My REAL Work Day

Dave takes on the myth of the teacher workday.  Tired as he is to hear, yet again, that teachers only work 9 months a year and only 7 hours a day, he wonders, “Do people really think I’m only working when I’m in front of students?”

Do you know why I love teaching?  June, July, and August, baby!  I love getting to work around eight in the morning and leaving at three!  I love having weekends off!  And the holidays!  Wow!  So many!  Two weeks off in December, another week in November and yet another around Easter.  I love working just 180 days each year!

If you believe a word of the prior paragraph, then you have fallen victim to one of the most persistent stereotypes about teachers.  If we applied this stereotype to other professions, it quickly becomes laughable.  Can you imagine folks saying that actors only work while the camera is rolling?  Can you imagine people saying that football players only work for three hours a week?  Can you imagine people saying that firefighters only work while the house is ablaze?  These examples are ridiculous, because we all know how much training and practice go into these professions.

I still am baffled as to why people think that teachers only work when we are in front of students.

And yet, nearly every month, I hear teachers and their advocates trying to correct this misconception.  But the stereotype lives on.

My own professional life is much closer to the realities my colleagues and I share than it is to the stereotype.  Each morning, I arrive at school between 6:15 and 6:45.  I use these initial ninetyish minutes to fine-tune my lessons and make any last minute photocopies.  During, lunch, I’m simultaneously eating and mentoring students who are struggling with their studies.  Each day this week, after school, I have appointments with seniors who need help revising their personal statements for college applications.  

I’m typically at school for 9-10 hours each day.  If I’ve got student athletes, or musicians, or actors to support, that day can quickly grow into 12-13 hours at school.  But when I get home, I can totally relax!

If, of course, by “relax” I mean grade assignments, plan lessons, research, and write.

Like most teachers, I bring work home with me each night.  This weekend is going to be extra busy after I collect 60 essays from my History students on Friday.

Last summer was a typical one for me.  The day after school was out for the students, I was in my classroom cleaning and finishing up final grades.  The following Monday, I was back at school, working with my colleagues to prepare for the next school year.

Now, truth be told, I and my colleagues both knew that I wouldn’t be at our school this Fall.  We all knew that I had resigned to move to the East Coast.  But that doesn’t matter in the life of a teacher.  My former school would still be there, my colleagues would still be there, the kids would still be there.  Even though I wouldn’t, until my last day of employment, I owed the children of Oakland my service.

But I digress.  After a week of meetings, I was finally free to enjoy my summer vacation.  Meaning that I enjoy teaching summer school.  In August, I was finally done with work for real.

Two weeks later, I was in meetings once again.  Now on the East Coast and with my new school, it was time to gear up and prepare for the coming school year.

Those are the realities of teaching.  All of the teachers I know work 9-11 hours each day.  We work for 5-10 hours each weekend.  Most of us work each summer: running summer school classes, going to training, preparing and revamping lessons, meeting with colleagues.  That said, I’m a high school teacher, and I wonder how the real work hours of elementary and middle school teachers compare.  I wonder if they need to put in even more hours than I do.

We know that athletes practice and that actors rehearse.  When will we finally realize that teachers work, even when the students aren’t there?

Teachers: Please comment.  What does your REAL workday look like?

Related categories:
  • BriannaCrowley

    I have an idea…

    So this particular topic has been a passion of mine. Combined with another passion of mine (technology), I had an idea: what if teachers decided to hyperlapse (app)/timelapse (video setting on iOS devices) different aspects of our day. 

    Rather than just telling the misguided public, why don’t we SHOW them the time it takes to say grade 20 of those 60 essays that you brought home on the weekend. 

    Should be fairly simple: (1) set up your phone, iPad, tablet where you are in the frame, (2) press the “record” button, (3) Do your thing like the device isn’t on you. 

    Then, we can post with a hashtage and quick description of the task. 

    What do you think? If I start this thing, are you in? 

    Does anyone else think this is a good way to get out this important message about how long it REALLY takes to say give formative feedback on a 1-paragraph response to 70 students? Or to create a great graphic organizer for prewriting? Or to write your lesson plans for the week? 

    • nvestal

      do it

      I think this is a great idea. I plan to try this out. It would even be powerful at a local school board level to demonstrate the amount of time- especially for any teachers that implement and coach writing (which should be everyone technically). A powerful way to demonstrate work ethic and work loads.

      What is your take on the new computerized rubric use of grading essays? I feel like other school districts have adopted this and it will be interesting to see how students develop as writers… anyway that seems like a whole new thread discussion but back to your question. Yes, I’m in. I would like to try this. 

      I’m in a small rural Montana district BTW. Look forward to hearing from you.

      • BriannaCrowley



        I’m so glad you took the time to resond to my idea here. I’m hoping to ramp up some communication for this project closer to November only because I’m up to my ears in projects this month 🙂 But ask around your networks to see if you can get 1 or 2 people you know to do this with us! I’ll be doing the same in my realms.

        For your other question, I have heard about the computerized grading system. In fact, our school purchases access to a system like this 3 or 4 years ago. Our English department overall felt like the program did a poor job of giving valuable feedback to our students. It was highly prejudiced to length rather than quality of writing (maybe mimicking our standardized tests?). So after 2 years we requested to use those funds in ways we thought were more helpful–mostly to put more technology into our student’s hands rather than for a fairly unusable program. 

        Here’s what I did think was valuable about that program–it would give some early feedback to students in the draft phase that would potentially make the work more fleshed out and less riddled with grammatical errors by the time I reviewed it and gave substantial feedback. Also, because the feedback was so quick, students may actually write more frequently because a teacher can’t turn pieces around that fast (usually). 

        I actually encourage you to post your question to the greater community here by making it a new discussion thread in our Classroom Practice Lab or the Collaboratory! 

  • TriciaEbner

    Could I just say “ditto?”

    Your day sounds very similar to mine . . . your year does, too. The details are slightly different, of course. Instead of grading 60 history essays this weekend, I’ll be tackling about 50 essay from two of my middle school language arts classes, along with a set of reading assessments from the third.

    As for myth-busting via video: Part of me says, “Yeah, let’s do it,” and part of me says, “No . . . not so sure I like myself on camera!” LOL! I think we need to stretch the camera beyond grading, too. What about shooting video of lesson planning, mapping out a unit, searching for appropriate resources?

    But yes, in any case, we need to do SOMETHING to get people to recognize that while it might appear that we work only 180 days/year, the truth is far, far different.

    (Now I’m about to turn off the computer–at 9:48 PM–so I can catch some sleep before that alarm goes off at 4:30 AM and I start the whole process again . . .)

  • BillIvey

    yes to the stretch

    (And yes, I am a runner!) I spend hours in coffeeshops on any given weekend – happy hours, productive hours, even relaxing hours, but hours – staring at my laptop and typing. I might be answering emails, giving kids feedback on their writing, lesson planning, reading CTQ posts, checking Twitter, blogging, Facebooking, writing progress reports, etc. etc. etc. – but it all looks pretty much the same, except for the steadily emptying mug of coffee or tea. I can’t imagine I would be making much of a point by time-lapsing that! Maybe if I had a clock in the picture or something? I love the idea, just trying to think how to stretch it and make it more compelling.

    My own day is similar to all of yours, with the possible exception that, since I work in a day/boarding school and teach two after-dinner sections of Rock Band, I spend close to 60 hours a week on campus (or transporting kids to and helping with their community service three afternoons a week). If I’m careful, I don’t bring more than an hour or so of work home with me on a weeknight. And then I probably put in around 15 hours over the weekend. What’s that – an 80-hour week or so? Nothing I could hope to accomplish and still sleep adequately if my family were around when school’s in session, but since we each depart to our own schools in August and reunite over vacations…

    • BriannaCrowley


      Bill, thanks for the feedback on my timelapse idea. What if you positioned the phone/iPad to capture your screen, and then just did one batch of writing grading? It would still make good video to see your fingers flying and the the screen scrolling and changing…Gdocs comments popping out. And yes, I still need to figure out how to get a real-time running clock to show across the finished clip because that’s kind of the whole point! 

      I’ll keep circling back around to improve this idea, but do you think that could work? 

  • ReneeMoore

    Not the time, the expertise

    As a veteran English teacher I fully appreciate Dave’s point, and Brianna’s desire to show the clueless what a real teacher’s schedule is like. Hint: To save time, why not just show them the appendix in the recent book Teacherpreneurs, which is a grid of my and several other of the profiled teachers’ daily/weekly schedule (in and out of school).

    The bigger issue, of course, is as Dave notes, other professions are not assumed to only be working when they are publicly visible. More important–other professions’ economic compensation is not based on their hourly production, but on what they know and can do when needed. If we keep pointing to our hours, which are significant, we are only reinforcing the view of teachers as babysitters.

    During my ten year classroom research project on Culturally Engaged Instruction, one of the things I discovered was the enormous number of decisions I as a teacher make every day and the even greater number of variables that I have to simultaneously weigh to reach those decisions. [Using myself here as a representative of teachers in general, highly accomplished teachers in particular.] Our ability to do that consistently is truly staggering…and for our students, it’s life changing. So how do we make that visible?

    • BillIvey

      This reminds me…

      … of an idea I had a year ago about making videos of teachers in action more informative. I was co-leading a workshop for inexperienced but not beginning teachers wherein we would use a videoed lesson as a starting point for self-reflection and targeted professional growth (lots of components to this over a 51-hour period of time). What I realized in the process is that, even as a seasoned teacher (it’s my 30th year at my current year), as much as I do see, I can’t see into teachers’ minds. What I wanted was something like that old scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are talking but the subtitles show the sharp contrast between their words and thoughts. I wanted a video wherein the teacher subtitled it to show what went into making each instructional decision.

      I realize that would make for a lot of freeze frames since we are thinking so constantly and rapidly while teaching, as Renee noted, but to my mind, that is sort of the point. I wonder if we could coordinate on something like that? Brianna, I love your idea about watching my fingers fly and the screen change from a sort of performance art perspective 🙂 Putting your thoughts up there together with Renee’s thoughts here is what reminded me of that other idea.

      Of course, maybe this is a “both and” situation – open with a performance art sequence from the night before, perhaps with some level of subtitles already, and then cut to the classroom and a close examination of how we think through what we do. Of course, we’d have to find a way to respect privacy and work through some of those issues. Maybe have the camera only on us, and don’t reveal any of the more personal stuff we keep in mind when teaching. But with some caveats – could this work? Is it worth trying?

      • BriannaCrowley

        The idea is getting better!

        Renee: Thanks for that reminder about the work that has already been done around this. I remember that chart now that you remind me of it. I wonder if we couldn’t use the momentum from the Kentucky teachers’ infograph and create another product around this that can add to the conversation. Maybe an infographic with that chart incorporated as well as some embedded videos…hmm…

        Bill: I really love your idea around the “behind the forehead” glimpses of teacher’s decision-making as they are instructing. The Teaching Channel is doing some good work with an idea similar to yours–have you seen some of their videos? Here’s an example of one that I’ve saved because I thought it was great. Is this close to the format you are suggesting? 

        I think this idea is DEFINITELY worth pursuing and trying. Let’s keep seeing what we can refine and come up with. 

        • BillIvey

          Close in some ways, yes!

          I liked that it started with an introductory overview; that would probably be an important thing to include. And interspersing commentary along the way would also help. Along with that, though, going even deeper. When she announces goals for the class – why those particular goals? What have they been working on recently relating to these goals? Is there anything she knows about how kids learn – in general, or specific students in her class – that led to her choosing those goals, or why she enumerated them in that order, or how she phrased them, or…? Why are they looking at questions 1-3? Why does she read and then paraphrase the first question? Why does she follow up with a reminder of what they should be doing? What about (random name) Amanda’s brain might mean she will take longer than the others, and did this affect choosing the activity? Why did she work in “How does this impact us?” and so on. We’re teachers, so the answers might seem obvious to us. But different answers might seem obvious to each of us, and the answers might not seem quite are obvious to a non-teacher.

          Does this help?

          (And now, back to my regularly scheduled Family Weekend! Classes, Conferences, the Performance, the Parent Meeting – all done. Nothing left to do but watch athletic competitions!)