By Tracy Phillips
As a full-time teacher in a state school in London, I find the current teaching dispute in Cyprus difficult to understand. Reading about exemptions from teaching hours for extra curricular activities and up to a six-hour reduction in teaching hours as a reward for length of service is rather baffling, to say the least.
What do teachers do with the reduction of teaching hours they currently receive? Is it to mentor younger teachers or take on whole school projects? Is it to rewrite curriculum plans that need updating? Or is it just a perk of the job? And how many hours does an average teacher actually teach in a week? What does a working week look like for a teacher?
I can only say what it looks like in the UK, and I wonder how it compares.
There is always a perception among some members of the public that teachers have it easy. In the UK, they get 13 weeks’ holiday a year and they all finish work at 3.30pm, don’t they? There is a national agreement between the UK government and teaching unions that teachers can be directed to work 1265 hours over the course of the school year (39 weeks). This is the time that teachers can be expected to teach, be on duty, run extra-curricular activities, intervention sessions and attend school meetings, parents’ evenings or training. This amounts to an average of just over 32 hours of directed time in a school week, although teachers are expected to do whatever marking, planning, administration of data, detentions and contacting parents is needed to complete the job properly, in their own time. There is no limit on this.
They are expected to behave like professionals. Research shows that the average full-time teacher in the UK works between 50 and 60 hours a week. This is of course why so many teachers are quitting the profession.
So what does a working week look like for an average secondary school teacher? I have seen teachers in school at 7am and still there at 7pm, planning and marking books. In my experience, many teachers like to get in early before school starts to deal with emails and set up lessons for the day. If there are five hours of lessons a day for pupils, a teacher can teach up to 22 hours a week. They might also have half an hour a day with their form class, and break or lunch duties. It is rare to see a teacher actually taking more than a ten-minute break in a day to eat. There are always discipline issues to deal with or parents to call. And when formal lessons finish about 3.30pm, there are always after school intervention, exam revision classes, department meetings, whole school meetings or training sessions for professional development. It is not unusual to be sending emails to parents at 10pm on a weeknight or on a Sunday afternoon because when else do you have time?
Teachers in UK state secondary schools must have a post graduate teaching degree. Many also have a Masters degree. They must complete ongoing professional training throughout the year and are regularly observed and their books scrutinised. To reach the top of the pay scale they must usually take on whole school or cross-curricular responsibility, which is written into their professional development plans and against which they are judged before they get a pay rise.
There is no such thing as getting more free time as an experienced teacher. And believe me, teaching salaries in the UK, even in London, are poor compared to other professions. And just for the record, most teachers work during their school holidays doing planning; many teachers now give up their half term and Easter holidays to come into school to give the kids extra exam revision classes.
So why be a teacher? It can only be for the occasional satisfaction of feeling that you taught someone something or made some kind of difference. It’s definitely not for an easy life!