A Chicago Teacher’s School Day: It’s Already Long (At Least for Teachers)

A new report from two labor experts at the University of Illinois breaks down the CPS school day, minute-by-minute, for the typical Chicago school teacher. Instruction time accounts for less than half of it.

student school schedule


As the longer-school-day debate swirls, two labor researchers at the University of Illinois just dived into the fray with a study of what Chicago Public Schools teachers actually do all day (the city itself is hardly alone in raising the question locally). Reading through it, I wasn’t too surprised, both from my own experience as a former student and from the people I know who are teachers, at all levels including college, save for the amount of time devoted to “data.” According to the survey of 983 teachers, here’s what the average CPS teacher day looks like, over the course of a reported eight hours and 53 minutes at school.

You need to upgrade your Flash Player


That’s a typical day averaged out for all teachers, but there are differences between levels:

* Kindergarten and elementary teachers spend more time than high-school teachers on instructing (about four and a half hours compared to about three and a half). High school teachers are also scheduled to teach about an hour less per day than pre-K through middle school teachers.

* Kindergarten and elementary teachers spend more time on setting up/taking down classrooms (about 50 minutes) than high school teachers (24 minutes).

* High school teachers spend an hour a day sorting data (attendance, grades, reports), while pre-K through middle school teachers spend about half an hour.

* High school teachers spend about 20 minutes more a day on planning lessons and providing extra help than pre-K/kindergarten teachers.

* For the categories above, middle school tends to be in the middle of the spectrum; most of the smaller categories are comparable between levels.

* Lunch is 29 minutes long, but teachers do some of their duties during it.

Aside from teaching time, “sorting data” jumps out as a substantial time requirement, particularly among high-school teachers, and it comes up in the study’s quotes from teachers. For example, a quote from a high school teacher:

The principal wants us to document everything we do and submit the paperwork. When we talk to parents on the phone, we have to document it. When I meet with colleagues about a class, we have to write up minutes. Of course there is always paperwork; that’s part of being a teacher. But this is more than we’ve ever had to do before. Lesson plans have to be much more detailed than in the past. Course outlines for each semester have to be very, very detailed. All this additional paper-work takes two or three hours per week to fill out. It’s not helping students achieve academically, and it’s not helping the discipline problems in the school. Nearly all the faculty in my school feels worn out and burnt out, and they don’t feel all the documentation we’re doing is accomplishing much of anything.

Or a high-school special ed teacher:

Once a year I have to write the IEP [individual education plan] for each student. This takes at least a minimum of 6 hours. Sometimes they take as long as 12 hours. None of this is in the contract. This is expected work and our job evaluations with the principal include our completing this work. There are 500 students with IEPs at my high school. Multiply that by 6 hours and that is a lot of work that is not on the books.

This is a difficult problem. Documentation obviously doesn’t help individual students in the short run. Keeping up with it is time-consuming and, sometimes, intimidating—I’m still haunted by the time-on-call clock that kept watch over me when I did phone sales. And I can see where teachers would be worried about the data they’re providing, given some of the news nationwide about how that data is processed:

The city acknowledged that the model was “too sensitive” among teachers whose students did either very well or very poorly. That lesson was shared with schools and the state “as it creates a new model for teacher evaluations,” said Matthew Mittenthal, an Education Department spokesman.

And then there’s the possibility that the data could be attached to your name and made public.

On the other hand, there are over 600 public schools in Chicago, and a lot of people can’t (or don’t want) to send their children to private schools. If you’re new in town, trying to get a handle on which schools are good is profoundly difficult, especially compared to sizing up private schools, and that knowledge can effect major life decisions—like buying a house, for instance. That’s how you end up with seemingly paradoxical results like this:

New York City voters by and large do not trust the teacher ratings released late last month. But most wouldn’t mind if future assessments of teachers’ quality were also made public, according to a poll whose results were released this morning.

It’s not necessarily just something that appeals to soulless Excel-wielding technocrats. Even colleges, which are much easier for well-informed students and parents to evaluate on all sorts of qualities without resorting to SAT and GPA averages, face the substantial influence of an evaluation system devised by a newsmagazine. How influential? An attempt to game the U.S. News rankings cost a University of Illinois law dean his job. There’s a lot of understandable desire for data like that (even, apparently, when people don’t fully trust it), so I don’t see it going away. But the amount of time devoted to creating it, as well as the rest of the report generally, raises the question of how much staffing data-driven, longer school days will require.


Photograph: kingeroos (CC by 2.0)


Submit your comment