Monday, May 28, 2012

Six hours a day, with twelve weeks holidays!

You may have heard people say that teacher’s don’t deserve any pay rises, because they only work six hours a day and get twelve weeks holiday.  If they want decent pay they should get a real job.  (Forget the fact that none of those people working in real jobs would have said job without the aid of 10-12 years with their teachers.) But I’m not talking today about pay.   It’s the ‘six hours a day’ issue I want to address. 

I feel qualified to talk about this, because I used to be a teacher (and may yet find myself back in the classroom), and have been married to a teacher for almost eight years.  I do not come from a position of ‘teachers are so hard done by and have the hardest job in the world’.  No, every job has its good and its bad.  And every job has slightly different arrangements.

In Australia, everyone is entitled to four weeks annual leave.  There are also around ten gazetted public holidays, which differ from state to state.  Depending on the year, about half of these fall during the school holidays.    There are twelve weeks of school holidays for students in Queensland public schools, and I will assume most states have roughly the same amount.  The school holidays include about six student free days, where teaching staff are required to be at school either in professional development courses or planning.  

If you have done the maths in the above paragraph you should have concluded:  average Australian = six weeks off work.  (People who are require to work on public holidays are compensated with higher pay rates for those days, and may get an alternative day as their ‘day off’.)  Of the twelve weeks of school holidays, a teacher is entitled to four weeks annual leave, one week’s worth is public holidays, and one week’s worth they aren’t actually on holidays at all.  So they have an extra six weeks of holidays.   Which does seem a bit unfair at face value. 

  Teachers are usually required to be at school from 8:30 to 3:30, which means a teacher’s official work hours are seven hours a day. The school day runs from approximately 9am to 3pm, with about an hour for lunch breaks. In Queensland, the Unions require that primary school teachers have a minimum of two non-contact hours a week, time where their class is with a specialist teacher (e.g physical education, library, music.)  This makes up for the lunch breaks lost to things like detentions, helping students and playground duties. 

For a teacher to work the same amount of time as someone in a ‘nine-to-five’ job they need to work an extra hour a day on top of their ‘official’ hours, as well as six hours a week for the forty weeks of term to make up for the forty hours a week of their extra six weeks holidays (not included lunch breaks!).   So by working from 8-4:30 every day plus a few days at the end of each set of school holidays (I usually count our summer holidays finished 1 ½ weeks before school starts) and maybe a weekend here and there, teachers have already completely made up for their extra six weeks off.  Once you factor in time spent to plan and prepare lessons, mark homework and other assessment, write report cards, conduct both official and unofficial parent teacher interviews, assist in extra-curricular activities (e.g. choir, musicals, debating and other inter-school competitions), attend school camps, attend staff meetings and curriculum planning meetings, participate in outside-school hours events such as fetes and awards nights, and attend professional development seminars, then it isn’t hard to make up that time. No, not all teachers put in this effort.  There are some who will do barely more than seven hours a day for forty weeks.  But these teachers are doing a disservice to their students and should not be teaching.   

  Different jobs have different arrangements.  Yes, teachers have "twelve weeks holidays", but have to take them at the same time as the students.  Some jobs require much longer work hours, but also command a much higher salary.  Some jobs attract overtime rates for hours worked above 40.  Some employees are given time-in-lieu that they are able to cash in or take as extra holidays.  Some employees have rostered days off every fortnight, and work nine hours a day for nine days to have the tenth day off.   The hours beyond 40 hours that salaried employees work - including teachers - to meet expectations is becoming more and more common, and is another issue altogether. 

Do teachers work more than anyone else?  No.  Do teachers have a harder job than everyone else?  No.  Do teachers work for six hours a day and get 12 weeks holidays? No.


  1. Just wanted to let you know that I enjoy reading your blog. You have summarised teaching hours really well. Kate

  2. I heard recently that teachers' recreational leave is actually accrued on top of what they get for normal school holidays, and that technically on school holidays, they can get called in to work because they're not actually on holiday. For Ed QLD at any rate. Which would be both good and bad for them. Not sure if it's true though?

  3. The main argument for increasing teachers pay is that at the moment the dullest students in the class end up as teachers. Not a good outcome.