How much "out-of-class" time is required to be a great teacher?

Here are some answers expressed by experienced educators:
  • For a regular preparation, a class you have taught before, it takes about 2 hours out-of-class time each week for preparation and grading. Most teachers do not have six preparations during a normal six class schedule. If we assume 3 or 4 preparations per day, a teacher should expect to spend a total of 6 to 8 hours out-of-class time each week for preparation and grading.
  • For a new preparation, a class you are teaching for the first time, the out-of-class time will probably double. That is, plan to spend 4 hours out-of-class time each week for preparation and grading.
    • Specific situations will cause the ratios above to go up or down:
      • The ratio will go UP if one has a large class or lots of writing assignments.
      • The ratio will go DOWN if one has a small class or few writing assignments.
  • For new teachers, all of their classes are new preparations - making their work load much larger. This is why new teachers typically experience a severe case of overload - even when they are teaching the same number of courses as experienced faculty members.
  • One "rule of thumb" says:
    • it takes 10 hours out-of-class time per week if you haven't taught a class before
    • it takes 3 hours out-of class time per week to update a class you taught last year
    • it takes 1 hour out-of-class time to recap your notes from last year without changing anything

Does more preparation time lead to better teaching?

This is a commonly expressed myth. Not only can it lead to mediocre teaching but it also makes a teacher feel guilty if they reduce class preparation time, even if their teaching is excellent.

Of course, reducing preparation time by too much is clearly a bad idea. But how much is enough? Two hours for new presentations and half an hour for presentations you've given before is a good guideline.

But surely, if two hours results in a good presentation, then four hours will make it that much better, right? Not necessarily so. Too much preparation time is a very common problem of new teachers. Excessive preparation can result in too much attention to detail, which leads to "covering content" at the expense of overall student learning.

Here are some suggestions:

  • It is important to prepare for class in small chunks of time, rather than working through an exhausting marathon of preparation.
    • A few days before a presentation, take 10 or 15 minutes to develop a title and a brief conceptual outline.
    • Then put it aside and do something else.
  • A day or two later, return to your preparation and reread your outline. Determine if you have captured the main points.
    • Briefly jot down explanations and examples that explain the key items.
    • Prepare an example problem for the class, and then provide the information needed to solve the problem.
      • Use a single example with many "what-ifs" instead of several unconnected examples.
    • Stop working on the lecture after half an hour to 45 minutes.
  • Later, return to the preparation and finish the details. Then look at the presentation and decide where to put the activity breaks: one or preferably two breaks in a 50-minute presentation. Even though the presentation is not perfect, now is the time to stop preparing.
    • Remember the "80-20 Rule" − 80% of the benefit occurs in the first 20% of preparation time.
  • At this point, you have a set of notes - not a completely written draft. If you prefer to use the blackboard, write these notes on paper or note cards. If you use PowerPoint or a smart board, you now have a rough draft of the slides.
  • One last pass through your notes will allow you to correct spelling and grammatical errors and produce an acceptable presentation in minimal time.
  • Shortly before the presentation, review your notes and prepare yourself psychologically (about 10 to 15 minutes). At this point, you will have spent about two hours on the presentation, and should be ready to teach the class.
  • Reducing preparation time focuses your attention on key items and gives you more time to develop and use active learning exercises that involve the students. Less detail and a more flexible set of notes will help you, and therefore your students, to relax.