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The myth of the average teacher

  • 22 June 2018


I have the controversial opinion among my colleagues that teachers, on average, actually get paid pretty well. Averaging, however, is the crux of debate on teacher workload. Yes, if a teacher's job is averaged over the year, their pay is reasonable and their workload is manageable.

Alas, teachers are mere mortals; they aren't Time Lords who can redistribute their work to a time of year when they are less busy. With teaching's high attrition rate, we have to seriously start asking how schools can work to alleviate the work intensification teachers are experiencing.

Federal MP Andrew Laming has a knack for putting his foot in his mouth and earning the ire of educators. A recent faux pas — coming after the government's 'Gonski 2.0' review — was an insinuation that teachers need to work longer hours and have fewer holidays. His statements were quickly and humorously rebutted, leading to a clarification of his inelegantly-phrased remarks.

While there are many admirable observations in his clarification, the doctor-cum-politician's conclusions still rely on common misunderstandings about the nature of teaching. Tacking extra hours onto the end of the school day and removing the flexibility of teachers to choose work hours during the holidays will not solve the difficulties teachers face.

That said, work spilling over into home time is a real problem for teachers. I have taught with people from all walks of life — former lawyers, builders, pharmacists — and nearly all of them comment on the insidious and unique work-creep that happens in this profession. Yet the solution is not, as Laming suggests, to force teachers to spend longer at school; many who already arrive early and stay late still have work-life balance issues.

The problem is that spillover is literally built into the job; it is expected that teachers take work home. A teacher's job entails much more than simply teaching, but teachers receive only a small fraction of their day as 'non-contact time'.

In most of Queensland's schools, for example, high school teachers get less than an hour a day of non-contact time, and primary teachers receive a measly two hours a week. This is not a lot of time, particularly when you consider the fact that non-contact time is frequently lost to meetings, extra-curricular activities, or finally getting a chance to eat and go to the bathroom (because a lunch 'break' was taken up by a playground duty).


"When a job regularly requires you to ignore