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40 Hour Workweek

Uncategorized   |   Oct 4, 2012

How to work a 40 hour week as a teacher

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

How to work a 40 hour week as a teacher

By Angela Watson


A 40 hour week for a teacher is almost unheard of. The growing number of teacher-bashers out there have somehow gotten the idea that we work far fewer hours that. And of course, anyone who’s ever worked in the field knows that the time spent at school combined with the time spent on paperwork at home often averages out to 50-70 hours a week…or more.

I believe there’s a healthy balance between the perception of teachers working only from 9-3 and the unfortunate reality of them working 7-7.  As a classroom teacher, my goal in finding a work-life balance was to dedicate 40 hours a week to my job. Sure, I might spend additional time in the evenings looking online for new lesson ideas or making manipulatives while I watched TV, but those were tasks I really enjoyed. They didn’t feel like work to me, and I didn’t do them every day. My goal was to complete my “work-work” tasks during the course of an 8 hour day: grading, paperwork, photocopies, etc.


I succeeded about 90% of the time. The beginning and end of the school year were the major exceptions. At those times, I was always prepared to work as many hours as it took. 70-hour weeks were not atypical for me in August and September (weekends included). And during those years when I was new to the grade level, school, or school system, I sometimes had to settle for alternating 8-hour days and 10-hour days, or spending Sundays working from home, but I did always manage to get to a 40-hour week by late October. Usually, the only time I’d go beyond 40 hours in a normal work week was if there was a special project or event coming up.

So that means I don’t have a fool-proof system that will guarantee you’ll leave the school parking lot before sundown every night. But I do have some tips to share that made it easier for me to work a reasonable amount of hours. I’ve shared seven pages of timesaving tips for teachers in chapter 34 of The Cornerstone Book, Timesaving Strategies: Discovering How to Be a Teacher and Still Have a Personal Life. Here are six additional ideas ideas for lightening your workload:

1) Replace worksheets with hands-on activities.

The more paper and pencil work you give, the more stuff you’ve got to photocopy, organize, pass out, collect, grade, record, and return to students. Not only are hands-on activities more meaningful for students, but you’ll spend less time making photocopies and grading papers. It’s a win for everybody.

2) Make the most of Morning Work or Bell Work.

When your kids come in the room in the morning and after lunch, there should be something on the board for them to get started on right away. While they are doing morning work, you should be able to complete attendance, check all homework, read and respond to parents’ notes, and so on. My goal was to get this done in 15-20 minutes, but typically I didn’t end the morning work time until I finished these tasks–I wasn’t about to leave myself with a messy pile of half-sorted papers and someone’s class picture money just lying out on my desk. I felt no guilt about this because my students’ morning work assignments were meaningful and open-ended: the kids were actively engaged in projects, reading books, etc. When my administrative tasks were done and I was comfortable with beginning our day, we started.

3) Choose bulletin boards that are timeless.

The background paper and border you put up in August can be left there until June. Switch out student work once a month (or every 6 weeks) and choose stuff that’s not tied to the holidays or seasons. (What’s the point of putting up Valentine’s Day work on February 8th when it’ll look dated on February 15?) You can also put your students in charge of the bulletin boards: let them choose their best work, self-reflect on the back of their papers, and hang them up. At the end of the year, their monthly work sample choices can serve as a portfolio.

4) Keep your room neat and clean during the day instead of staying after school to straighten up.

It only takes a few seconds to push student desks back into position and remind students to pick up their belongings that are on the floor before you take the class to lunch. Tape up that poster that’s falling off the wall while students are writing the heading on their papers. Clear or at least straighten piles of papers on your desk during a moment of downtime instead of checking email for tenth time. Tidying up for two minutes here and two minutes there can easily save you a half an hour that would otherwise be spent staying late after dismissal.

5) When you work beyond your contracted hours, try to choose times when few other people are at school.

I was contracted for 35 hour weeks when I taught in Maryland and 37.5 hour weeks in Florida, so a 40 hour week for me meant coming in an hour or so early or staying an hour late. I found that I could remain completely undisturbed for at least forty-five minutes if I came in early, but staying late was pointless because I’d end up hanging out in a co-worker’s room or slumped at my desk in exhaustion. There’s no point in working long hours if you’re not really working. If you’re too tired, someone is constantly coming in and asking you for things, or you’re tempted to wander next door to chat, pick your “overtime” hours wisely…or even complete them at home.

6) Create a self-running classroom that frees you to teach.

I’ve shared a lot of resources on this topic on my website and even more extensively in my book and webinar series. Creating a self-running classroom means empowering students to take charge of their learning and learning environment. It means giving students ownership over the learning process instead of carrying all the responsibility yourself. Teaching kids simple procedures for every task in the classroom will save you countless hours of instructional time throughout the year because your classroom activities will flow more smoothly and have fewer disruptions. Automate your routine tasks so that not a moment is wasted and you can focus on what matters most about your job: teaching and connecting with kids!

Want more ideas for productivity and work/life balance?


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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. These are some great tips. So basic, but so obvious!! My goal is to have a 40 hour week by the end of October as opposed to my 75 hour weeks as of now!!

  2. I’m NOT anti-social, but I try to work through many lunches AND keep my door closed in the am sometimes to get stuff DONE and not spend lunches and planning periods chatting away.

    1. Great point, Matt. I didn’t really take a lunch break, either–maybe 10 minutes to eat, 5 minutes to chat, and then the last 10-15 minutes working. Sometimes I checked email while I ate. It was worth it to me because I could leave earlier. If I was having a bad day though and was super stressed out, I tried to just unwind during my break so I could be geared up for the afternoon.

      1. So you didn’t have to take your students to lunch and pe? What other breaks did you get weekly? For instance counseling and library?

        1. Yes, I had to take my students to lunch and specials and pick them up. I got a 30 minute lunch break daily and a 30 minute planning period daily (while students were at PE, art, etc.) With all the walking back and forth, it was more like a 25 minute break.

          1. Daily preps? Really? At my school we get 3 – 30 minute preps over 5 days. Two days a week I am with the students the entire day except for recess and lunch breaks. But because of the needs of many students I often spend those times with students giving additional support.

          2. In NC, we have three specials/planning times each week and are also required to be at lunch and recess with our students. When I moved here from NY, I thought they were kidding when they told me I had to stay with my class at lunch. I wasn’t looking to have a break during that time, I was thinking I could eat while I prepared for my afternoon Science lesson. Other teachers and I feel our time could be better spent if we weren’t required to go to lunch and recess with our students every day.

          3. Yikes, that sounds exhausting. You need that break during the day! I wonder if that is something you can advocate for at the school level–paying someone to monitor the cafeteria for 2 hours a day doesn’t seem like it would be an impossibility, if enough people fought for it. I also wonder if you could work together to trade duties and take turns with this instead of doing it daily.

      2. In FL I worked as I ate in my room. However, in SC we are required to eat lunch with class. I miss that 15 minutes to check or record grades. sometimes I grade at lunch table but that is my time with chatting kids and lessons in table manners. I do enjoy sitting and speaking with the children at that time too.

  3. Hi Angela … you’ve given some great pointers here! As a high school biology teacher, I also have labs that are required by the state that the students need to complete. I must keep very close track of how many lab credits each student has so that I’ll know when to start “nagging” them, or unfortunately sometimes, inform them that they cannot take the State exam in June that they must pass to graduate. So this all adds a lot of extra administrative and paperwork on top of the “regular” work.

    One way I’ve found of streamlining this is to grade the students’ labs AS THEY FINISH THEM. They bring them to me and I actively grade them while the student is standing there. This way, I can have them fix anything that’s incorrect right away, and the students benefit by getting immediate feedback. When the lab meets my standards I initial it, date it, and file it right away (since we must keep labs on record for 6 months after the school year ends), recording the grade on my checklist. It sounds like it would be very slow, but it really isn’t … and the kids are good at waiting patiently.

    This has freed me from the HOURS of time on weekends that I used to spend grading labs. I hope this idea can help some other science teachers out there.

    Thanks for writing such a great blog!

    1. Debbie, I really like that method, too. (I used this Quick Skill Assessment form to record the grades: as students brought the work up to me, I marked their level of proficiency on the form, addressed misconceptions, and then sent students off to do either skill reinforcement or enrichment activities, based on the level of understanding they demonstrated during the assignment.)

      It’s cool to hear how that works at the high school level. Thanks for explaining your system in detail so other teachers can replicate it.

    2. Hello Debbie:
      I am a Biology teacher but at a school in Honduras, this is Central American country.
      And I would like to have people dedicated to the same activity so I will be able to share some experiences with in the classroom. is it possible that you answer me some mails asking for some advices. I graduated as a agriculture proffesional, now dedicated to teach.
      Thans for your time and attention.

      1. Hello Ramiro …

        Yes, I’d be happy to. But I don’t want to clog up Angela’s blog … lol. Please contact me at my blog (just click on my name) and we can exchange ideas.

        Have a great week!

    3. I really appreciate this method being shared. As a new teacher I find grading takes me way too much time, I figured out it is because I leave feedback notes on each of the students papers. I can’t believe it didn’t dawn on me to grade them as they wait, thereby giving them the feedback verbally and while the lesson is fresh on their mind. Thank you so much Angela and Debbie!

  4. Great tips! I’m learning that #5 makes a huge difference. I get so much more done in the morning and it sets the tone for my day. Peaceful mornings without the rush yield days with limited frustration.

    1. Mornings worked best for me, too, Erika! I found that teachers who came in early usually just holed themselves up in their rooms so I could work with no interruptions and really get myself prepared for the day.

  5. I learned my first year that the easiest way to get copies completed was to come in an hour early when there is no one at the copier. Also, the copier is less likely to jam due to overheating or already be jammed and broken for the day if I am the first to use it. Additionally, if I know that I will be teaching the same course/grade the following year, I will often make my beginning of the year copies at the end of the previous year and store them (to avoid that copier rush at the beginning of each school year).

    As a secondary teacher, I put students in charge of emptying pencil sharpeners and straightening desks. Most are thrilled to help or be out of their seats. I allow students to put up bulletin boards as a reward too. One teacher’s chore can be a good student’s pleasure!

    Thanks for the great advice!

    1. Wonderful tips for handling copies, Nicole! I remember one year the copier situation was so bad that I made all my copies for August/September in June and just prayed that I wouldn’t be transferred to another grade! What a relief it is to go back to school in the fall and know that a huge chunk of work is already done.

    2. I find our copier empty on Friday afternoons. I try to copy everything for the upcoming week on Friday, that way I don’t have to worry over the weekend about if I remembered to pull something to run, cause it’s always done and ready to go

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