The Ticking Clock of Teacher Burnout
On average, American educators spend more hours with students than their international counterparts—and that may not be a good thing.
Would if I only taught part-time?
That was my favorite daydream question as an elementary-school teacher in Massachusetts. Just to be clear, I wasn’t exactly looking to work less than a standard 8- or 9-hour workday. More than anything else, I craved a different schedule, in which I’d teach less on a daily basis and have more time to study my craft, plan better lessons, assess student work, and collaborate with my colleagues. With an average school day of about seven hours, about 5.5 of which I’d spend with my students, I always felt squeezed for time as an educator in the Bay State.
But my teaching environment changed when I moved to Finland. (Long story short: I married a Finn, we purchased one-way tickets to Helsinki in 2013, and I found a classroom teaching job at a Finnish public school, where I taught for two years.)
Just a few days before I started teaching in Helsinki, I met with my principal in her office, where she printed out my new teaching schedule. As I grasped that piece of paper, I struggled to believe what I was hearing for the first time: My full-time workload, reflecting a typical arrangement for other elementary teachers in Finland, would require only 18 hours of weekly classroom instruction. Not only that, but I’d have several 15-minute breaks sprinkled throughout each school day, which I could typically use flexibly (while my students played outside, supervised by a rotating team of teachers). This Helsinki timetable was a significant departure from my previous teaching schedule, but in Finland, where teachers have relatively fewer instructional hours compared to their international peers, it wasn’t exceptional. At my American school, I would usually spend an additional 10 hours instructing my students each week, and, every day, I’d usually possess just one block for planning.
Initially, I believed that Finland was an outlier with the amount of time it offers teachers to plan, assess, and collaborate on a daily basis. But, later, I’d discover that this kind of arrangement is fairly typical among countries that excel on international standardized assessments, such as the PISA. Take Singapore, for example.
In that high-performing Asian nation, lower-secondary (grades seven to nine) teachers work an average of 47.6 hours each week, only 17.1 hours of which are Negative Effects of American Teachers' Time With Students - The Atlantic: