Teaching hours and how they affect performance
What is the right number of hours for a teacher?
Over the last few weeks I’ve seen a number of teachers sharing the hours they work.
Having seen the cost of living for an international school teacher here on Ajarn.com the other day, a Twitter user replied that these international school teachers often have to go big on the hours they put in. It got me thinking about my experiences here in Thailand in terms of the hours in the classroom (and staff room) and thinking how much is too much.
I’ve worked at a government school, private classes, online and at two language centers during my TEFL journey so have a fair range of experiences. Obviously I lack the university and international school side of things but I know some people who have done these jobs and perhaps others can fill in any missing gaps in the comments section…
15 – 30 hours a week teaching
In my personal experience I’ve worked between 15-30 hours a week whilst here in Thailand.
When I was teaching online I averaged around 20 hours a week. This sometimes felt like way too long as doing one on one classes can drag. Being sat in front of a computer for three hours straight teaching isn’t fun, especially when the pay isn’t always great.
The Thai high school I worked at gave me 18 hours of teaching over three levels. This really meant I was doing the same lessons six times a week. It was a little boring but helped with planning. I didn’t feel overworked at all though.
My first language school job was 30 hours a week teaching. This was too much, especially as they only gave around 10 days a year annual leave on top of public holidays. I felt burnt out after around a year or so and made the decision to look for something with lower teaching hours.
I then worked for a company who did business English seminars for a few months. It was a really interesting experience as I often shared the teaching with others. There would be a team of two to four teachers per day and we would split the workload so the actual teaching was maximum three hours. Unfortunately, the work dried up but this was my favorite position in terms of workload at around 15 hours a week.
Currently I’m on about 21 hours a week which includes teaching a few of the same classes twice a week. It feels about right and I wouldn’t be keen to do more hours than this now having experienced it.
Outside the classroom
Every job requires planning and admin. My initial government school job actually insisted that I stayed on premises for eight hours a day which really dragged things out. However, the language schools I’ve worked in are much more flexible and I can arrive for class 30 minutes early and leave when finished. The planning I did for online teaching didn’t feel too bad as I could do it from home and, as I mainly offered conversation classes, was minimal. For the business role we often just stayed together for half an hour after work and planned the next day or the following week so it didn’t feel too onerous.
Also some of my jobs have insisted I do activities like shows and performances which have added extra hours to my day. Some of these I’ve enjoyed but others have been a drag. I feel like these extra activities are far more common in traditional schools rather than language centers.
Working hours and performance
I think every teacher has had a day where they feel overworked and their performance in the classroom has suffered. If it happens every so often then that’s to be expected. If it’s a constant experience then it may be due to being overworked.
I read stories of some teachers working near 12-hour days constantly and that can’t be good for you. Some people thrive on that kind of pressure but I’d say it’s not the norm.
My longest working days are about eight hours but that includes lunch and other breaks. After this I’m pretty shattered, despite this only being two of the five days I work. I’m not sure how I used to do six hours teaching every day in my previous language center job, it just doesn’t seem sustainable anymore.
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Contact hours vary on how demanding they are of us.
In my experience when I taught as an EAL teacher and met my classes separately for each period it seemed like 20 hours tired me out more than now as a homeroom teacher with 20+.
With firm start and stop times for periods you have to keep your eye on the clock but as a homeroom teacher you just need to be concerned about the break times, lunch times, and other teachers' times.
It's also a fact that with many classes, classroom control takes more effort than just having one classroom of kiddos.
By Steve, Bangkok (10th June 2021)
@ Conrad below - Those hours are crazy!
I work at an international school. I teach IGCSE and A Levels in two different subjects. 24 periods per week (45 minutes each) which works out around 18 hours of teaching per week, or 60% contact time. Sure we have to be on the premises 7:30 - 3:30 but have a significant amount of planning time, which is great!
Personally, I think that any more than 24 hours per week (especially for subjects that require a lot of other responsibilities such as marking essays) would probably indicate that teacher would be suffering a burnout soon, OR they are working outside of school hours to get their marking done.
By Sam, Bangkok (30th October 2019)
While the total number of teaching hours is important, there are lots of other factors that can contribute to increased workload:
1. Number of preps. Let's say two teachers both teach 4 periods per day. But one might be teaching the same lesson 4 times, while the other might be teaching 4 different lessons. That's a HUGE difference in planning time as the second teacher must prepare 4 different lessons each day
2. Degree of admin requirements - meetings, reports, covers, duties, lesson plan submissions, parents meetings, detention duties, etc - these can range from very little to absolutely suffocating, depending on the school
By Danny, Bangkok (26th October 2019)
As a homeroom teacher at an international school I have 32 hours of contact time per week with my students. About 25 of those hours are teaching time and the rest is supervision. It can be a struggle to get my planning and reporting done within the 8 to 4 contracted hours.
My first year at this school was actually busier with about 34 contact hours.
I was exhausted and seriously questioning my life choices during my first year here. This year I've resolved to use my time in the classroom better to do more in class assessment and recording of learning objectives etc that will make my planning time quicker. Basically, doing some of my paperwork within class time.
By Conrad, Bangkok (25th October 2019)
Over five jobs:
2 schools = 18 contact hours
3 schools = 20 contact hours
One of the 20hr schools I was contracted for 18 and was paid additional salary. The other is pretty big money for EFL so I suck it up. My absolute limit for contact hours if I left my school would probably be back to 18. This is more than likely my last school, I'm pretty toast. I don't see how a school can possibly pay me any more unless I am doing admin or guidance.
More than 21 is a total unfun burnout situation. 24 hours is just abuse and a clear indicator the school does not care about the kids or you.
I do my office hours dutifully. Plan lessons, help kids with their external needs like standardized exams, guidance, skills. It's really the only part of teaching I really enjoy any more.
Then there's the stuff to support the school. This is a pain in the ass but I'd recommend volunteering for everything and a different activity each go round. Learn your interests and strengths. Learn about how to run x y and z. The other teachers will live you for it but you'll grow as a teacher and these sorts of things - ECs in my experience are about the only thing that transfer from one school to another. Each school will have you teaching something a bit different to different students in a different way. But the ECs are pretty constant. It's also a good way to score likes on the student evaluation if you're into that.
I've helped many students do some life-changing things for which I'm very proud of and my best memories of teaching. Most teachers would think me a fool. But I'm a master at the skill now. Immense amounts of time. Students that still stay in contact...
Finally, I think working in a crap school with bad admin and teachers would burn me out faster than working twice as much or more in a positive environment.
My 2 satang.
PS: realistic limit for me is four hours per day. Five is tough. Six when I've had to, I soldier on - but the pay really must be there. I'm thrashed by day's end. Go home and sleep.
By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (24th October 2019)