When you think of an elementary teacher, you may think of someone who spends their days reading, playing, and painting with young children. Perhaps you have fond memories of your elementary school teacher and wonder what it would be like to be a teacher yourself. You might also ask yourself; how many hours do elementary teachers work per week?
Elementary teachers work an average of 40 hours per week. These hours fall into their contractual paid hours. This includes time for lesson planning, time in the classroom with students, and school meetings.
The rest of this article will explain a few topics related to this question, including teacher contracts, how many hours elementary teachers work depending on their school, teacher duties, and variations in teaching schedules.
Elementary Teacher Contracts
Teachers who work in a public, private, or charter school sign contracts. The contract may have different requirements depending on the school type. However, the standard work week for an elementary teacher includes 40 contractual working hours per week.
Teachers spend the majority of contract hours working in the classroom with their students. Students spend between six and seven hours at school daily. Most teachers are contracted to work 40 hours per week. This means that they work eight hours a day on average. However, these numbers can vary depending on the school.
For example, some private schools may have students come to school for close to eight hours a day. This means teachers are working longer with the students in the classroom. These teachers may also be contracted for eight hours per day, or they may be contracted for slightly more, such as eight and a half or nine.
In any case, regardless of the school a teacher works at, they will have contractual hours during which they are required to do several things. Their contractual hours are used for lesson planning, teaching the students, staff meetings, and professional development.
Contracts Over Summer
One important thing to remember when considering the number of hours elementary teachers work per week is that teachers are only contracted for ten months out of the year. They are not contracted and paid to work during the summer months. However, even though most teachers are not paid for the summer months, they still work throughout the summer.
Teachers often use the summer months to plan for the upcoming year, search for instructional materials, attend professional development sessions, or spend time decorating the classroom. Some teachers are required to participate in professional development over the summer, and others do so on their own accord. Some teachers will participate in close to 100 hours of professional development sessions over the summer.
It can be challenging to determine the average number of hours teachers work per week due to differences in schedules, schools, and states. A recent study found that, on average, teachers in the United States work 42.2 hours per week during the school year. The study also found that teachers work an average of 21.5 hours over the summer.
If you consider that most teachers are not contracted to work over the summer, this means that teachers work much more than a 40-hour work week in terms of their contracted hours. When you consider the 39-week teacher contract, many teachers estimate that they work an average of 54 hours per week.
How Elementary Teachers Spend Their Working Hours
When considering how many hours elementary teachers work per week, it is essential to consider what tasks they are expected to complete throughout the week. In general, schools have three main requirements of tasks that teachers need to complete throughout the week. The three main requirements that teachers must meet each week are:
- Lesson planning.
- Classes with students.
- Teacher meetings.
These are the main tasks that teachers need to complete each week. Below I will go into more detail about each assignment.
One of the most time-consuming aspects of being a teacher is lesson planning. Teachers have to spend several hours a week planning and preparing lessons. Teachers must consider state standards, student goals, and district or school requirements when planning lessons.
State standards are one of the primary ways teachers organize what they teach. Each state can decide if they use the Common Core Standards or adopt its own standards. The standards determine what students learn by grade level. They tell teachers what students need to know by the end of the year.
Teachers must consider these state standards when lesson planning to ensure their students master their end-of-year learning targets. If teachers do not plan according to the state standards, their students will be unprepared for end-of-year testing and not accomplish their yearly goals.
Many schools also require that teachers turn in lesson plans each week. This is to ensure that their lesson plans are coordinated to the standards. It is a system of accountability for teachers and school administrators. In public school districts, principals and school administrators often have to turn in these lesson plans to the district.
Lesson planning can take a significant amount of time. Teachers may spend as many as seven hours per week on lesson planning. This does not include the additional time they spend looking for resources or creating resources to use in their classroom.
As mentioned before, the time teachers spend with students daily can vary depending on the school schedule. Some teachers may only have 40 minutes of daily planning time in their contract hours. Others may have closer to 90 minutes of planning time daily.
Teachers with an hour or less of daily planning time often do planning work outside their contractual hours. This means that they are taking work home or working unpaid hours.
Classes With Students
Teachers spend the most significant portion of their days working directly with students. As mentioned, most students spend between six and seven hours in school. During this time, teachers work with them the majority of the time.
Most elementary teachers are in charge of teaching all the major subjects. These subjects include:
- Social Studies
Teaching these five main subjects takes up the majority of the school day. In addition to these core subjects, students often have extracurricular classes, such as art, technology, or physical education.
Teachers may have their planning times during one of these extracurricular classes. However, this may only be a 40-minute period. This is also when teachers have breaks to use the restroom or eat. So for many teachers, this period is used more as a break than a planning period.
This break time is also often used to help manage student behavior, such as conducting restorative circles with students, writing emails to parents, or discussing solutions to student behavior with the administration. While these tasks may seem like they are relatively quick and easy, they can take up a lot of time. Furthermore, if teachers have students who are difficult to manage, they may spend hours per week creating new behavior management systems.
Additionally, teachers who have to plan for all five subjects spend more time planning than middle or high school teachers who plan just two or three classes. Elementary teachers must ensure they meet standards for each subject, and planning multiple subjects takes a lot of time.
Also, while teachers are in class with students, they are expected to work with the whole group, one-on-one or in small groups. This is a hectic and fast-paced time for teachers. They do not have time to sit around and work on planning or attend to other tasks, as they are entirely focused on the students.
Another part of teacher contracts is the staff meetings that they must attend. Most schools have staff meetings once a week or biweekly. They use this time to discuss school events, internal organization, and essential upcoming tasks, such as report cards or parent-teacher conferences.
Staff meetings are obligatory, and all teachers and school personnel attend. Some weeks, in place of a staff meeting, teachers must attend a professional development session.
These professional development sessions range in their objectives. Some may be about a specific subject, such as reading or science. Others may focus on social-emotional learning in the classroom. It often depends on the school’s focus for the year. Professional development is an excellent way for teachers to improve their practice, whether in instructional practices or classroom behavior systems.
Most professional development sessions put on by the school administration are done during contract hours. And many are hosted by the companies that make schools’ curriculums. Many teachers like to attend these professional development sessions because they can discuss the specifics of the curriculum they use in their classrooms.
The sessions hosted by the curriculum companies are often done after school or on weekends. Teachers who attend these sessions often do this on their personal time. They spend out-of-contract hours attending these development sessions to improve their practice.
Furthermore, most teachers are exempt from receiving bonus payments for overtime hours under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This law requires companies to pay employees for overtime hours, meaning those that exceed 40 hours per week. However, teachers are exempt from this since they qualify as a profession with high enough earnings.
Some might class this as “unfair” as we’ve seen that teachers spend significant, sometimes up to 100 hours during the summer of unpaid time in professional development sessions.
Variations in Elementary Teacher Working Hours Based on School Types
One crucial factor that can significantly impact the number of hours an elementary teacher works is the type of school they work in. There are different types of schools that have various requirements for teachers.
For example, teachers may work in project-based learning schools, standard district curriculum schools, or dual-language schools. Below I will explain each of these in further detail.
Project-Based Learning Schools
Project-based learning (PBL) is a system in which students learn based on themes or units. They complete projects as a culminating activity to demonstrate the knowledge gained during the unit. This system teaches hands-on learning, meaning students actively participate in their learning experience.
Hands-on learning means that students may be creating, building, or designing some project to demonstrate mastery of learned knowledge. Project-based learning has many benefits for kids, such as improvement in collaboration, problem-solving, and depth of understanding.
However, the challenge with project-based learning is that it does require a teacher who is well trained in how to run a project-based learning classroom. Elementary teachers who work at project-based learning schools may have to spend many extra hours planning, designing, and collecting resources for upcoming units or topics.
Teachers may spend significantly more time searching for resources and finding manipulative materials for students to use in their projects. This is usually additional work for teachers, as they have to plan out the units and collect all the resources and materials that students need.
For more information on how project-based learning works at schools, check out this YouTube video by PBLWorks:
District Curriculum Schools
Another type of school elementary teachers may work at is a school that follows the district curriculum. Many school districts throughout the state have their unique curriculum. It often spans all subjects; reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.
Many schools choose to use this district-mandated curriculum. In some districts, it is mandatory; in others, it is optional. District curriculums are often based on relatively simplified, traditional learning practices. These curriculums involve students reading out of textbooks or completing workbook pages from a practice book.
Teachers who use a district curriculum do not have to spend as many hours planning or searching for resources. Almost all the resources are provided for them. Teachers who use the district curriculum will likely work closer to a strictly 40-hour work week as they do not have to spend time hunting for outside resources.
However, suppose teachers feel that the district curriculum is incomplete or need to supplement it with additional learning activities. In that case, they will have to spend time looking for other resources.
Another type of school elementary teachers may work in is a dual-language school. Dual-language schools are those that teach more than one language. These schools tend to attract students who do not speak English as their first language and native English speakers looking to learn a second language.
In these schools, teachers must be bilingual. They often teach a certain percentage of time in each language. However, some teachers use English-based curriculums and adapt them to the other language. This creates a significant barrier for these teachers in terms of resources.
It can often be challenging to find resources in languages other than English. Many teachers spend extra hours looking for books, information, and kid-friendly resources in a different language. This is likely to significantly extend their working hours to closer to 54 hours per week, rather than the contracted 40 hours.
Dual-language teachers are also often tasked with ensuring that all the materials, letters, and announcements they send to families are in both languages. And translating letters, emails, and resources can be a very time-consuming task.
Types of Elementary Teachers
As mentioned, the hours an elementary teacher works can vary significantly based on their specific role and position in the school. There are many types of elementary teachers, some of which include:
- General classroom teacher
- Reading specialist
- Art teacher
- Technology teacher
- Physical education teacher
Suppose you are a general classroom teacher in an elementary school. In that case, this is when you are likely working the most prolonged hours per week. As a specialist, such as a technology or art teacher, you have more breaks and fewer classes overall. Typically specialists work their contract hours, around 40 hours per week.
Additionally, suppose you are a reading specialist. In that case, you are pulling students from their classrooms to work with them one-on-one or assisting in a classroom to help the teacher with reading activities. A reading specialist is typically able to do almost all their lesson planning within their contracted hours. Reading specialists tend to follow a specific reading program, and have to spend fewer hours searching for additional resources.
Physical education teachers also have to spend less time on planning. While they still need to plan their activities according to the standards, the activities that students are doing in physical education class usually require less preparation as they are more physical.
Therefore, if you are a general classroom teacher, you are likely working the most hours compared to other extracurricular or part-time teachers. General classroom teachers in elementary school will probably work between 42-54 hours per week.
The hours that elementary teachers work per week can vary significantly depending on their school and what type of teacher they are. However, teachers typically sign contracts that mandate a 40-hour work week. Some teachers work more than this per week, closer to 52 hours per week, while others stay close to the 40-hour week.
- Brookings: Do Teachers Work Long Hours?
- National Center for Education Statistics: Schools and Staffing Survey
- Mandy: How Much Time Do Teachers Spend Planning Lessons?
- Economic Policy Institute: Expanding Overtime Protection for Teachers Under the Fair Labor Standards Act
- We Are Teachers: I Get Paid for 180 Days of Work Each Year, but I Actually Work More Than 250
- Destination Imagination: 10 Benefits of Project-Based Learning
- YouTube: Project-Based Learning: Explained
- Resilient Educator: Four Ways Common Core Standards Will Impact Classroom Teachers