As many of you know, I’ve had a, ahem, a long career working with various organisations in both public and private sector organisations.
However, this past year I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside educational professionals in the UK. Prior to this, my only experience of the teaching profession was as a pupil (back in the olden days) and via my children (so therefore more recent and relevant), as they progressed through nursery, primary and secondary school.
Working with these industry experts has been an incredible learning experience for me. It's opened my eyes to what it takes to be a teacher in the 21st century and why we need to focus more on valuing teachers. There’s so much that I hadn’t been aware of or appreciated. Meaning the vast majority of parents and carers won’t have either.
So, educators, this article is not for you – although I would like to take the opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you for everything you do for our children, day-in day-out. No, this article is for parents and carers, for government ministers, and for anyone else willing to listen, who wants to understand exactly what teachers endure and why they should not only be valued, but also revered.
No such thing as nine to five
Anyone who thinks teachers only work during school hours doesn’t know any teachers. Teachers work incredibly long hours during term time.
The latest Department for Education Teacher Workload Survey results, relating to 2019, state: ‘Full-time teachers and middle leaders reported working 52.9 hours in the reference week, which was, unsurprisingly, more than the 39.8 hours worked by part-time teachers and middle leaders.’
To clarify, on average, 52.9 hours for full timers and 39.8 hours for part-timers. I don’t need to elaborate – those figures speak for themselves.
Since the report was released, our teachers and school leaders have had the not insignificant challenge of several waves of Covid. Based on my interactions with teaching staff over the last year, I believe these averages have risen. This isn’t healthy and it isn’t sustainable.
There’s a huge amount of information out there showing that working such long hours is counterproductive in any profession. In other words, our productivity declines. For anyone who’s ever put in shifts of ten- to twelve-hour days, you’ll know it’s exhausting. But that’s what’s expected of our teachers, just to get the job done. On top of this, most parents and carers want the very best attention given to their child in the classroom. With the best will in the world, how are these mere mortals supposed to achieve this?
A blog worth reading on this: https://www.superprof.co.uk/blog/how-many-hours-do-teachers-actually-work/
From the outsider’s point of view, it’s easy to think that teachers have loads of time off – six weeks in the summer, two at Christmas and Easter, plus regular half terms and inset days. For working parents, it can often feel as though the children are at home as much as they are at school.
What they probably don’t realise is that firstly, inset days are work days for teachers (they’re often used for training) and secondly, teachers usually work during the ‘holidays'.
Although not officially measured, I’ve heard anecdotally that, on average, the six-week summer holiday is made up of two weeks decompression and tidying up all those loose ends that couldn’t be dealt with during term time, two weeks actual holiday, and two weeks preparing lesson plans and the classroom for the next year.
Likewise, at Christmas and Easter, work needs to be done for the new term and end of year tests prepped for. Even when allowing themselves time off, teachers are often still making notes of things that can be used in a future lesson. They rarely switch off. My friend’s mother-in-law, who was a primary school teacher, wouldn’t even throw a yoghurt pot away without first wondering if it could somehow be used in a class!
And don’t forget all the parents’ consultations and information evenings that have to be prepared for and time sacrificed for. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never known a parents’ evening that hasn’t overrun, sometimes by hours. Those teachers often don’t get home til midnight and then have to be up and fresh to teach our children all over again in the morning.
So next time you hear someone saying teaching is a part-time day and lots of holidays, think again!
A useful article written by education corner: https://www.educationcorner.com/are-teachers-holidays-paid-in-the-uk/
No short cuts
In England, becoming a fully qualified teacher takes up to five years, from Initial Teacher Training through to being an Early Careers Teacher, depending on what route the teacher’s taken.
Along the way, training focuses on five core areas – behaviour management, pedagogy, curriculum, assessment and professional behaviours.
In short, reaching Qualified Teacher Status requires a huge amount of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. If anything’s going to destroy that hideous, derogatory phrase ‘Those who can do, those who can’t, teach’, surely it’s this knowledge.
Here are some links for the Standards set out for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and the Early Career Framework for teachers:
Just as running a household requires more than keeping on top of the washing up and vacuuming (emptying bins, replenishing toilet rolls, poking a head round your teenagers’ bedroom and leaving with enough crockery to fill Ikea’s Marketplace etc), being a good teacher required much more than knowing their subject matter.
There are eight Teacher Standards which form the basis for teachers’ objectives in teaching the children in their care, alongside any school specific priorities. As a minimum, a teacher must:-
- Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils.
- Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils.
- Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge.
- Plan and teach well structured lessons.
- Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils.
- Make accurate and productive use of assessment.
- Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment.
- Fulfil wider professional responsibilities.
Add to this:
- Keeping an eye on pupils’ health and mental well-being.
- Dealing with bullying.
- Identifying possible issues at home that are affecting them.
- Helping children impacted by Covid.
It’s a wonder there’s any head space left for teachers to actually educate our children.
For more information, visit
If you’ve worked in public and private sectors, training can be a bit of a luxury. This isn’t the case for teachers. Once they’ve moved beyond the Early Career Framework to become a qualified teacher, they’re required to complete a minimum of five days (at six hours per day) of formal CPD (Continuous Professional Development) per year.
As well as this, there’s ongoing analysis, reflection and adapting. Every teacher I’ve ever spoken to is completely focused on evolving as a teacher and being the best they can possibly be. This involves constantly striving for improvement and giving their all to the job.
One size doesn’t fit all
The different ways in which children learn is a science in itself. And like all science, it’s ever-evolving. So, the teaching practices of today aren’t the same as yesterday’s, and won’t be the same as those used in the future.
As teachers examine and understand more about the learning styles of individuals, it becomes apparent that one size does not fit all. There are four learning styles – visual, auditory, read/write and kinaesthetic (through physical activity). In a class of 30, a quarter of the children will learn most effectively through a different teaching method to the other three-quarters of the class. How do you get all of those children to understand and retain the same information when the teacher can’t possible employ all four teaching methods in a 35-minute window?
Once we understand this dilemma, it becomes easier to understand why reflecting on practice and Continuous Professional Development for teachers is so important. And why we should take our hats off to working teaching professionals in the UK.
Teachers are feeling the strain. A poll by the National Education Union (NEU) carried out earlier this year revealed that 44 per cent of teachers are planning to leave the profession by 2027.
Unmanageable workload, stress, constant monitoring and paperwork, pay, and a lack of support from the government were cited as the main reasons.
People become teachers because they’re passionate about educating the future generation and giving them the best opportunities they can have. If the teachers are exhausted and unhappy, they don’t have the mental of physical capacity to do this. And, to many, not being able to do a proper job, to teach children the way they’d like to be able to in a nurturing, mutually rewarding way, what’s the point in running themselves down trying?
But if 44 per cent of teachers do leave within the next few years, our educational system will be in dire straits.
Show your appreciation
Being a teacher in the UK right now is, for many, a thankless task.
Saying thank you costs nothing. I’ve realised over the past year while working with teachers that it’s not said anywhere near as often as it should be by parents.
I hope this article shows you how much teachers do for our children and what a challenging environment they’re working in. A simple thank you at the end of a tough day could well be the boost they need to know that their efforts aren’t in vain.
Let’s show teachers that we appreciate their hard work and that we value them, for our children’s sake.