When a Texas task force set out to draft a plan for attracting and keeping more teachers in the state’s schools, it ran into its first problem before work ever began.
The group initially was composed of school district leaders and had no more than one teacher, recalls Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers. That didn’t sit well with him or members of the Texas AFT.
“We started making a fuss about it, and they ended up getting an equal number [of teachers],” Capo says of the task force, which ultimately had 23 teachers and 23 administrators. “It actually was a tangible piece of evidence to see what we were talking about when we say there is a lack of respect for educators — when you don’t even want to have them on a committee to talk about what would keep them in a classroom.”
The changed makeup of the Teacher Vacancy Task Force, in Capo’s view, helped to surface one of the group’s key recommendations for how changes to working conditions could attract teachers to the state — and entice them to stay.
After somewhat predictable sections about low teacher pay and the need for better teacher-training pathways, the report includes a section on a topic so mundane it’s almost startling: “Demonstrate Respect and Value for Teacher Time.”
In it, the report authors list the myriad tasks, in addition to instruction, that teachers do as part of their jobs — meeting with parents, participating in professional development, grading. Those responsibilities all regularly tip teachers’ work weeks past 40 hours.
It’s a reality that troubles teachers across the country. The typical teacher works a median of 54 hours a week, according to a nationally representative survey from 2022 administered by the EdWeek Research Center. And among educators from 14 different schools studied by a Harvard researcher for the 2019 book “Where Teachers Thrive,” most teachers said they did not have enough time to accomplish the “essential” duties of their jobs.
To address this, the report authors recommended the Texas Education Agency launch a time study to get a full picture of teachers’ never-ending time crunch. That study could be used to help administrators overhaul their teachers’ schedules, the task force writes, and free them up from non-teaching tasks that eat away at time that could be spent collaborating with peers, reviewing their students’ learning data and generally making their lessons better.
“I work at least one day every weekend. I grade papers at night. One 45-minute planning period is not enough time to prep for three different classes,” a high school teacher surveyed by the task force wrote. “I love teaching, but if things do not change, I will be looking for another job. I have been teaching for 15 years, but this lifestyle is not sustainable for me or my family.”
Rethinking the Education Workload
What would it mean to respect teachers’ time?
According to educators, a crucial part of that is leaders recognizing the hours teachers are expected to put in, long after the last bell rings.
“Teaching is like two full-time jobs,” a Texas teacher who recently quit wrote in a survey to the task force. “At school you teach and support students. At home you answer emails, grade, plan, and analyze data. There is no such thing as balance. … This is a crisis.”
The report notes that, in other countries with strong education systems, teachers typically spend less time in front of students and more time engaged in planning and professional development. Capo says U.S. teachers shouldn’t have their days packed wall-to-wall with classes at the expense of allowing them time to work on their lessons and discuss ideas with their colleagues. Preparation time is an expectation of just about every profession, he laments, but isn’t afforded to teachers.
“It’s expected professional time to actually improve your craft,” Capo says. “It’s not present for teachers in the U.S. because we prioritize direct instructional time. We prioritize the fewest amount of people necessary to oversee students for the longest period of the day.”
It should come as no surprise, he says, that many teachers feel “like they’re glorified babysitters.”
Having time to prepare for classes during working hours is especially vital for new teachers, says Valerie Sakimura, executive director at Deans for Impact. The organization aims to improve education by raising the bar for teacher preparation programs.
New teachers who feel overwhelmed and unsupported are likely to leave their jobs, Sakimura adds. They need time to find mentorship among more experienced teachers if they’re going to improve their practice.
One recommendation from “Where Teachers Thrive” is ensuring that schools provide teachers with appropriate curricula and materials, rather than expecting teachers to devise or find their own. That’s echoed in the Texas report, which cites studies showing that teachers report spending hours a week searching for instructional materials.
“It’s so much [work] without adding on top of that, designing your own lessons from scratch,” Sakimura says. “When I talk to teachers in their first and second years, they’re telling stories of sitting in their living room and crying at 2 a.m. on Teachers Pay Teachers,” a popular platform that educators use to buy educational materials from each other.
Even if schools have high-quality curricula that can take some lesson-planning off teachers’ shoulders, they can’t use it if they don’t have time or aren’t trained on how to use it.
“It’s important to be able to think about recruitment and strategies around workplace culture and other issues like compensation,” Sakimura says, “if we’re really going to tackle some of the challenges we’ve had [keeping people] in the profession who are really prepared and feel equipped to do right by kids.”
In addition to craving more planning time, studies have found that teachers want to devote their working hours to, well, teaching. The EdWeek Research Center survey found that teachers want to spend more time on instruction and less time doing administrative tasks or monitoring the hallways.
As one middle school teacher told the Texas task force: “Today, in too many schools to count, teachers are not given sufficient time to do what they were hired to do: teach.”