Reporter Timothy Walker highlights SCOPE's work on international instructional hours:
Although American teachers at the lower secondary level work about the same number of hours as their counterparts in Singapore (44.8), TALIS showed that their ‚Äúhours spent on teaching‚ÄĚ are significantly higher. In fact, out of all the 34 participating countries in TALIS, American teachers had the most student contact hours at 26.8 hours each week, just a tick above what Chilean teachers reported. To put this data into perspective, the average number of weekly instructional hours per TALIS country, excluding U.S. data, was only 19.3, which means that American teachers reported spending 39 percent more hours, on average, teaching their students than did their international peers.
‚ÄúCompared to 10 years ago, you know, the evidence I have is that there‚Äôs much more stress and time demands on teachers in the U.S.,‚ÄĚ said Jon Snyder, a Stanford researcher who is a co-author of a forthcoming case study on student and teacher time in Singapore, ‚Äúbut my research doesn‚Äôt show that they spend significantly more time working than teachers in Singapore, but how they use that time is very different.‚ÄĚ¬†
Snyder, who is the executive director of¬†Stanford‚Äôs Center for Opportunity Policy in Education¬†(SCOPE), observed a career ladder at Singapore‚Äôs Kranji Secondary School (grades seven to 11), where different teachers assume various roles and responsibilities, and have different teaching schedules. For example, beginning teachers, after graduating from a teacher-education program, must complete a two-year induction program and two years of teaching successfully; those recent graduates in Singapore, Snyder found, only teach an average of 15 hours every week, while their more experienced colleagues have slightly more student contact hours (between 17 and 19 hours). ‚ÄúSo compared to the amount of time that U.S. teachers spend in direct contact with students,‚ÄĚ Snyder said, ‚Äúthat‚Äôs a lot less.‚ÄĚ¬†
Sensibly, this relatively light teaching load allows teachers in Singapore to devote more time during the school day to other important aspects of the job, such as planning and assessing student work. Beginning teachers in Singapore, Snyder found, have 19 hours every week for those two tasks. ‚ÄúAnd that‚Äôs the most because they are the least experienced,‚ÄĚ he said. Senior teachers in Singapore, on the other hand, have 16.5 hours. If you‚Äôre a teacher with that much time for planning and assessment and significantly less student contact hours each week, Snyder pointed out, ‚Äúyou‚Äôre going to be able to do more and better work, because you can pay attention to it a lot longer.‚ÄĚ
Dion Burns, one of Snyder‚Äôs colleagues at SCOPE and a senior researcher at the , helped to coordinate the time project and assisted in the production of a ‚Äúday in the life‚ÄĚ¬†of a senior teacher at Kranji Secondary School. This teacher‚Äôs typical working week,¬†researchers observed, included 19 hours of planning and professional development, five hours of co-curricular tasks and assembly attendance, and 12-14 hours of classroom instruction.
‚Äú shows that the things that keep teachers in the profession, among them, are working conditions,‚ÄĚ said Burns. ‚ÄúAnd the kind of factors that are important to teachers and working conditions include the support from leadership, opportunities for collaboration and decision-making within the school, and access to resources for teaching and learning. So creating the conditions, including time for collaboration, I think, is an important factor in maintaining good teachers in the profession and lowering attrition rates.‚ÄĚ
Compelling research involving Norwegian educators further underscores the importance of teachers‚Äô working conditions. ‚ÄúTime pressure, in¬†, was associated with emotional exhaustion, a contributing factor in teacher burnout,‚ÄĚ Burns said. ‚ÄúHaving more time, having more time to collaborate, increases teachers‚Äô feelings of self-efficacy‚ÄĒthat they can do the work, that they can be effective teachers‚ÄĒand that‚Äôs associated with increased job satisfaction and motivation to stay in the profession.‚ÄĚ¬†
Indeed, the¬†¬†revealed, as Burns noted in an email, that ‚Äúopportunities for teacher collaboration were positively related to teacher self-efficacy and teacher job satisfaction.‚ÄĚ In a¬†2014 SCOPE report, Burns and the Stanford education professor emeritus Linda Darling-Hammond analyzed the TALIS data and findings and discovered that, as Burns put it, ‚Äúin countries where teachers reported having more time for collaboration, they were also more likely to report that the teaching profession was valued in society, and that the advantages of being a teacher outweighed the disadvantages.‚ÄĚ (In the TALIS data, Burns helped me to see, too, that the United States had the highest number of weekly instructional hours, on average, rather than the highest number of weekly working hours.)
There‚Äôs not as much research on the use of time as there is on most educational issues, according to Snyder. (However, he did note several recent examples, including TALIS and a¬†¬†about teacher professional development in high-performing school systems.) ‚ÄúIt seems a little shocking,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚Äúthat it would take that long for the research community to figure out that time is the variable that matters and how that time is used.‚ÄĚ In fact, SCOPE plans on conducting a study on four U.S. public schools, where researchers will investigate how teacher time is arranged and its impact on learning, for both students and teachers.¬†
Snyder has a theory for why a much lighter teaching schedule hasn‚Äôt caught on in many American schools‚ÄĒone that he admits may sound abstract: ‚ÄúI think there‚Äôs a different notion in Singapore, and in Finland, and in other places where they think that teaching is actually complex, difficult work, cognitively engaging and challenging. [This is] as opposed to, ‚ÄėWell, you know, anyone can teach. We just tell ‚Äėem the right words to use and the right way to do it ... and it will be done.‚Äô But it‚Äôs not the way it works.‚ÄĚ¬†
While providing American teachers with more time for planning, assessment, and collaboration during the school day is important, it‚Äôs not a silver bullet for school improvement, according to Snyder. Policy-level ingredients, such as high-quality teacher preparation and adequate support for beginning teachers, matter too. ‚ÄúThe starting point for thinking about this,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚Äúis the holistic, complex nature of teaching and what it takes to be a really great teacher.‚ÄĚ