Editorial: No surprises in teacher workload study

April 19, 2016 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

 After much anticipation, the Malatest study on workload for Alberta teachers has finally been released. With 3,400 teachers —nearly 10 per cent of the full-time population — participating in the study, there were a lot of people with skin in the game awaiting the results with bated breath. The study closed last June and the results were to have been released last October, and after a number of delays we finally have them.

The scope, scale and depth of the data produced by this study is truly groundbreaking. However, the top line results were quite predictable. Predictable, I say, because they were incredibly consistent with so many other studies on the workload of Alberta teachers.

Notably, the results are exactly the same as those found by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) when it completed the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). The Alberta government paid extra in 2013 to oversample Alberta teachers in TALIS, meaning that the Canadian data was made up exclusively of Alberta teachers and that the results represent a robust sample of 1,800 Alberta teachers.

The top-level findings of Malatest and TALIS are exactly the same. The typical teacher week involves 48 hours of professional work.

Malatest confirms TALIS, and TALIS offers us an international comparison of teacher workload. TALIS told us that Japanese teachers put in the longest hours (54 hours per week) in the world, but that Alberta teachers put in the second highest number of hours in the world. The international average is just 38 hours per week.

So, while the Malatest study does not differ from previous studies, it confirms the numbers with a comprehensive, rigorous year-long study. The data is now indisputable.

And the disputability of the data is important. It is the whole reason we have the Malatest study.

During discussions to reach a provincial framework agreement in 2013, school board representatives and the previous government did not believe the data being put forward by your Alberta Teachers’ Association representatives. We didn’t have Malatest or TALIS then. We had a number of studies commissioned by the ATA (including an independent third-party study from highly regarded workplace researcher Linda Duxbury) that also produced comparable numbers. The people across the table from us suggested that the data was ours and must therefore be biased. And so it was agreed that a comprehensive study would be commissioned, and research firm R.A. Malatest and Associates was hired.

Here’s where things get interesting. Whereas TALIS told us that teachers in Alberta teach about seven hours per week more than teachers elsewhere in the world, Malatest is telling us that teachers spend about half their time on teaching and half their time on other stuff. Malatest is also telling us that half of teachers are seeing their outside-of-school time increasing and their in-school time interrupted by about an hour a day of microtasks that interfere with work-related performance and contribute to work-related stress.

Here’s my take: teachers teach longer, and more teaching time requires more professional time. Unfortunately, teachers also have other demanding out-of-school expectations that push their professional obligations out of school hours. Furthermore, the in-school hours include significant distractions from core work. All of this is affecting learning.

But it can be changed. The system needs to be adjusted to allow teachers to focus more on the classroom. Teaching time can be reduced to bring down the full burden and assignments unrelated to instruction can be reduced to lessen the distractions. This can be done and doing it will positively affect students and learning.

So, now we need to have discussions with government and school boards about how to meaningfully and practically address teachers’ conditions of practice. And these officials will have to listen and act because the data is indisputable. ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.

Also In This Issue