How I Spend My Week As a Teacher at LQD

It’s a full-time job with part-time pay – that’s what they say about the teaching job, and after my first two months at LQD primary, lower and upper secondary school, I can profoundly relate to it. In this post, I’ll try enumerating the tasks I have done during the past two months, with respect to the needed time for each, just to remind my future self of what to expect in the new school year. 

22.5 hours of in-class teaching & 32 hours of preparation

A good rule of thumb is that for each hour of class, teachers need 2-4 hours of preparation. Now that I have 22.5 hours of in-class teaching, given that some lesson plans can be used twice in a week for two different classes, I still need at least 32 hours to prepare 16 decent lesson plans.

And lesson planning is not just about copying the textbook to the presentation slides or handouts; it requires online searching and material creation, and so on. Even when we already had in mind all the steps to follow, we still need to write them down in detail, using a standardized format, as administrators rely on the plans to evaluate the teachers’ performance. 

Note: You have to submit the plans to a OneDrive folder at the end of the school year, so better finish in succession and accumulate them during the year, instead of postponing till the year ends. You surely don’t want to ruin your mood for summer vacation with a flood of paperwork.

7 hours for material curating & photocopying

Right here at LQD, we need three main kinds of worksheets: extra exercises for lesson review, extra exercises for night classes, and extra exercises for out-of-class practice. It takes about half an hour to compile a worksheet, using the faculty’s database, let alone a faculty with no database like mine. Sometimes, it takes even more than an hour, especially when we are confused by different font styles and indents and tabs of MS Word. 

Our school differs from most schools I know in that teachers don’t have to struggle with the copier. There’s a guy from the office who will help us with all those things. However, we need to send out the material to his email 24 hours in advance lest it will be printed out late and accordingly… useless. 

Note: Prepare the worksheets one week in advance, otherwise you’ll have to use your money to print them somewhere else to be on time.

3.5 hours for test construction & grading

Throughout a school year, we have four standardized achievement tests that require at least 16 hours of test construction. We also have six 15-min tests and four oral tests, which take another 36 hours to prepare in a year. 

Then it comes to grading that requires about 100 hours, including the time for copying the score onto the gradebook and uploading the score to the school’s data system. 

In total, we need at least 150 hours for test planning and grading in a school year, and that equals to 3.5 hours per week. This work, however, is not counted in our pay, albeit regarded as an inevitable part of the teaching job. Your pay is based on your in-class teaching time only, no matter how much time you spend on grading and preparation.

Note: Thanks to a colleague, I now know an app called ZipGrade that supports grading multiple-choice tests, which would save us lots of effort. Also, don’t forget that you need documentation if you want to fix any mistakes in grading the achievement tests.

2 hours for faculty meeting 

Every Tuesday afternoon, we have an hour of teacher observation and another hour of a faculty meeting in which we give feedback on the observed class and discuss other academic affairs.

As we take turns teaching for others to observe, and as the observed class is presumably critical in peer evaluation, when it comes to our turn, we often spend more time working on the lesson plan and preparing the materials. Even so, numerous flaws can be spotted during the feedback session.

1 hour for the weekly flag-salute ceremony

This is a big difference between Vietnamese schooling and others: Every Monday, we have an hour of flaf-salute ceremony in which the whole school will gather at the main hall, then the administrators will talk about the disciplinary matters of the week. They are followed by a civic education section and end with a musical perfomance. I’m not fond of this ceremony, except for the flag saluting and anthem singing part (yeah I’m quite patriotic). 

Now the civic education section is conducted by the school faculties. The faculties also take turns organizing it. So when it comes to our faculty, there’s no doubt a little more work to do in the week.

1 hour for paperwork

In Vietnam, teachers have to fill in different forms: sổ báo bài, lịch báo giảng, sổ đầu bài, bảng kê tiết (timesheets). Every once in a while, we also have to submit certain forms for exchanging the teaching hour with another teacher (đơn xin đổi tiết), input the statistics of students’ test results after each achievement test and the education quality report after each semester. And at the end of the school year, we have to fill in the school report, which is a simple but very demanding task since we have to copy a lot of numbers manually but are not allowed to make any mistakes, complete the assessment for students’ conduct certificates (chấm hạnh kiểm), revise the appendixes for some other documents, and finish the self-evaluation forms.

1 hour for committee meetings, email checking and communication

Apart from the faculty meeting, we also have other kinds of meetings which cost you 15-30 minutes every week. The time for communication adds up to that number and makes up about 1 hour in total.

At some point, you will be assigned irrelevant tasks, such as partaking in a contest of Political Theories for Protecting the Communist Party or writing an article for the school’s news site. Although these tasks are not directly linked to your payment, the administrators also rely on them to conduct teacher evaluation, which may in turns affect your pay scale. 

The hitherto listed tasks eat up at least 70 hours of my working week. Now in the following school year, I’m afraid there’ll be many more tasks awaiting me.

Working as a homeroom teacher

The headmaster keeps saying that a teacher should throw away the chalk (quit the job) if he doesn’t even try to work as a homeroom teacher. Well, he has a point, doesn’t he? 

Being a homeroom teacher allows us to reach a higher level of teacher-student connection and teacher-parent interaction. It’s way more dramatic and stressful than being just a subject teacher, but it’s also very rewarding, as you seem to be a custodian that supports your kids in things other than just academic affairs. Perhaps I’ll be designated to be a homeroom teacher next year, which is a serious challenge.

Preparing 12th graders for the national high school education exam 

While those who teach other grades will enjoy their summer a few days after May, those who teach grade 12 have to work up to the end of June because they have to prepare the kids for the national high school education exam (kỳ thi THPTQG). Shorter summer break and more responsibility, but we’re not in the position to negotiate. Also, we only earn important positions when we do important jobs, don’t we?

Training the gifted students for provincial and national competitions

This is the way secondary schools gain their reputation, and thus it’s the kind of work that the school administrators value the most. Once the kids I train get the third, if not the first, prize in a local contest, as a trainer, I will also earn the honor.

Support the school office in expat staff recruitment and communication

My school is currently recruiting 5 native English teachers, but the office staff are not really proficient in English speaking, so the administrators ask me to help them with the communication part. This will surely consume another chunk of my personal time.

Submitting a research paper for the title of chiến-sĩ-thi-đua-something

This is quite new to me, though, but I was assigned to finish at least one research paper in the next school year. The purpose of this is to share with other fellows a new method or technique that you have adopted and found helpful. 

Forming and running an English club

Of course I’m not the only one who is responsible for this extracurricular activity; it’s the whole faculty’s job, but as I receive a lot of expectations from my bosses, supervisors, and colleagues, I have a strong feeling that I have to play a certain role in this project.

By and large, my working week is much more than just teaching and preparation. There’s a great deal of nameless tasks that I’m not always recognized for. Even now, in the summer vacation, I have to work on something called PD – Professional Development, with all kinds of training courses and seminars and workshops (tập huấn, or bồi dưỡng thường xuyên). This post is, however, not to lament the overwork-underpay situation, but to cast away the myth that teaching is an easy job, and to reaffirm my belief in the seriousness of this career. 

Hopefully in the next couple of years, I can be a better teacher than I am now.

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