This was written by Francie Alexander, chief academic officer for Scholastic, Inc. She has has taught at all levels, was a district reading consultant for Pre-K through high school, and has authored numerous professional articles for educators and dozens of books for children.

By Francie Alexander

Teaching is a much talked about yet often misunderstood profession. Educators frequently hear well-meaning comments from parents and friends like “It must be so sweet to spend your days with children” or “How wonderful to be done for the day by three o’clock.” Are they serious?

Teaching is joyous, but it is also hard work! It is fast-paced, multi-faceted, and complex. I should know. I spent many years as a teacher and it is the hardest and most satisfying work I’ve ever done.

A new report from Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, finally quantifies just how hard teachers work: 10 hours and 40 minutes a day on average. That’s a 53-hour work week!

These numbers are indicative of teachers’ dedication to the profession and their willingness to go above and beyond to meet students’ needs. It never was, and certainly isn’t now, a bell-to-bell job.

The 7.5 hours in the classroom are just the starting point. On average, teachers are at school an additional 90 minutes beyond the school day for mentoring, providing after-school help for students, attending staff meetings and collaborating with peers. Teachers then spend another 95 minutes at home grading, preparing classroom activities, and doing other job-related tasks. The workday is even longer for teachers who advise extracurricular clubs and coach sports —11 hours and 20 minutes, on average. As one Kentucky teacher surveyed put it, “Our work is never done. We take grading home, stay late, answer phone calls constantly, and lay awake thinking about how to change things to meet student needs.”

The 10,000 teachers surveyed in Primary Sources 2012 convey a very real portrait of the challenges and joys of the teaching profession. They share their thoughtful, nuanced views on both their daily practice and critical issues at the heart of education reform. Here are some more key findings:

* Teachers are seeing the effects of joblessness and a difficult economy on their students’ families and in the classroom. Fifty six percent of teachers who have been teaching in the same school for five years or more are seeing more students living in poverty, and 49% are seeing more students coming to school hungry.

* Teachers welcome and are even eager for more frequent evaluation of their practice. Again and again, teachers spoke of the need for feedback on their practice in order to become the best teachers they can be. Plus, they are open to hearing from a variety of sources including principals, peers and parents - and students!

* Challenges facing students are significant and growing. 46 percent of veteran teachers say they are seeing fewer students prepared for challenging work than when they began teaching in their current schools. The percentage of children who struggle with reading and math is increasing at all socio-economic levels.

* The majority of teachers are satisfied in their jobs: Eighty nine percent of teachers are either very satisfied or satisfied in their jobs. They also share their reasons for satisfaction and for frustration, and identified the kinds of resources teachers need to be as successful as they can be.

To download the full Primary Sources report, or take the survey, visit It’s worth the read.


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