Professors have a lot of homework

By Anthony Esbensen

Semesters wind down for colleges everywhere, and whether you are taking summer courses or just waiting until the fall, you probably are not thinking about your professors. 

How much do professors work? You probably haven’t asked this before, but the answer may shock you.

In an interview with Maria Boyd, assistant professor of Communication Studies, she offers a perspective students need to understand.

“I teach what is called an overload, so I teach seven classes both in the spring and fall. I teach four classes in the summer.”

We rarely think about what professors are going through. Sure, students have to stress about upcoming assignments, but who will grade them?

Boyd said in her answer, “I have about 125 students, so if I get 115 pieces of homework every week and say I only spend 5 minutes grading each piece. Figure that math out.”

Photo courtesy of Delaware County Community College.

That math rounds out to about 10 hours of grading every week. It is hard to imagine every student thinking about this.

Susan Ray, associate professor of English at DCCC, said from her perspective, “I have five sections, all English classes, most of them are full. So about 70 students, If they each write three papers and it’s a half an hour paper, you can do the math and it adds up.”

Once again, the math would add up to about 35 hours of just grading papers.

John Ziker’s 2014 article “The Long, Lonely Job of Homo Academics” found professors spend 11 percent of the average day on course administration, including grading. While these are two different situations, there is still a lot of time spent just grading.

That is only one section of their job. However, the amount of time spent doing their entire job might make people gasp.

Ziker also said that these professors work over ten hours a day from Monday to Thursday and about 61 hours for the full week.

In an email interview with Ziker, he said the goal of his research was to show awareness of how much professors worked.

A 2018 article in The Atlantic, “How Hard Do Professors Actually Work?” reports on their schedules outside of class. One professor, Phillip Guo said he spent 15 hours a week teaching, 18-25 on research, four with meetings, six for service work, and five to ten for random meetings.

On the topic of meetings, professors spend a lot of time attending them. It’s not just Guo’s story that can surprise people, it shows meetings take up about 17 percent of the workweek, according to Ziker’s article.

When asking about the value of these meetings, Ziker said:

“Meetings have varying value depending on what the meeting is about. Many meetings are about governance. The university operates on the principle of shared governance. That means that the faculty (and professional staff, governing boards, and sometimes, students) have a significant role to play in the direction of the university and its operation along with the administration.”

Meetings can be important but time-consuming, meaning 17 percent of the workweek spent in meetings adds up to ten to 11 hours.

The pandemic has only made being a professor harder, with more students taking online courses. Remote teaching creates another new challenge for professors around the country. Ziker’s article was published before the pandemic. He acknowledged results of his study could be different if conducted when COVID-19 limited in-person learning.

“Yes, the pandemic has greatly affected these numbers depending on the faculty member. A number of faculty are spending a lot more time on teaching than they did in the past. So to keep their research agendas going, they need to spend more total time [working each week.]”

Boyd also said the pandemic has changed her job as a professor, having to create more open book and open note assignments. She called it “one of the most intense parts of my job”.

Going back to the original question of how much professors work, it is pretty clear they have a lot on their plate. So as semesters wind down and you look back at how good or bad your professors are, think of people like Boyd.

She loves her job. It was easy to hear her passion and her exhaustion when interviewing her. Professors work much more than just the one-hour course a student might take.

Professors have dozens, if not hundreds of students to care about, and they spend hours grading, teaching, and attending meetings that may or may not be useful.

The next time you or someone else complains about a professor, remember this from Boyd when asked how much she works: “I cannot even quantify it. When I am awake, I am thinking about my job and my students.”

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