Marathon man and a serious point about lesson length

Today has quite possibly been the most draining day at work I have ever had.

To give you a bit of background flavour, I work in a college of further education in the UK. Think stepping stone to-, not quite university level. ESOL and basic skills qualifications sit alongside things like BTECs, vocational qualifications, and even HE stuff including PGCEs. Diverse provision to say the least.

Morning ESOL classes start at 9.30am, and the evening ones end at 8.30pm. Which means regularly teachers have days going something like this: arrive at work between 8.30 and 9am; teach from 9.30 to 12; lunch break of 30 minutes or an hour followed by another 2-2 and a half hour lesson; finally the last class of the day runs from 6.30 to 8.30pm.

Throw in another cover lesson between the afternoon and evening classes above, coupled with the anxiety of possibly being observed in one of the lessons, and you have my first day back after our Easter holiday.

I am BEAT!!!

But, I’m aware that others are in situations a lot tougher than I am – teaching maybe 20, 40, 100 students at a time, maybe teenagers. The mind boggles. I know I should be grateful – a lot of people don’t have a job, I’m lucky.

But I can’t help feeling something runs a little deeper here.

Certain parts of education seem to think we are carthorses. ‘Of course you can manage a 12 hour day, can’t you? You’ve got breaks. Oh, you’re teaching tomorrow morning as well, remember’.

Certain parts of education seem to think that our students are automatons, for whom getting through a 2 and a half hour lesson is nothing. ‘Give them a break halfway through’. Find me anyone who can concentrate that long and I’ll eat my hat.

Honestly, what can they hope we will achieve when we are all so TIRED??


  1. And when do you prepare for your classes Mike? I am astounded at the amount of hours they work you…

  2. Hi Mike – Totally understand where you are coming from in this post. I think an important lesson teachers are going to have to teach themselves is how to give themselves a break, now and again, while at the same time giving the students a bit of slack too. Expectations placed on teachers (and students) to perform are getting higher and higher but its important to take a step back and not get caught up in the endless treadmill. Yes, lucky to have a job but don’t let this be used as a weapon against you – and anyway luck is only a small part of the story. You’ve worked for it, enjoy it and don’t let the xxxxxxxx get you down :)

    best wishes

  3. First day back to a 12 hour day, but with breaks. Teaching ESOL can be more tiring than teaching HE due to the lack of motivation and autonomy.

    Our team have just found out that apart from doing FS ICT & Maths, for the final term we are changing our examining board!! Argh! I know it’s due to getting funding and we are lucky to have jobs, but teachers cannot be as effective as they can be when they are tired.

    I feel that I’m not able to give my best to all my students as I have paperwork coming out of my ears! Something needs to give…

    Sorry to sound like I’m complaining but I think this will continue to happen in ESOL with funding cuts. With the political links it has, it will keep suffering and the learners who need it most will not be able to access English

    Oh well, another 12 hour day tomorrow…

  4. My worst regular days had me teaching 9.5 hours (Mondays as well…), while they did sometimes get a bit fuzzy at the end, I think it was the first class which was the hardest because it was 4 hours long – I’ve got better at planning teaching long classes, but they still feel like a mammoth effort. I’m not sure how learners are getting at the end of it.

    Having said that, while 1 hour 3 times a week might be better than 4 hours once a week, it’s harder for learners to fit around work and family commitments – so it’s a compromise – students are not just learners in isolation.

    Having said that, as a teacher, the heaviest load seemed to be teaching 14 different groups, all but one for just 1 hour, that was a real killer….

    • I’m with you there. Being part time I don’t have so many hours, but all my classes are different now – no way to double up preparation of anything, and no way of reusing things as they are all at different levels!

  5. Hey Mike, this sounds like a very familiar scenario. Because full-time work is almost non-existent in Barcelona, nearly all the teachers I work with have at least 3 teaching jobs and often start with business classes at 8am followed by a variety of private students or off-site classes in schools where the kids are on their own patch and therefore indifferent to an outsider coming in – classroom management issues are huge! Throw in a 3 hour class at the end of the day with 16 surly, tired teenagers and we wonder why there is often not a huge amount of learning going on. Don’t get me wrong – these teachers are great but, as you say in your post, finding a teacher who can concentrate and consistently give everything with that kind of schedule and I’ll eat my hat too!

  6. Wow, that’s really tough, Mike!!! Do you work that much on a daily basis? I teach 3.5 hours a day at school (12.00-3.30) which is absolutely great and I can give the best of my performance plus 2 hours in the afternoon (4.00-6.00) on a one-to-one basis which is ok but not always; if my day at school has been too tiring, I may already be worn out and can’t teach as well as I could. Teaching 6 hours a day is the most I can do. More than this would kill me, drain me, make me totally unproductive. People may think we should work more but only teachers can understand what it takes to deliver even a one-hour lesson successfully.

    • No, I don’t work that long every day, just Mondays. I reduced my hours to half that of a full time member of staff when I started the DELTA.

      However, when I started in ESOL in the UK, I was at college for 9 to 5 Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 9.30 to 9.30 on Wednesdays. I wasn’t teaching all those hours, but I was at my place of work. It was quite draining!



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