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How Long is an ESL Working Week?

June 09, 2005

I've been hearing some problems from ESL teachers about working hours.

Here I am again.

It seems that some schools combine long hours with revolving days off so that teachers find it hard to recharge their batteries, let alone keep up the quality of their teaching.

As so often this comes back to cultural norms. Many teachers come from a background in which it is normal for the working week to run from Monday to Friday leaving Saturday and Sunday free. It can thus be difficult to adjust to working, say, six days before a day off arrives. Also if the two-day weekend is not on offer, the teachers' chunk of free time is diluted and they find they can't, for example, take an extended trip.

The same cultural expectations underpin teaching hours. The western model is for maxima to be around 24 or 25 contact hours but those hours are well prepared and ensure a dynamic performance from teachers. In some situations elsewhere, teachers are asked to teach 30 or more hours and find it hard to keep up. But if long hours in the classroom are required, it is probably expected that the teaching is more passive, with students doing some quiet work in the classroom that perhaps normally they would do for homework.

As so many teachers going abroad to teach are fairly new to the profession, it is very important for employers to explain exactly how the timetable works and what sort of input is expected. For example, if a teacher has the same class for three hours in the morning with just a short break midway, then has another three-hour class in the afternoon, it is necessary to vary the pace quite considerably for the sake of both teacher and stduents. At least some of that time could justifiably be devoted to fairly mechanical consolidation activities while the teacher can focus on preparation.

Teachers need to think also how they can recycle their lessons. If the school does not give them adequate preparation time, then all the lessons they do prepare will have to be reusable.

Another time-related problem occurs when teachers have to work on split sites and so lose time in traveling from one place to another. I think in general that young, enthusiastic teachers are willing to work hard but schools must realize that the quality of classroom delivery will be reflected in the way they treat their staff. If teachers are overworked, and physically tired by traveling long distances between assigments, they will not be able to maintain the creative classroom presence that we associate with English language teaching.

What have your experiences been?

Bye for now.

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  1. Irene Says:

    I do completely agree with the information posted. In my country in South America and due to the economical crisis we have been through in the last 4 years, everybody is expected to work 45 hours a week.Teachers as well.
    I run a School of Languages both in English and Spanish to foreign people and I try to keep internationally-minded, so I try to allocate just 17 to 25 (maximum) hours a week from Monday to Thursday (being Friday/Sat and Sun free). Besides, every single public holiday means a day off for the teachers and in the summer holiday period they have 3 months´holiday getting their normal salary. I think it works really well. Nowadays we have 3 foreign teachers (all of them holding a TESOL or CELTA degree) from London and Dublin and they do work between 10 and 17 hours per week. That means better and enjoyable classes, teachers full of energy and new ideas every single class. It really works. Unfortunately, the salary is not that outstanding-if compared to salaries in Europe, Asia or the States- but it is good for them to get by ie they can rent a furnished flat in a beautiful area in the city, travel throughout the country, eating and going out.
    A satisfied and happy teacher is everything for a good School.

  1. Chris Kitrinos Says:

    A satisfied and happy teacher certainly is everything for a good school. But I bet there are a lot of others like me, who had to struggle with the management over some of these issues. For example, some full-time contracts require a teacher to sit around the school even if there are no scheduled classes. This can become a ridiculous waste of time, so be careful what you agree to. And where I live and teach, some of the customers prefer an on-site lesson. Travel time was sometimes more than an hour. One-way. All of us have different expectations, but I will not accept an on-site gig unless my time on the road is paid for. Remember you have to ask and stand firm about what you want. Otherwise you may find yourself used up and warn out. Some schools care only about the client and the money. Teachers are replaceable, but good contracts with big companies are golden. Don't let your school take advantage of your "newness." Learn how to say NO.

  1. Ian Says:

    Most schools only care about the money, not the teacher. (If the teacher gets "too tired", they find another one.)

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