Confessions of a Forty-Hour-a-Week Teacher

John Spencer Life in the Classroom

SHARE THIS STORY: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+


I was excited about going back to school on Monday. I know, I know. This flies in the face of all the Facebook posts and memes about wanting just one more day of vacation. However, I was ready to be back. I’ve got a coding project with one group, a blogging project with another and a multimedia package project with the third. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do.

In the past, this passion I have for teaching meant I also felt compelled to work harder and spend more hours teaching. I had to grade every paper, because that’s what kids deserved. I had to join every committee because I felt like a Constructivist perspective was needed. I coached sports because it was important for me to know the kids relationally. When I wasn’t coaching, I was attending games.

But it was more than that. I wanted to prove to teachers that I was a great teacher. I heard about “those teachers” who showed up right before contract time and left right when it ended. “Those teachers” were the burnouts. They were the babysitters. They were the ones just phoning it in.

I’m now one of those teachers. I show up at 7:30 a.m. and leave at 4:00 p.m. If I substitute my thirty minute lunch, I am working forty hours a week. True, I lesson plan and create resources over the summer, but it’s mostly because I find that stuff to be fun. The reality is I am not overworked. I am not constantly stressed out. And I’m not sorry about this.

I love being a teacher, but I also love being a dad and a husband. I love writing books. I love blogging. I love reading. I love binge-watching Sherlock. I’m still passionate about my job. I still care about students. None of that has changed as I have slowly dropped down to a forty-hour-a-week schedule.

How It’s Possible

When I mention this to people, there is an assumption that I must be cutting corners. However, I have found that the following strategies have allowed me to work within a schedule:

  • Using prep time for real prep. I don’t use that time to go to the staff lounge. I don’t stop by the vending machines. I spend an hour each day filling out rubrics and leaving comments on student work
  • Dealing with discipline issues relationally. It’s amazing how much time I save by not writing referrals and detentions. If a student acts up in class, we talk about it in the moment. It’s a relational, conversational approach that works — but also one that means less time chasing kids down and managing a system.
  • Grading less but assessing more. My gradebook consists of the standards and the mastery toward each one. I use constant formative assessment so that I can figure out what each student is earning. I couple this with the project rubrics. This means I’m not filling the gradebook with hundreds of assignments. I’m not spending my time on data entry.
  • Assessing during class. If I’m walking around seeing how students are doing, I might as well use that time to add comments to student blogs or pull kids aside for one-on-one conferencing.
  • Cutting out the fluff. I don’t decorate my class. I leave that to the students. Something as small as that can make a huge difference in terms of time.
  • Working during the summer. I know this isn’t really a “time saver” per se. However, I make all my unit plans and lesson materials over the summer. This then allows me to focus on lesson planning and grading during the school year.

I’ve always said, “I want to teach so that I can help kids think well about life,” but I spent the first five years of teaching allowing teaching to be my entire life. That’s not true anymore. I work around forty hours a week and I love what I’m doing.
photo credit: cucosan via photopin cc


John Spencer

Phoenix, Arizona

In my sophomore year of college, I began tutoring a fifth-grader in a Title One, inner city Phoenix school. What began as a weekly endeavor of teaching fractions and editing essays grew into an awareness of the power of education to transform lives. My involvement in a non-profit propelled a passion for learning as an act of empowerment.

» John's Stories
» Contact John

Comments 5

  1. Sandy Merz

    I’ve been waiting for someone to write a post like this. Thank you. I know plenty of people who put in lots more than 40 hours a week, including me sometimes. But learning and practicing some of the things on your bullet list can give one so much of one’s outside life back. Every minute you save in a 180 day school year calendar by automating a task or doing it more efficiently or finding an appropriate technology adds up to three hours over the year. So finding savings that up to 15 minutes a day on average gives you a full work week back. And that’s not hard to do.

  2. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    Great post. I think that, unless I am grading essays, or unless crises are happening, I can almost get to this state many weeks, especially once I have taught a class before. However… the assessment of one hundred and some students… I have not found a way to make grading writing manageable in class. I do think it is important to assert that it is okay to prioritize our personal and family lives and still be a passionate, caring and effecitve teacher.

  3. Christine Porter Marsh

    Nice post. I also do not decorate my room, and I do not do anything that’s “fluff.” I am not down to 40 hours most of the time, but I am there for some weeks. I find that if I vary my workload, I can avoid the burnout that you referenced. Some weeks might be 50 to 60 hours a week, but I make sure that I never have two 60 hour weeks back-to-back. It works for me. When I know I have a week that will require a lot of hours from me, I can deal with it, because I know that the next week will be relatively light.

    The bottom line is that we have to find a balance that will keep us in the profession for the long-haul. I am glad you found that balance.

  4. V. V. Robles

    It is so important to maintain balance; it will benefit every person around us. I often have to review how I use my time and what I can do to make every moment at school count. Although it can be tough, it helps me be more productive and not sacrifice family time. It is something I work on every day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *