Teacher Autonomy and Workload
Teacher autonomy refers to a teacher’s right to use their professional judgement to meet the diverse needs of all students in their classroom. During an intensified period of curriculum change, there are potential opportunities as well as risks for teacher
autonomy. There are also significant potential impacts on teacher workload. These questions asked teachers to reflect on the extent to which they can exercise their professional autonomy in relation to the process of curriculum change, and the extent
to which the redesigned curriculum has impacted their workload.
Teachers feel they have moderate or extensive professional autonomy in several aspects of their professional practice.
Teachers are divided in relation to how much autonomy they feel they have in choosing appropriate technological tools.
“We are having issues with our district taking away autonomy in our technology selection and implementation.”
Teachers feel they have the least autonomy in relation to choosing reporting tools.
The 2017 BCTF Digital Reporting Tools Survey found that only half of teachers have in-service training on tools they are asked to use. 85% had no or inadequate training on privacy issues related to these tools.8
Teachers have diverse views as to how the curriculum has impacted their autonomy, with some teachers finding increased autonomy within the curricular framework.
“I feel I have increased teacher autonomy and choices of teaching methods as well as approaches to school-relevant subject matter as a result of the new curriculum.”
However, other teachers identify significant challenges to autonomy. These challenges are exacerbated by confusing messaging related to curriculum change, and in particular the conflation of curriculum change with pedagogical change. For example, many
in-service days related to curriculum change focused on “personalized learning,” which is a pedagogical approach not curriculum per se.
“Being able to exercise my professional autonomy in these areas is not a reflection of ministry direction or district support, but rather a result of my 25 years plus of teaching experience.”
“The revised curriculum has increased workload drastically and negatively impacted teacher autonomy. We are seeking to individualize the education experience for students, but this is not the case for teachers. We are being told the ’right way’ to
implement and what specific techniques we should and should not be using. The new curriculum is negatively affecting teacher health and well-being and driving good teachers away from the profession.”
“I should also mention the explicit intent of the District to implement new teaching and assessment practice by all teachers—rarely, but often enough stated aloud in unguarded moments. Where will anyone find professional autonomy five years from now?”
Many teachers report that the redesigned curriculum has moderately or significantly increased their workload in multiple areas.
“The new curriculum has been a tremendous increase in workload!”
Teachers have spent a substantial amount of personal time and money finding and creating instructional materials.
“My workload has increased because I was given an outline for the curriculum and was told to go and find the resources and the lesson plans myself.”
“I spent an unacceptable amount of time last school year. It was the hardest year in my entire teaching career, even more time consuming than my first year teaching. Changing every curricular area at the same time with absolutely zero resources being
provided put a burden on teachers that in my opinion almost broke them. It took what should have been an exciting time—to a workload that was so onerous that a balanced work-home life was impossible.”
“Most new curriculum materials (textbooks, pages from the Internet) are not available in French. Therefore, I need to translate it to give to my students.”
“It’s frustrating because we spend so much of our own money on teaching materials and then the topics change and we aren’t provided with new books and lesson materials so we start spending our own money again and time making things.”
“I have never, in 28 years of teaching, had to research so much to meet the needs of my students on a weekly basis.”
This increase in workload has been exacerbated by a change to reporting and assessment procedures.
“This is new! New takes longer. And we aren’t assessing with tests. Those assessments take longer to make, longer to mark. Without any exemplars to gauge by, teachers are creating their own, often assessing the same piece multiple times in order to
make consistent assessments.”
“Time spent on reporting has increased CONSIDERABLY!!! It’s ridiculous how much time report card writing is taking not to mention the increased time required to do one-on-one assessments/self-assessments with Kindergarten students.”
Increases to workload are an effect of the scale of the change, coupled with a lack of resources and uncertainty as to the implementation process.
“Throwing an entirely new curriculum and an entirely new reporting process at the same time has caused an incredible amount of stress and a huge increase in workload.”
“When you completely overhaul every single aspect of someone’s career at one time it is going to have a resounding effect. Time spent gathering new resources, time attending seminars and district opportunities, time spent creating new rubrics and
assessments, time spent collaborating with colleagues. Everything requires time. This is less time spent with family, less time spent on self-care. A teacher who is not at their best socially and emotionally cannot provide the best for their students.”
Some teachers are experiencing “burnout,” and are “exhausted physically, mentally, and financially.”
8 See http://bctf.ca/uploadedfiles/public/publications/