How does the workload of a high-school mathematics teacher compare to a university-level instructor?
To give you some context, I taught grades 7 - 9 for three years and I have taught in one way or another at the university level for 15 years (first as a grad student and now as a professor). My current job is Associate Professor of Mathematics Education in an education department, but I do teach mathematics courses (mathematics content for elementary teachers) as a part of my job.
The workload itself is very different in general. As a junior high mathematics teacher, I taught 5 sections a year (two sections of one course and three sections of another course), and each course had about 30 students in it. I also had other roles, such as teacher duties (lunch duty, detention duty) and coaching (or advising student groups) responsibilities. I had one preparation period each day for which I had to complete all grading, planning, copying, etc. And of course that meant I took a lot of work home.
As a college professor at a research institution, I teach two or fewer classes each semester (depending on whether a research grant has bought me out of teaching a course), with no more than 35 students in each class, probably less. But I have more administrative duties now as a professor, and the research expectation is large enough to take up a non-trivial portion of my time. Plus, there is a great deal of one-on-one teaching while working with graduate students -- advising them on dissertation work, etc. So the general nature of the work is tough to compare. Both roles require a lot of time beyond a standard 40 hour work week.
I have never felt more physically exhausted than when I was a junior high teacher. I have never felt more mentally drained than in my current job. Both kinds of draining also have unique feelings of invigoration associated with them.
To those who have been employed in both secondary and college education, is there a level of college teaching that feels similar to high-school teaching (i.e. is teaching high school similar to teaching 4 college classes a semester)? If college education is too dissimilar to compare to high school/middle school, what are the key differences that set them apart?
Ah, so the real question is to compare the work of teaching, then?
Preparing to teach feels similar now, although I think I am better at it just because more time has passed -- I have learned more about how to target my teaching to connect to my students' thinking, how to create lessons that support conceptual understanding in balance with procedural fluency. But I'd like to think I would have gotten better at this and learned more regardless of my role. So, planning to teach might be similar if we compare class to class and assume equal time was available.
The act of delivering a lesson -- assume the same number of students in each class (which is a big assumption in some cases) -- and one major difference is probably obvious: classroom management. K-12 education in the USA is compulsory up until age 16, right? And college students have more of a choice of whether or not to be there.
But also teachers still must motivate and engage learners at every level, because all students can choose to check out mentally (either choosing not to physically show up in college or not mentally be there in secondary school).
I also agree with the person above who said no parent calls or contact. I would do this as a middle school teacher. I am literally not allowed to discuss student progress with a parent at the university level, because the student is a legal adult.
I do not agree that college teaching has to be more teacher-centered. I think that college teaching can build upon students' thinking, be interactive, and be tailored to the individual needs of students -- particularly if the class is smaller in size -- but college instructors are not required to do this.
I collaborate more with colleagues on planning and debriefing from instruction and also I conduct research on my undergraduate students' learning now as a college professor. But I would have liked to collaborate like this and to conduct action research as a teacher. I didn't have time as a newer teacher, and none of us in my department made this kind of work a priority then.
I do probably spend more time planning and grading as a professor than I did as a teacher, but perhaps because I have more time.
Class-to-class, I probably spend more time on teaching two classes now than I did when teaching two classes as a junior high teacher. But I had more students and more classes when I taught junior high.
As a college professor, we are not evaluated by our students' test scores. Our raises are not affected by student performance (although perhaps the administration could take students' performance into account a bit more?). Instead, I am evaluated by student evaluations and my reflections on my own teaching. I ramp this up by conducting publishable research related to my students' learning, however, so I am able to present data to administrators that takes students' learning into account, as least for some of my courses.
Here is how a typical lesson of mine went as a junior high teacher: Students came in and work on a warm up problem or two. We discussed that problem. We went over the previous night's homework. I presented some material, they practiced some problems with some guidance from me, we discussed the problems -- including some students coming to the board to share their work and thinking, then the students had time to work independently on the problems to get started on their homework during class. Sometimes (once a week or every two weeks), we had a more exploratory problem solving lesson involving working together in groups using manipulatives to understand concepts and develop mathematical understandings on more challenging tasks that required working together in groups.
Here is how a typical lesson of mine (for my mathematics courses for prospective teachers) goes as a college professor: Students come in and sit in their groups and start sharing their homework solutions with each other. We spend time at the beginning of the class going over homework -- mostly with the undergrads coming up to the document camera explaining their thinking and talking with each other about the mathematics. I am more of a facilitator during the going-over-homework process than I used to be. Then, I give them a task that is within their zones of proximal development (they have enough prior knowledge to get started, but they are learning new mathematics by working on the task) to solve with their groups. After they work for a while, we have a class discussion that involves students going to the chalkboard and the document camera to present their work and thinking and the class discusses. Again, I am more of a facilitator and my role is to highlight and clarify and bring out the most important ideas and reinforce them. Then, students receive homework to practice what they learn. I assign fewer homework problems now, maybe about 7, when I assigned about 30 per night to junior high students, but each of the 7 tasks requires a great deal of diagramming, explaining, etc., because the goals of the course are to develop conceptual understanding among the prospective teachers.
The nature of my teaching changed because I changed how I think about teaching over time, and I had a heavier balance on procedural fluency than conceptual understanding or problem solving as a junior high mathematics teacher (this would be different if I taught junior high today!), and I have a heavier balance on conceptual understanding now as a college professor of mathematics for future teachers -- because this is what my students need. They already have strong procedural fluency. What they need is to understand the meanings behind the procedures in order to be more effective teachers.
So, the work of teaching not only is shaped by our level of teaching (junior high, high school, college), but also it is shaped by our goals for our students' learning. That's such an important point that I'd like to end with that. (Thanks for reading all of this, if you did!)
Edited to add: I would like to share a book chapter in which I reflected upon the ways in which I think about teaching mathematics differently now than I used to think about it.
Middleton, J. A., & Jansen, A. (2011). Motivation Matters, and Interest Counts: Fostering Engagement in Mathematics, Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.