of the teaching profession. In many countries the statutory definition of the working time of teachers is limited to the actual number of hours spent teaching in classes. To many people this creates the perception that teachers earn more or less equivalent salaries to those in similar professions for working half as many hours. Of course teachers are expected to undertake other tasks on top of just teaching, but their work schedule is flexible and they can do this work autonomously in their ‘own’ time. This flexibility to combine work, family life and leisure, and a comparatively high autonomy in organising one’s work, certainly contribute to the attractiveness of the teaching profession, especially among women who still take on the largest share of household tasks and responsibilities. The problem with this widely shared perception is that it is based on a very poor understanding of the nature of the work of teachers. Since the non-teaching tasks are not very visible, and are mostly executed without the close supervision normally associated with paid labour, they may not be perceived as ‘real’ work. And, more problematically, even teachers might be hesitant to see these tasks as an intrinsic part of their professional life.
The most recent Education Indicators in Focus brief combines data published in Education at a Glance 2014 and data collected in the TALIS 2013 survey, providing a very useful overview of the working time of teachers. It is surprising to learn that in the countries which participated in the TALIS 2013 survey, lower secondary teachers reported a total working time of 38 hours (of 60 minutes) in a typical working week. Only half of this total working time, 19 hours, is spent on teaching classes.

What kind of tasks and activities make up for the other half of the working week? The chart above provides an overview of the additional tasks the average teacher performs in a typical working week. In replying to this question, teachers didn’t use the tasks as mutually exclusive categories, so some overlap is possible and the categories add up to more than the mentioned 38 hours.

Tasks directly related to teaching make up a large share of the non-teaching time, such as planning and preparing lessons (7 hours) and marking/correcting student work (5 hours). Another 6 hours is spent on student counselling, extracurricular activities and communication with parents, suggesting that teachers engage in more comprehensive pedagogic relations with students than just teaching. Teachers take on crucial roles in the social and emotional development of students, thus creating a positive pedagogical climate for students to grow up in. Another 2 hours is spent on a wide variety of administrative and managerial tasks. These data suggest that the actual work load of teachers is much larger and more diversified than what popular perception tells us and in fact effective teaching requires a range of supportive activities and tasks.
The professionalisation of teaching and the evolution of schools into complex, professional organisations have made the work of teachers richer, more sophisticated and more formalised. The volume of working time spent on participation in school management and general administrative work, taken together, counts for almost 4 hours per week and is a further indication of schools changing into complex and modern organisations. The fact that teachers spend another 3 hours on working and discussion with colleagues suggests that their profession is no longer is a completely solitary activity. The evidence of the range of additional tasks expected from teachers challenges the popular perception – and probably also the self-perception of teachers – that teaching essentially is an individual and autonomous job. Instead, teachers are becoming professionals collectively engaged in professional organisations. This process of change probably does not happen without contest or conflict as most of the additional activities of teachers seem to happen in a grey zone of authority and supervision that are  not well regulated by statutory provisions or labour relations.

All evidence therefore suggests that in reality teachers are indeed hard-working professionals. Their total working time does not differ from equally educated professionals. For the popular perception – and recognition – to change however, evidence alone is not sufficient. Legislation and regulation of teachers’ work need to take into account the wide variety of tasks and the changing roles expected from teachers today. It will be necessary to make such tasks visible and to bring the delicate balance between professional autonomy and supervision into the public debate. Public respect for the teaching profession and the attractiveness of the profession would be served well by the recognition that teaching today involves a range of supportive tasks. Teachers deserve to be appreciated and valued for the wide variety of tasks they are required to perform due to the changing nature of their profession.
Education Indicators in Focus, issue No. 29, by  Eric Charbonnier and Ignacio Marin
Education at a Glance 2014
OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2013 Results
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus:
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators:
Chart Source © OECD, TALIS 2013 Database, Table 6.12 

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