Average Time-on-Course of a Writing Teacher

Richard H. Haswell

Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi
February 2005

All writing teachers know that a good-faith writing class requires unusual amounts of teacher work because it requires individual attention to students and careful response to student writing. By good-faith, I mean a course that focuses on analysis and argument, requires drafts and substantive revision of major writings, and sets individualized student work-in-progress as the primary text in the classroom.

In numbers, what is the work required of a teacher in a typical first-year writing course? The following calculation is for a first-year course of 25 students, with four substantial out-of-class essays, one required individual conference, and one end-of-the-semester portfolio of writings. It is the most conservative estimate.

A. Individual evaluation of four out-of-class papers (per student)


Each paper assignment, original commenting

20 minutes


Each paper assignment, reading new drafts, grading

20 minutes


Total minutes per paper

40 minutes


Total of four papers

160 minutes


B. Other evaluation and diagnosis (per student)


In-class work (reading essays, quizzes, exercises, etc.)

30 minutes


One required conference

15 minutes


Portfolio: individual assistance and final evaluation

25 minutes


Total minutes per student

70 minutes


C. Total evaluation time (25 students)


Summed evaluation per student (A + B)

230 minutes


All students in the class (times 25)

5,750 minutes


Converted to hours

96 hours

D. Other work for the course


Preparation time (two hours per one hour class)

90 hours


Teaching time in class (3 hours a week, 15 weeks)

45 hours

Total per comp section

135 hours
Summed hours devoted to course


Work with individual students (C)

96 hours


Other work for the course (D)

135 hours

Total time-on-course

231 hours

As I say, this total of 231 hours is a conservative figure. A more realistic estimation probably would add at least 20-30 hours. Two careful studies, where teachers kept track of their own time on course, arrive at considerably higher work time for first-year writing teachers with classes of 25 students: 281 hours (Yvonne Merrill, "Report on GAT workload: Spring 1994," Department of English, University of Arizona, 1994) and 312 hours (Greg Bowe, Florida International University, personal correspondence, 1999).

A standard 8-hour day of 15 weeks of 5 working days a week adds up to 600 hours. Even by the minimal count calculated here, with two writing courses, and with one third the preparation time allowed for the second course (30 minutes instead of 90), the total is 402 hours. With three writing courses, the teacher is already working overtime: 633 hours.

The calculation helps explain why the Conference on College Composition and Communication states that "No more than 20 students should be permitted in any writing class. Ideally classes should be limited to 15" (Statement of Principles and Standards for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing). It also helps explain why, across the nation, first-year regular composition classes average 22-23 students—and generally ceilings are lower at private and more prestigious schools. For an inventory of the current class size of writing programs around the nation, see Class Sizes for First-year Regular and Basic Writing Courses.