As a teacher you are expected to discharge all duties which relate to the planning, delivery and assessment of children’s learning. Some of these duties take place during face to face sessions with the children and these make up the “contact hours” in a teacher’s contract. Additionally, since 2005, teachers receive 10% of their contact time for Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA). In secondary schools this is given in the form of free lessons, in which the teacher cannot be asked to undertake other duties (cover for absent colleagues etc) but is usually required to be on site.
A school marking policy might state that a student’s book or work must be assessed after every 6 hours of contact time. This means the assessment of around 100 books or scripts each week (ignoring examination weeks during which there may be less class contact time, but every child’s script must be marked). Clearly 2 hours is insufficient for this – that would mean spending less than one minute per child on assessing 6 hours of their work.
An awareness of the time required to mark effectively benefits teachers as they can decide how much time they need to mark a particular activity and plan this into their weekly schedule. Sometimes they will choose to go to work early to do it before classes begin, or to take it home and do it in the evening or at the weekend.
However, for the teacher concerned, the early morning marking in school might necessitate them accessing their child’s before school childcare provision, incurring some extra cost, or the evening marking might mean that they have to forego their regular phone call to a family member or a date night with their partner. It might mean that they have to squeeze in that PTA meeting or a parent’s evening for one of their children into another slot in the week.
In short: the additional workload not covered during school hours is done flexibly at the individual teacher’s discretion and out of their personal resource bank.
This is clearly felt when the teacher has demands being made on their time other than those made by the school. Young children or dependents needing care add to a teacher’s workload (both physically and emotionally) so that there are many who feel so compromised that they aren’t doing either job to their full ability. This can lead to stress, anxiety and teacher attrition. A 2016 survey found that the group of teachers most likely to leave the profession in the next two years is women in their 30s.
An allegory for this situation is to think of a person’s resource (i.e. their energy, time and commitment) as their personal account. When employed to do a job, the person gives of their resource to do that job and in return, they receive pay into their account. So an employee is employed for, say, 40 hours a week to do a job for which they are paid an hourly rate. However, when, in this case, the work spreads beyond the 40 hours but still needs to be done, the employee provides the resources from their own personal account. This means that the time and energy they might have used to relax with their family or undertake a leisure pursuit is, instead, invested into the successful discharge of their professional duties – resourced out of their personal account.
Generally the arrangement proceeds quite smoothly, but as time goes on the teacher may undertake additional tasks such as preparing for an educational visit, helping out at a science event at the weekend, picking up some marking for a sick colleague, supporting the school’s fundraising activities. Resourcing these activities also makes further withdrawals from the personal account.
The teacher is usually very willing to take on these additional roles as they have direct impact upon the students they teach. Sustained studies of teacher job satisfaction indicate that a high proportion of teachers find this the most satisfying aspect of their work.
However, at times when personal and professional commitments collide, the personal account is under strain. If a teacher knows that all year they have been making payments out of their personal account in the ways highlighted above, this contributes to them, in some ways, feeling impoverished. So, when their child is sick or has an event that they need to attend and they have to go to their head teacher and ask for time to be with their child they feel that the deposits they have been making out of their personal account all
year have more than covered their request.
The school, however, has classes to run and statutory obligations to fulfill. There isn’t much capacity in the system for teacher absence. Increasingly the judgement on allowing time off in these cases lies with the head teacher and is decided at his or her discretion. Over time I have watched many colleagues fall into despair over this issue. When they needed to take half a day to prepare for their wedding the head teacher’s discretion did not allow them to go off site or when their boiler had broken down and the only time the fitter could come out was on a Friday afternoon, the teacher was not allowed the time to go and ensure it was fixed.
Teaching is a profession which you do with your head, your hands and your heart and a leader needs to understand the daily commitment made by good teachers to delivering fantastic lessons for their students. On the days when these teachers ask for something back in return, the school needs to look sensitively at its resources and show a matching commitment.
This has a direct impact upon staff emotional well-being and retention. Teachers most crave praise and recognition for what they do. This is a way of recompensing them for their daily personal investment by responding in a trusting and valuable way. 82% of teachers considering leaving the profession say that if these issues were tackled they could remain in teaching for up to an additional 7 years.
Rather than offering financial retention incentives, often accompanied by heavily-worded clawback clauses in case the teacher does need to seek alternative employment, school leaders could put some funds aside for the times when they need to provide support beyond the statutory leave of absence arrangements. Their staff would thank them for it, and may well stay longer and sustain their commitment longer as well.