Teachers work hard and they work long days.
That’s a subjective claim, but one that won’t cause much argument. Quantifying it is another matter. It’s not unusual to see a headline like this one, from the Washington Post of March 16, 2012: “Survey: Teachers work 53 hours per week on average.”
The author was the chief academic officer of Scholastic, Inc., who conducted the survey along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The workday figures were compiled from the responses offered by teachers themselves.
But teachers are as human as the rest of us, and New York Times columnist Catherine Rampell points us to a study published last year in the Monthly Labor Review that demonstrates how people routinely overstate the number of hours they work.
Rather than let respondents simply estimate the number of hours they work, the American Time Use Survey requires them to keep diaries of all their activities. This study found the more hours someone claimed to work during a week, the greater the overestimate was. And when asked to add together the time for every activity during a typical week, respondents often came up with an answer that totaled more than 168 hours. Some overestimates of work hours were as high as 50%.
Even the time diaries are not ideal, since they still rely on self-reporting. It’s a good lesson in why we measure things.