Alberta teachers take part in massive workload study

EDMONTON – Every half hour between 5 a.m. and midnight daily, for one week each month, junior-high teacher Joe Bower records everything he does that’s work related.

Bower is among about 3,700 educators across Alberta filling out the online diary for what’s likely the largest teacher workload study ever undertaken in Alberta, and one of the largest in Canada.

“The size of this study is enormous and, quite frankly, the dollar value that must be going into this study is probably quite impressive, so there had better be some impressive things that come out of this,� said Bower, who teaches Grade 6 and Grade 8 language arts and social studies in Red Deer.

Thousands of teachers, principals and vice-principals from across the province are filling out online questions for one full week each month during the yearlong study that concludes at the end of June.

Research company R. A. Malatest and Associates Ltd. is collecting the data and randomly chose participants from across Alberta, said Alberta Teachers’ Association executive secretary Sharon Vogrinetz.

“This will be one of the biggest (teacher workload studies) ever as far as this kind of detail and this kind of volume,� Vogrinetz said. “Every week of the year, including Christmas break and March break, there will be people that are doing the diary … They wanted a comprehensive study of the full school year.�

The study costs just under $500,000 and will help Alberta Education determine if changes are needed, said department spokeswoman Tamara Magnan in an email. The final report will go to the education minister as well as the ATA and the Alberta School Boards Association, she said.

“We recognize that by supporting teachers — including making efforts to reduce their workload — Alberta’s students will continue to benefit from a world-class education,� Magnan said.

Teachers participating in the study select one of 31 options to indicate what work they’re doing each half hour. Teaching, going on a field trip, hallway supervision, eating lunch, preparing report cards, lesson planning, organizing equipment, parent-teacher interviews, tutoring students and “other� are some of the options, said Bower.

Bower believes workload is a problem, but it’s not just the quantity of work, he said. Classes are too large and complex, he said.

“I’m averaging 45 to 50 hours a week, but I’m not complaining about that. My biggest complaint is the complexity and the class composition. I have got too many kids with high needs, and that’s killing me, and I know I’m not getting to everybody … I’ve got 30-plus kids in all of my classes.â€�

Bower teaches 126 children per day in his 49-minute classes, and his students face a variety of challenges such as fetal-alcohol syndrome, poverty, behavioural problems, and learning English as a second language.

The government keeps gathering input on workload, “but at some point you’ve got to put something into action,� Bower said.

Bower and ATA president Mark Ramsankar said lots of research already exists that shows teacher workload has ballooned, such as a study of nearly 2,500 Alberta teachers released early last year that showed teachers work more hours than most Canadians.

The ATA has encouraged educators to participate in the workload study, Ramsankar said. “But I really don’t believe it’s going to show anything different than what the other workload studies show — that Alberta teachers are overworked and some of the hardest working in the world.�

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