- Teachers' views on changing start times have rarely been studied.
- While some teachers see benefits, others see problems.
- The nationwide teacher shortage makes considering the effects of these changes on teachers very important.
From a Google news feed, for several years, I have followed reports in local media of the deliberations of school districts about start times. What would appear on the face of it to be a simple decision with a compelling rationale has turned out to be much more complicated than was originally envisioned.
Accordingly, school districts have been cautious to make changes abruptly and have studied the matter for a long time, in some cases as long as three years. Over that period, school boards and superintendents who make policies have sought input from students, teachers, principals and other school administrators, bus drivers and their supervisors, and parents of children of all ages. In some instances, they have received input from those outside the school districts such as operators of daycare programs and persons concerned with traffic patterns before and after school.
In the early stages of this movement, which is now more than a decade old, sleep specialists presented expert opinions and evidence in a consulting role, then they stepped aside. At some professional meetings I have attended, sleep specialists have recently broadened their role by conducting sessions on how to help districts implement the changes and counter any resistance to changes that arise.
There have now been dozens of studies that have sought to determine whether later start times are beneficial for students, and many positive outcomes have been found. I have discussed these benefits in previous posts but also noted that studies of effects on elementary students whose start times are changed to earlier have been fewer. Switching elementary start times earlier to accommodate later starts for older students has come with complications that have been the focus of much of the resistance encountered by school boards.
Somewhat surprisingly, there have been few systematic studies of how teachers are affected by the changes. For example, in a study of teachers in one school district, high-school and middle-school teachers reported that they slept longer and had less daytime sleepiness, while elementary teachers had no change in total sleep time but reported going to bed and waking earlier. With their school day starting an hour earlier, they also reported that they felt less prepared to start the school day. In another study, one of the few that asked teachers about their preferences for start times, 51 percent of teachers in 17 Swiss high schools endorsed later school start times. In that study, elementary teachers were not surveyed.
An informal survey of 1,700 teachers in Educationweek revealed that opinions about changes in start times were mixed. Some educators reported favorable opinions, but others were skeptical that changing start times had resulted in positive outcomes. One frequent comment was that high-school students would just stay up later. Teachers also commented that due to shortages of buses and drivers, elementary students were arriving at 7:10 a.m. for their 7:30 a.m. start. A few coaches complained that practices for older students now ran very late in the afternoon, and some mentioned that students who had after-school jobs or responsibilities for taking care of younger siblings after school were negatively affected. Finally, many teachers noted that they had problems making doctors’ appointments when their school day started and ended later in the day.
The nationwide teacher shortage makes consideration of the effects of these changes on teachers extremely important. Many have linked teacher shortages to numerous factors in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic required learning to teach remotely and risk illness for in-person teaching. Safety at school has become a compelling concern. Teachers have been challenged recently about whether they have the authority to choose classroom topics and books. Many teachers feel that they are overworked, underpaid, and disrespected. Fewer people are entering the teaching profession and those who do so are leaving the field early in many instances.
Policymakers in schools should listen carefully to their teachers. Changing start times is unlikely to cause more teachers to enter or stay in the profession, but for some teachers who see some negative consequences and feel that they had minimal influence in the decisions, it might be just one more reason to leave.
Albrecht, J.N., Werner, H., Yaw, M.L., Jenni, O. G., & Huber, R. (2021). Teachers' preference for later school start times. Journal of Sleep Research, 31(4), e13534.
Hardison, H. (7-13-2022). What time should school start? We asked teachers. EducationWeek. What Time Should School Start? We Asked Teachers (edweek.org)
Plog, A.E., McNally, J., Wahlstrom, K.L., & Meltzer, L.J. (2019). Impact of changing school start times on teachers/staff, Sleep, 42, Issue Supplement_1, April 2019, Pages A85–A86,
Wahlstrom, K. L., Plog, A. E., McNally, J., & Meltzer, L. J. (2023). Impact of changing school start times on teacher sleep health and daytime functioning. Journal of School Health, 93(2), 128–134.