The question is a good one. The Utah State Legislator wanted to know how many days I taught each year. He was quite clear. "I know that public school teachers are in the classroom for 180 days a year and that each school district tacks on a few additional days for training and preparation. How many days do college teachers work?"
It may be unfair to suggest that the good question may have been a way to get at even more serious questions: Do college faculty work as hard as public school faculty? How much actual teaching do we get for the salary paid? How many days do college students actually spend in class? How much work does the college faculty actually do?I'm not sure how to answer the questions behind the question, but I know that each college quarter in Utah is from 49 to 53 class days and that a school year is three quarters. In addition there are examination days, grading days, research days, and preparation days each quarter. At my college we report a month before the classes start each fall quarter for workshops, seminars, committee meetings, lab preparation and study. This information probably does not answer the legislator's question.
There are at least two reasons why the answers to the real questions are difficult. The first reason is that people in professions tend to live their profession in a way that many people in the trades don't. Some tradespeople are able to put away their work when they arrive at home. For example, a historian will read the news with an eye to learning things that will make for a better class. Reading the news may not be related to the specific skills of the tradesperson although the professional tradesperson will no doubt continually work and even read to improve skills.
A literature teacher makes it a point to read the book reviews in the Sunday paper. This professional subscribes to literary magazines which may be read at home or at the office. This teacher will probably read a particular Shakespeare play every time she teaches it and continue to read critical reviews. This study does not necessarily take place at the office. Attending the Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City each year is more than just entertainment; it is a requirement for the teacher of Shakespeare.
In my case I teach the Book of Job as one of the standard pieces in a literature course. I read the Book of Job every quarter I teach it. I am continually on the lookout for new insights in journals and newspapers that I subscribe to. I clip articles and am often a fortunate recipient of information from colleagues with similar interests or colleagues who are aware of my interest. I also hear talks about Job while at church but my keen sense of separation of church and state doesn't allow me to count church attendance as work, even when I get ideas that would help with my class presentations on this classic piece of world literature. That would be like an attorney dreaming at night about a pending case and then adding $60 to the bill when he woke up in the morning.
The second reason that discovering how much time professional educators work is that there is no clear line for them between work and recreation. The literature teacher who reads the book reviews in the Sunday paper probably doesn't read because it is required for her work. She does it because she enjoys it. When she takes a new novel with her on the family camping trip she does it for entertainment, even though she may be teaching the novel next quarter in a literature class. Is her reading entertainment or work? There is no clear distinction even though her class will be better because she read the book.
The point is that I can't answer the legislator's question. Even though I know how long the academic quarters last, I don't know how long I work. Do I count the phone calls I get at home from students and colleagues? Do I count the reading I do on vacation? Do I count my time in the British Museum while on vacation? I probably don't even though at least some of these activities may make the classes I teach better.
Probably the real question should not be about time but about results. Perhaps asking me about how much time it takes is really irrelevant and the real question should be about what the students learn. Perhaps one evidence of a professional is that she takes whatever time necessary to do the job right. The professional is hired to do a job, not to put in time.
- Roger Baker is associate professor of English/education at Snow College. Comments or questions about "Learning Matters" may be addressed to Dr. Roger Baker, English Department, Snow College, Ephraim, UT 84627.