Teacher overload

When too much still isn’t enough

Teachers are being told what to do, how to do it and when it needs to be done. Any reliance or respect for their professional judgement as teachers has long been eroded.

The recent round of sub branch meetings provided an opportunity for dozens of conversations with members about their work and what they see as the ever increasing demands on them by their principals (often driven by their employers), by school systems, by regulatory authorities, by parents and school communities and by government policy.

One discussion was so detailed I asked members to write a few things down for me. What follows is not a compilation of all the conversations I had but rather the edited text of the response from members in a single primary school.

What is clear is that this work would easily require more hours per day than face to face teaching.

This is some of what they do outside of face to face teaching, and although they attempted to indicate an average time per week for each activity, I’ve excluded those details:

planning our work for the following day

marking, annotating and assessing work for the 30 students times seven subjects per day

collaborating with grade partner for the above

writing Learning Intentions and Success Criteria for each KLA for each lesson for each day

meeting with parents and other professionals, including staff meetings, briefings, school to school meetings, case management meetings

programing, rewriting and reinventing new programs each term for each KLA (seven hours times seven subjects = 49 hours per term, which equates to one hour per day). This does not include daily dating, annotating and evaluation of programs

personalised plans – these are individual learning programs for students with needs which, on average, take about two hours per student to create or update for anywhere between 10 and 20 students per grade and also includes differentiated and scaffolded work tasks for each KLA each day, and

supporting external professionals such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychologists and paediatricians providing student data, written reports and completing compulsory paperwork as well as preparing paperwork for case management and required student data collection.

Added to this . . .

writing reports twice yearly, anything up to two hours per student and meeting each parent for parent/teacher interviews following reports

professional development requiring ‘between session tasks’ during and after learning time

preparing, annotating, scanning and submitting student work samples for various KLA’s throughout the term

‘every child every day’ . . . meeting the needs of students with behavioural, learning and physical needs each day without neglecting the learning needs of the remaining students within the grade

meetings called out of expected work hours before school, after school, during lunchbreaks and during RFF

shouldering the responsibility of classroom teacher as well as EMU specialists and/or reading recovery teachers

professional goal setting written in alignment with whole school and system goals

maintaining our own teacher accreditation while trying to mentor early career teachers, and

collecting various types of student data, building data walls and trying to draw some conclusions.

This isn’t the full inventory but you should get the picture and you might note there is no actually teaching involved in this list.

To those who’d argue that preparing, teaching, assessing and providing feedback are all part of teaching I’d agree, but it is as much the formality and the audit mentality which underlies the form of these activities that makes them unnecessarily time consuming and onerous.

Teachers are being told what to do, how to do it and when it needs to be done. Any reliance or respect for their professional judgement as teachers has long been eroded.

Our conversation ended with this experienced teacher recounting a recent exchange with her school leadership as part of an annual Teacher Performance and Development process.

QUESTION: “Do you have any other personal goals you would like to achieve this year”?

ANSWER: “I’m not sure, but I do know that I cannot sustain working from 8am to 5pm each day and getting home to do two hours of work each night and giving up a day each weekend. Something’s got to give”.

REPLY: “If the job is too hard and you can’t do it then it’s time to get a new job. That’s just what teachers do”.

“It just isn’t fun anymore” were her parting words.

The sad thing is I’m hearing that far, far too often. I’d like to think that employers in all teaching sectors would stand up to the Turnbull government and make it clear that school education cannot take any more additions to the workload of their staff imposed as conditions of receiving funding.

This is precisely what David Gonski has been engaged by Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham to do, to devise a new regime of directions for schools and teachers to follow. New orders for command and control from a government that runs no schools and employs no teachers.

John Quessy