Hours 1

The working hours of a teacher - Part 1

A few weeks ago, I posed this question on Twitter and Facebook:
Do you spend a lot of your time outside your teaching hours doing prep, marking and general admin work? Do you get paid for these extra hours? How do you feel about that?

I received an interesting range of viewpoints which I felt compelled to share with you.

In my last blogpost,  I decided it would only be fair to first share my own experience with the working hours I have had to do working in the ELT industry, and I promised that in part of 2 of this series, you would be hearing a variety of voices on this matter.


Hours 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, many language schools tend to only pay for contact hours (the actual hours spent teaching) and assumes that prep time and marking, etc. should be done in the teachers’ own time. Considering the fact that the per contact hour rate isn’t very high for many language school teachers in the first place, I guess I wasn’t hugely surprised when I heard some disgruntled voices of teachers who felt undervalued and underpaid, and responded to my question about working hours with the following sentiments:

“My main bug-bear. Why so unregulated? For every hour I work in classroom and am paid, I do two more in unpaid prep and marking. Soul destroying!”

The above respondent said she worked in Spain and as a relative beginner in the TEFL industry (she has been a TEFL teacher for three years), she feels the need to be doubly prepared and spends a lot of her time on lesson preparation.

When I asked her if she felt that the extra hours she was putting in could be considered as part of her continual professional development and advancing her career, she replied with the following:

“I work to live. It is not a career. Still, the pay goes no way to make me feel valuable. of course. I don't want to get left behind but I do feel the industry fails to recognise experience etc."

This respondent works for about 16€ per hour, but if she were to take into consideration all the prep and marking time she puts in, she reckons her pay would work out at about 5€ per hour.

Another respondent, who works three day weeks, reported that she often had to go to school unpaid to get work done.  She said,

 “…I can add in meetings, random paperwork & stupid emails replying at 10pm on a Sunday. :("

This respondent says that if she were to factor in all the extra unpaid working hours and holidays, she would probably be getting about £2.50 per hour.  However, she also admitted being new to the kind of teaching she was doing and so lesson preparation took up a lot of time.


Hours 3

Labour laws  

Like my first respondent, some of my other colleagues work in Spain, and explained to me how the labour laws might go against teachers who work for schools that only pay for contact hours.

“…(The Spanish)contract states 25 hrs only are in fact classified as part time in Spain (full time being 37.5). While you maybe doing a full teaching load and being paid accordingly, your contract states otherwise. This effects social security contributions, pensions and unemployment benefit.”

Most school owners, Directors of Studies, and teachers would agree on the fact that a maximum of 5-6 contact hours per day is what is normal and is what optimizes teaching performance. Consistently doing more than 6 hours of teaching a day often would not be conducive to good quality teaching.

Yet, if you were to teach for 5 hours a day (and probably spend another 2-3 hours of your own time preparing and marking), you would only be considered a part-time worker in Spain.

Another colleague in Spain worked for a school that did pay for prep and admin hours in order to get round the Spanish law:

“I was last dos-ing (some time ago now but still in this century!) for each teaching hour, the teachers were also paid for half an hour of prep and admin work. When a teacher was under-hours, they could be expected to make up one and a half hours of admin (level testing, materials development/preparation) for each hour of teaching. This followed the Spanish fulltime contract which stipulates 37.5 hours a week, so a fulltime teacher would teach 24 hours a week and attend an hour of PD to complete their contract.”

But of course not all TEFL teachers in Spain were lucky enough to be working for a school like the one above. Another TEFL teacher in Zaragoza commented:

“I get paid only for what I teach plus have to attend all PD sessions that are offered (my contract is for 25 hours a week). Exams, comments about students, prep is what you just have to do on your own.”


Hours 4

Organisations that pay for more than contact hours

There were also some respondents who worked for universities and organisations that did pay for the prep and admin hours:

“My current and previous job both involve a fixed salary so I get the same at the end of February and at the end of May even though there is a quite a difference in terms of the number of hours... I also get paid in July for doing nothing so it's all good! In my previous job, we could have a maximum of 24 classroom 'hours' (the lessons were only 40 minutes), 6 additional fixed hours of office time and then other duties (meetings, PD, etc). In my current role, teachers are expected to be in school from 8am to 4pm regardless of how many hours you actually teach.”

Even so, those who work for such organisations sometimes report doing more than what they are paid for:

“Where I work we have working hours and teaching hours – so prep/admin time is covered (in theory). I try to keep more or less to my working hours - not always possible especially at certain points of a course. I wasn't always this disciplined and worked crazy hours sometimes – it wasn't just me that was losing out though. I guess the key is to find a balance.”

This sentiment is echoed by (non-TEFL) state school teachers based in English-speaking countries like the UK and Singapore.

Hours 5State school teachers (UK)

“I spend at least 25-30 hours a week outside of teaching hours doing prep and marking. I don't get paid for this. As a full-time teacher we get paid to work 1265 hours a year. This equates to 32.5 hours a week. This only covers the school day and it isn't possible to get all the work done in school time. As we get 13 weeks holiday a year we get our pay back in that way.”

“Before GCSE and A level students left, I worked at least 2 hours an evening during the week, an hour during the day on my 2 days off and a day at the weekend. 10% of our timetable is PPA time but it's not enough. When I was full time I taught around 250 students and was expected to mark their books (giving comments and targets!) every 3 weeks - 80 books a week! Not to mention endless admin, meetings, lesson planning, parent evenings etc. Students and staff all have iPads so we are often contacted on weekends and evenings....we are expected by students, parents and senior staff to work extremely hard but it pays off in the end...the wages aren't bad (though less than most of my other graduate friends my age) but generally I think working with some fantastic young people is extremely rewarding. We do get good holidays, but they are well deserved!”

State school teachers (Singapore)

“For Singapore government schools, most teachers average about 16 hours of actual teaching time a week. If you take it as a 44-hour work week, then that's slightly more than 1/3.

"But the reality is that, like just almost every job in Singapore, if you want to do your job well, you'd have to invest quite a bit more than 44 hours in a week. I'd say anything from 60-70 hours a week is probably about the real average number of hours a week that Singapore government school teachers work in a week.

"For school holidays, we get about 25-30 protected days a year during the school holidays where we can just rest at home or go overseas for holidays, etc.”

But another teacher who worked for a Singaporean polytechnic had a different story to tell:

“When I was teaching at the poly... Now that is a totally different story altogether. They only pay you a per hour teaching rate. They don't pay you for extra hours that you need to go in for marking, tabulating of scores and other admin paraphernalia. Oh and not to mention the faculty meetings and briefings.”

The tuition centres in Singapore might offer a better deal in paying teachers for their marking and prep time:

“It's part and parcel of the jobscope at my centre. But it doesn't take up very much time at all. At my centre, the marking gets factored into the pay. How much depends on how many classes the teacher takes on and the qualification the teacher possesses. If I remember correctly, most tuition centres pay their staff a fixed salary which encompasses admin, teaching, marking, etc etc.”

But there are still many teachers out there who just get paid for contact hours alone.


Hours 7

Schools in Argentina and Brazil

“Teaching jobs in official schools in Argentina is paid by taught hours. No admin paid for though of course we do lots!”

“I get paid only for what I teach. It's a difficult situation because prep is a very important task in teaching, but here in Brazil, the schools, colleges, universities, they don't pay for it.”

Many might find this situation unrewarding and unfair, and feel that teachers as professionals have been sidelined as the ELT industry’s peripheral players and unfairly subjected to the forces of supply and demand in the ELT free market. Some believe that the increasing competitiveness and profit-maximising businesses in our industry has led to the deskilling of our teachers. (see this blogpost for a more coherent argument.) 

However, the freelance Business English trainers who responded had a very different take on the matter.

Hours 8Business English trainers 

“I factor in the whole service when pricing the product I offer. Not so easy when employed by a language school, though.”

“But we don't only get paid for face-to-face time with learners - we get paid for teaching, and "teaching" for me includes the necessary prep, admin etc. It's part of the overall package surely? So no problem for me. If I don't think my prep and admin time are covered fairly I go elsewhere. I think the same still applies in a language school - you need to make sure that you are happy with the compensation they offer. So you need to clarify exactly what is involved (and what they expect) before you sign that initial contract.”

“(I) agree with (the above two respondents). The total price fees include everything that goes into those hours of work with the clients/students. So it's normal for time to be spent outside the teaching time in prep, etc. However, if a place offers, say, 20€/h and that fee includes teaching, prep, etc. it's probably better to keep on looking... But the business/freelance approach is very different from the school approach in that BE trainers pick their fees/projects (to an extent), whereas school teachers don't really.”

Could it be that Business English trainers are more entrepreneurial and therefore more capitalist in their views?

One Business English trainer said to me:
“Many TEFL teachers are employed simply because they can speak English and know the language. They might not have had any training or they might have had only one-month’s worth of CELTA training. They are then allowed to handle students after 4 weeks of training. No wonder they are not paid well. Compare this to teachers in the state school system (in any country) who have to go through years and years training and therefore are paid accordingly.”

Although I agree with the fact that the initial training for many TEFL teachers is somehow lacking, I can’t help but notice that experience and extra qualifications and training do not always add up to better remuneration for many teachers. And we can’t all be freelancers and entrepreneurs either…


Hours 9

Our situations may be varied, but perhaps this is best summarized by the following comment that one of the respondents made.

“I heard somewhere (can't remember from who, unfortunately) that education systems wouldn't work if teachers didn't work over and above their contracted hours – whether prepping lessons or sorting admin or whatever. Not saying this is ideal (in no way is this what we SHOULD be doing), but it makes you think…”

Chia Suan Chong is a General English and Business English teacher and teacher trainer, with a degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching from King’s College London. 

Fascinated by the interplay between culture, language and thought, Chia is also an intercultural skills trainer and materials developer, and is now based in York.  

She is also the voice of @ETprofessional on Twitter. You can find out more about her on her blogsite www.chiasuanchong.com