We Know How Much Planning Time Teachers Get on Average. Is It Enough?

Education Workforce

We Know How Much Planning Time Teachers Get on Average. Is It Enough?

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo     Mar 14, 2024

We Know How Much Planning Time Teachers Get on Average. Is It Enough?

This article is part of the collection: Data Bytes: Parsing Education Data Into Snack-Sized Servings.

Given the amount of planning time he has each day, along with the assistance of an AI-powered app, Robert can easily turn a hard copy reading passage and questions into an interactive quiz for the students in his elementary classroom.

But if he wanted to design something more engaging, where the kids are making cutouts or drawing as part of the lesson, well — there’s just not enough time in his 45-minute conference period to design that.

That’s partly because Robert can count on needing to take care of any number of other tasks that might need his attention, like participating in a meeting about a student having behavioral issues. On top of that, Robert knows that any hands-on lesson without a computer will need to include plenty of time to walk students through the instructions. (EdSurge is only using Robert’s first name out of concern for his privacy.)

His Gen Alpha students are more comfortable using a Chromebook for schoolwork than not, and shepherding them off their screens takes more time and finesse.

“The way that they learn is so individualized, the way that their brain takes in information — they all have a personal assistant in their pocket that gives them information,” Robert says. “It’s not so much the planning time that it’s taking. The kids are struggling to do things without technology.”

Public schools provided teachers with an average of 266 minutes of dedicated planning time per week, according to results from the School Pulse Panel administered in December 2023. The panel surveys about 2,400 school principals representing all grade levels.

That works out to about four hours and 26 minutes of planning time per week.

Elementary school teachers get about four hours of weekly planning time on average, which is 40 minutes less than their middle school counterparts and 49 minutes less than high school teachers.

What’s a ‘Good’ Amount of Planning Time?

Is an average of 266 planning minutes per week what teachers might consider a good or sufficient amount? Not likely.

At the very least, the current average adds up to an amount of planning time that hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years, according to data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The same report found that teachers have consistently identified more planning and collaboration time as improvements to the job that would entice them to stay.

“Adjusting district planning and collaboration time policies will not be the panacea for all retention challenges,” the author writes. “However, districts would do well to consider how planning and collaboration time might contribute to a larger array of teacher supports, and further, increase job satisfaction among teachers and enhance learning for students.”

Looking beyond the average, nearly half of principals who responded to the School Pulse Panel — 47 percent — said their teachers are allotted three few hours or fewer of planning time per week. Just 9 percent said teachers have five hours or more for planning.

These figures also come at a time when, as part of the same survey, 28 percent of schools overall reported increasing their amount of teacher planning time.

Why Does Planning Time Matter?

Teachers don’t simply show up to school and deliver stellar instruction without preparation.

Since the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have battered educator mental health, the issue of whether or not teachers have enough class prep time has surfaced as a component of teacher retention.

A teacher retention task force recommended last year that Texas lawmakers commission a time study to help administrators free them up from anything getting in the way of teaching, planning or collaboration. (The corresponding bill died in committee.) In the fall, Portland, Oregon, teachers and their school district agreed on a new contract that would increase elementary and middle school teacher planning time to nearly eight hours per week.

“Teachers are expected to do an extreme amount of things in a short amount of time,” one elementary teacher wrote to the Texas task force, listing planning, teaching, “endless paperwork,” professional development and meetings as their tasks on a given day. “Admin wants memorable lessons, which I agree, but we are never given the time to plan those.”

Robert says that it’s not just additional work that makes planning more difficult — the needs of a generation of students raised with technology are more complex. In his experience, the elementary students he teaches are hard pressed to do activities without the aid of a computer.

Robert recalls one situation where a colleague designed an activity for students to do after completing a standardized test, when no one would be allowed to use any piece of technology until all students were done. The assignment was to draw an animal in its natural habitat.

Some of his students pleaded for a chance to look up a picture of their animal of choice on a laptop, Robert recalls, or find a YouTube tutorial on how to draw it. He was stunned by their hesitation to try drawing anything from memory.

“They all need tech to function, so the activities I do have to center around tech — or it takes extreme planning, and that, we don’t have time for anymore,” Robert explains.

What would truly help students is more individualized attention, he says, which is hard for a teacher to give by themselves. He recently heard that a nearby school district was making staffing cuts, but only to positions like paraprofessionals and teacher aides.

“Now your class size is 25-to-1, but kids need 10-to-1 or 5-to-1, where they work in small groups all day,” he says. “I don’t think it’s so much the planning time. We need more people to work at a school.”

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