Updated: Jan 24, 2021
Recent news stories of 60 hour weeks, Debra Kidd’s honest reflections on her experience and the subsequent debate on Twitter have led me to a thought on teacher workload – 50 is plenty. This is something I’ve said for a while, suggested in my book, and have tried to live by. But now I want to argue it little more strongly.
Here’s the solution – what if we just stopped each week once we reached 50 hours? After all if the problem is too much work, logically the solution has to be less work. If the problem is too many hours then the solution must be fewer hours. Am I making sense? At the start of each week we would plan when the 50 (or less) would be and would stick to it.
The figure of 50 hours a week is not as arbitrary as it sounds. Studies in industry productivity suggest that this is the maximum amount of time where we can be fully effective. Hours after this diminish in value and over 56 hours a week adds no more than 55 would. We have all experienced those weeks where we overdo it and things start to take twice as long. This is unpacked in a little more detail in the book (last plug I promise)
Secondly, this is still conscientious and professional. If you were to generally work up to 50 hours a week it would be very difficult for an intelligent member of SLT to accuse you of being unprofessional. In the past some of those who have stood up for teachers rights have perhaps sought unreasonable things and in doing so have sounded unprofessional. Of course that wasn’t their intention but that was the effect. Note that I am also NOT saying that teachers must work 50 hours a week, merely suggesting that this becomes our self imposed limit.
Setting a limit may sharpen your time management. @thatboycanteach’s idea about #teachertimesheets could be relevant here. It will require good time management to ensure that we get the best out of each hour. So the Covey Quadrant and the practice of spending 2-3 minutes planning your list each day are invaluable. Equally where things aren’t done we should be prepared to share our timesheets with our line managers. If a manager is able to look at our working practices and suggest how we could use our time more efficiently surely we would welcome that, wouldn’t we? If we are being asked to do X and Y, which is the priority and what else can be left? Often our line managers are not aware of all the things we’re doing.
As professionals we can also decide to some extent decide when those hours will be. For me four 10 hour days in college and one 7-8 hour day means little work at home except perhaps a couple of hours at the weekend. Of course other patterns are available, we are professionals, we decide. But without a limit things can expand to fill the space – we’ve all sat in meetings where there was nothing to discuss but the meeting took up the full time. Setting the limit may improve our time management
Like any good talk or article, the killer point comes last. We can talk about energy and professionalism but this is about our health and longevity as a professional. ’50 is plenty’ is a principle not an absolute rule and no doubt there will be a week in the near future where I will go beyond 50 hours. In health terms as a one off that may be fine; the body can stand brief periods of flat out activity and stress. The issues come when this is chronic – week after week, term after term. To be blunt your body isn’t built for chronic stress and you will do yourself damage. This point is made brilliantly in James Hilton’s ‘leading from the edge.’ We could also make similar points on relationships; your significant others can accept one busy week but if they hardly see you every week that is a different matter.
So does our health or our relationships matter? Like any rules or principles whether they are followed or not often depends on being aware of the consequences. That’s why the rule about driving on the left tends to be obeyed. The catastrophic consequences are obvious. Yet it is also why many people continue to stupidly ignore laws about mobile phones and driving. They just don’t see that the consequences may one day affect themselves or those they love. Could our workload be similar to the latter case?
So suppose we all decided that #50isplenty and tried it for the next 6 weeks, what’s the worst that could happen? I know that in my own practice as a full time teacher that when I am rigorous in imposing this limit, my work actually improves.