“Is It Paid?”

A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I received an email from our principal asking who would like to join a new committee that central office had created. It seemed they wanted someone from each grade level. There are three third grade teachers in my building. None of us wanted to do it. One was pursuing her doctorate. I was already piloting a new science program and, being the new guy, had taken one for the team and signed on to attend bi-monthly leadership team meetings. That left the third teacher — let’s call her Joyce — as next man up and she knew it.

I sometimes wonder if anything would ever get done in a school if it weren't for guilt. Click To Tweet

I sometimes wonder if anything would ever get done in a school if it weren’t for guilt. Because guilt was the only reason Joyce even considered accepting this request. She wasn’t interested in the committee’s work and she’d served on district committees in the past whose recommendations had been ignored. Joyce can be a bit disagreeable, though, so she wasn’t just going to roll over. Instead, she replied to the principal with one question.

It’s a question I suspect few professionals outside of education are ever forced to ask or even wonder.

“Is it paid?”

A hush fell over the crowd.

For some reason, this question is considered impertinent in education. They’re the words of a sassy six-year-old talking back to her mother. How dare teachers ask such a thing? Shouldn’t the opportunity to do good by the students of our communities be enough? What are we, greedy opportunists who operate transactionally, only volunteering our time if we can personally benefit? Aren’t we team players? Don’t we want what’s best for kids?

Joyce knew all this. She relayed the story to us with the unmistakable glee of a rebel who’s just defiantly thumbed her nose at Authority and was now waiting to see how Authority would fight back.

Authority replied via email: “I’ll look into it.”

Which meant it wasn’t paid.

In a just world, the question should never need to be asked. Professionals should be paid for their time. Employers should offer to do so. It should be the expectation, not a favor. There should be no need to “look into it” because the answer should be, “Of course it’s paid! Why would you even ask such an outlandish thing?”

The education world is not just. Because if anything, teachers are more entitled to extra pay than other professionals when you consider the fact that teachers’ extra work will never personally benefit them unless they are paid.

Lawyers work crazy hours in the hopes of making partner.

Small business owners burn the midnight oil because they’re investing in something they hope will pay off in the end.

New hires slave away to impress their boss enough to receive a promotion.

There are no promotions in education. Every extra minute of unpaid work that a teacher performs beyond their contract is done solely for the benefit of others. They will personally receive nothing, ever. There is no brighter tomorrow because you sacrificed today. Teachers start over every fall.

Which is why “Is it paid?” should be only a first step. The real question ought to be, “How much does it pay?” And the answer to that question should determine whether or not you’ll take on additional responsibilities. Because there is a cost to doing so. There are no free lunches. Give here and you’ll have less to give over there. Every decision is a trade-off, so the question really becomes, “What are you willing to give up to take on this new task, and how much should you be compensated in order to do so?”

The answer should never be nothing.

We all place a value on our time, but districts force us to place their value on our time. Most offer an hourly stipend that can’t be negotiated by individual teachers asked to do more work. When we’re lucky enough to be offered extra duty pay, it’s a Hobson’s choice — take it or leave it. Most of us take it because we’ve been conditioned to be grateful for anything, even an amount well below what we think our time is worth (and also typically well below the “hourly rate” we earn teaching).

Teachers should demand more. We can’t expect our employers to value our time when we give it away so cheaply.

Districts should pay more. They have in their employ a group of professionals who regularly tell us they are stressed, overworked, and exhausted. People are fleeing the profession and fewer replacements are joining the ranks. It’s exploitative to ask people who are telling you they are overwhelmed to do more and not offer to pay them fairly for it.

Since teachers already have too much to do, district leaders should not ask them to do more unless the time they are asking them to spend on the new work will be of greater value than the time they would have spent on their own work. And if you can’t afford to pay teachers to join your new committee, then you can’t afford to have a new committee.

If the work is important, pay people to do it. If the work is really important, pay them more. And if it’s not that important, then why are you asking your teachers to do it? They already have enough to do.

If the work is important, pay people to do it. If the work is really important, pay them more. And if it's not that important, then why are you asking your teachers to do it? They already have enough to do. Click To Tweet

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Related:

Teachers’ Extra Hours Are Different

How Teachers Can Give Themselves a Raise

American Teachers Should Work Less

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

 

The Best Gift Teachers Can Give Themselves

Teachers across the country have started their holiday breaks and the feeling among most of them is one of giddy anticipation (and relief). Teachers I talked to this past week can’t wait to sleep in. They’re looking forward to spending time with family, Netflix bingeing, or taking a relaxing vacation somewhere warm and sandy.  Few spoke of material goods they hoped to get for Christmas. They were already getting what they wanted, time.

Teachers, like all other working stiffs, value time off because it gives them the one thing they don’t have enough of most of the year, and that one thing happens to be the most precious commodity on the planet. Time off from work means time away from schedules dictated down to the minute by someone else. It means time away from mindless meetings and baffling policies. It means time spent with loved ones instead of co-workers, nice people though they may be. And, if we’re being honest, it means time away from kids who aren’t yours to spend more time with the ones who are.

Time, long stretches of it, hour upon hour, where we can mostly do whatever we want, is the one gift everyone appreciates. And it’s a gift teachers can give themselves.

It’s strange that many of the same teachers who so value their time off around the holidays think nothing of wasting it once school is back in session. They devote hours of their weekends to checking papers and planning lessons. They go to school on Saturdays to run copies or put up new bulletin boards. Some voluntarily give their time to committees they don’t even care about.

Help is Available

Many of these teachers simply don’t know how to do things any differently. They realize that they’re exhausted, but aren’t sure how to break the cycle.

If you are one of these teachers, there is help available. There is a way for you to get yourself the best present any teacher can ever receive. Small investments now can chop hours off your weeks so that next Christmas you aren’t as overwhelmed.

You can read some previous posts on this blog. Start with these:

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

Be a Better Teacher By Doing Less

10 Things Overworked Teachers Can Stop Doing Tomorrow

 

You might also check out my 10-part series on preventing teacher burnout, which starts here or read my books, Leave School At School and Exhausted, which go into more detail. If you have trouble telling people no, then you’ll want to subscribe to Teacher Habits so you can purchase my upcoming book, The Teacher’s Guide to Saying No, at a low, members-only price.

And you should give the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club a look as well. To date, 45 Teacher Habits readers have joined the club and are now benefiting from increased efficiency, lower stress, and shorter workweeks. You can read some of their stories here

85% of members who joined the club last January trimmed at least three hours off their workweeks. If you cut just three hours off each workweek, you will have given yourself an additional 108 hours each year to do whatever you want with.  That’s almost five days, the length of spring break. Wouldn’t you like to give yourself a second spring break?

And you get to use the knowledge you gain from the club the rest of your career. Over ten years, you will have gained 45 full days. Over 20 years, you will have given yourself half a school year.

Is the Club Worth the Money?

How much is your time worth? If you don’t know, consider the question this way: How much would your district have to pay you to attend a one-hour voluntary professional development opportunity after school every Friday that offered you nothing except the chance to earn a little extra spending money?

Would $20 get you there?

Would you need closer to $30?

Would no amount be worth it to you?

Even if you value your personal time at a measly $10/hour, by saving 108 hours each year you’ll realize a value of over one-thousand dollars in the first year alone and that’s if you only save 3 hours per week and only value your time like my local McDonald’s values its teenage employees’ time.

So how much would you pay to save three hours every week and have those hours to yourself? The math is simple. Right now, the cost to join is $129 (it goes up January 1). Almost everyone who joins gains at least three hours per week, which works out to about a dollar an hour. Isn’t your time worth more than a dollar an hour?

There are only four reasons to not consider the club:

You don’t think it will work for you.

You don’t value your time.

You’re not good at math.

You don’t think you have the time to read the club materials.

You should know the following:

Only 2 out of every 100 teachers who join utilize the money-back guarantee and ask for a refund. The club does what it promises. It works. And one reason it works is that you can work through the material at your own pace and you don’t need to do everything to derive huge benefits. You can pick and choose and still save hours. The club’s content is also available in audio form, so if you don’t have time to read it, you can listen in the car.

And of course, if you don’t have time to learn how to give yourself the gift of more time, then I’d suggest that you need the club more than most.

Give yourself more of the best gift any teacher can ever receive. Give yourself more time to do the things you want.

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Links to the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club are of the affiliate variety. That means I get paid a commission if you join. It’s a great way to support yourself and Teacher Habits!

 

10 Things Overworked Teachers Can Stop Doing Tomorrow

If there’s one common thread that runs through the most popular articles on this blog it’s that teachers ought to do less.  I suspect those articles generate the most shares and responses because the topic is divisive. Some teachers read them and nod along, their beliefs affirmed in digital print. Others read them with varying degrees of bafflement and anger. The self-righteous will insinuate that those of us who want a life outside of school aren’t as dedicated as our more exhausted colleagues. Others, like one Facebook commenter on my article Dear Teachers, Please Go Home, ask some version of, “Then when are we supposed to get it all done?”

Which is a revelatory question.

Such a question presumes that most teachers have relatively equal amounts of work to do and that the only way to get it all done is to devote untold hours to the job, usually at the expense of other areas of their lives.

But such an assumption is wrong. Teachers vary greatly in how much work they have to get done and it’s not because they teach in different buildings or teach different grade levels or have different bosses. Some teachers have less to do because they’ve decided to have less to do. It’s usually that simple.

There are a number of items you can likely take off your to-do list tomorrow if you’re willing to swallow some pride, care less about what other adults think of you, and stop trying to knock every lesson out of the park. Here are ten.

Stop Decorating Your Classroom Like It’s In a Magazine

I know teachers who spend weeks getting their rooms looking just so for the start of school. They then devote even more time to maintaining its immaculate appearance throughout the year. They organize, straighten, color-code, label, redecorate, change bulletin boards, hang curtains, and dangle doodads from the ceiling, and for what?

Hardly anyone is going to see it. Of the people who do see it, at least half of them won’t care. Of those who are impressed, what does it matter? How does their being impressed help you or your students? I don’t know of a single study that shows a connection between teachers’ interior design talents and student performance. In fact, the research that does exist indicates that a heavily decorated room actually disrupts student attention and learning. Save yourself a ton of time and stop decorating your classroom like it’s in a magazine.

Stop Writing New Learning Goals on the Board

I’ve watched a lot of TED talks and I’ve never seen a speaker start their speech by displaying and reading aloud the thing they’d like me to learn in the next 15 minutes.  Having a goal for your lesson is important. Writing it on the board isn’t.  Prominently displayed learning goals aren’t for you; you know what students are supposed to learn. They aren’t for your students; a good lesson makes clear what students should come to understand. The requirement to write learning goals on the board exists for one reason and one reason only: administrators want you to do things that work, but they don’t really want to spend a ton of time in classrooms actually watching you do those things. With learning goals, they can peek their head in your room, see them on the board, and tell themselves that in their buildings, teachers are using research-based practices. They can check it off a list and pat themselves on the back.

Writing new learning goals every day is busy work. By themselves, they will do nothing to move the student achievement needle. So write some beautifully crafted learning goals using whatever format your leadership has decided is best. Then leave them up all week. Or all month. See how long until someone calls you on it, and when they do, claim you forgot that day. Most administrators spend so little time in classrooms, this is one tick-suck you can cross off your list.

Stop Creating Lessons

Once upon a time, teachers had to create their own lessons. They don’t anymore, and they shouldn’t. For today’s teachers, finding lessons isn’t the problem; choosing among hundreds of them is the greater challenge. Creation takes time that others have already invested (and in many cases, been paid for). Take advantage by teaching their lessons instead of creating yours; they’re probably better anyway because of something psychologists call the IKEA effect, which is a cognitive bias where people place disproportionate value on products they had a hand in creating.

The IKEA effect poses two problems for teachers. The first is that what you make is likely not as good as you think it is. Your lesson is not better than another teacher’s. You just think it is because you made it. You would almost assuredly be better off using a product made by someone else. And as much as you don’t want to hear it, you’d be best off using products created by people whose job is to create those products. So while it may offend your sensibilities, stick with the program your district spent thousands of dollars on because it’s probably better than anything you’re going to design.

The other problem is the time required to create this stuff. If you spend three hours making a magnetism unit because you tell yourself it will be better than anything you currently have in your filing cabinet or that you can find online, then you’ve lost the opportunity to spend those hours doing other things, like going home at the end of the day.

More here: The IKEA Effect of Lesson Creation

Stop Creating Materials

Google is your friend. So is TeachersPayTeachers. Every worksheet, rubric, and graphic organizer you will ever want already exists. Spend more time clicking and less time creating and you will have more time for the important stuff.

Stop Controlling Everything

When students do more, you do less.

Teachers looking to trim hours off their workweek should constantly spend their days asking, “Is this something students could do?”

Most of the time, the answer is yes. Students can do bulletin boards. They can staple, cut things out, and rewrite the lunch choice every morning. They can organize your classroom library and replace all the science materials used in an experiment.  They can check their own work. They can help each other understand the math assignment. It’s true that your room might not look as pretty and the agenda on the board will be written askance and the books won’t be as neat as they would be if you had organized them, but it’s also true that most of that stuff doesn’t matter and students will feel a stronger connection to the room if they have a large hand in its appearance and day-to-day functioning. Save yourself time. Stop being such a control freak.

Stop Reading Everything Your Students Write

Students need feedback on their writing, but you do not have to be the only person who provides it. Technology allows students to share their writing with classmates and even parents. Ask them to provide the feedback. When my daughter was in third grade, she brought a journal home once a week and it was my job to write a response to her entries. For other low tech options, print students’ writing and put the papers in a three-ring binder. Insert a blank page after each piece and teach students how to leave useful feedback on it. Or set up a gallery walk where students place their writing on their desks and move around the room with a stack of sticky notes, using them to leave feedback on 10 different papers. You can also avoid taking student writing home by utilizing technology and the station rotation model. Catlin Tucker explains how here.

Stop Checking Papers

One enduring stereotypical image is that of a teacher, usually a woman, sitting at home on a Saturday with a stack of papers in front of her, vigorously scrawling across them with a red pen.  If we’re going to ask students to do all this work, the thinking goes, then we need to hold them accountable, and the way to do that is to give everything a grade. This isn’t where I argue against grades (although I certainly could). Instead, I’ll argue against everything needing a grade.  Consider most of the work your students do as practice and you’ll find it a lot easier to toss it into the circular file instead of bringing it home where it will cast accusatory glances your way all weekend. Instead of checking everything, only check assessments.

You can also significantly reduce the height of your stack by eliminating homework.  The research on homework is now well known and for elementary teachers especially, there’s no academic reason to give it; it just doesn’t work. The less work you assign, the less you have to look at. An easy and research-based way to reduce your own paperwork is to seriously curtail or eliminate homework.

Another easy way to reduce your stack is to take advantage of programs that do the grading for you. If you’re fortunate enough to have software that provides students with immediate feedback on their assignments, then your work is already done. You need only to look at the results. If not, go old school by having students check their own work as you go over the answers or do what I spent a fair amount of my school years doing and have students trade papers and grade each other’s assignments.

Stop Helping So Much

You can always tell the students who were “rescued” by their previous teachers. They’re the ones who can’t make it through a test without asking for help, even though you just explained that you can’t help on a test. A lot of teachers enable learned helplessness by constantly stepping in the moment students struggle.  Teachers have this notion that to teach means we must always be doing something. If students are in the room, we have to interact with them. We gotta teach! But sometimes, the best way to teach is to sit down and shut up.

Failure is part of learning. In fact, it’s the critical part. Sometimes, the best teaching is to let students flail, even fail. Because there’s more learning to be found in failure than there is in success. And while students are working things out, or seeking out others for assistance, or trying a different strategy, you can plan next week’s lessons, or grade a few tests, or locate resources online so you don’t have to do that stuff after school.

Read more here: Why Teachers Should Help Less

Stop Saying Yes

It’s impossible to do all the things you have to do if you’re spending hours every week sitting in meetings because you couldn’t bring yourself to tell your principal no.  We all have meetings we must attend, but too many teachers take on additional responsibilities out of feelings of obligation and guilt.

Before you agree to extra work, ask yourself this question: Will the time spent on this new thing result in better outcomes for my students than the time I would have spent if I were not doing this new thing? Click To Tweet

The answer is usually no. So grow a spine and stop agreeing to waste time on work that won’t do your students any good and will leave you with even less time to do all of the really important stuff.

Stop Maximizing

Making every lesson shine is an honorable intention. Nobody will question your dedication, but they should question your long-term strategy. Teachers can’t escape trade-offs any more than the rest of the world can. Devoting two hours to planning a great civics lesson means two hours not doing all of the other things your job requires of you. It’s also no guarantee that the lesson will go well, and if it doesn’t you’ll feel demoralized on top of exhausted.

Many teachers are maximizers. They seek out the best option to arrive at the optimal solution, even if it means investing substantial time and energy.  Many are perfectionists, unable to let little things slide. Satisficers, on the other hand, are individuals who can accept good enough. They consider trade-offs. They know that you can’t “do it all” and they accept the reality that an extra hour spent on lesson creation won’t necessarily result in the kind of enhanced understanding from students they were hoping for. Sometimes, good enough really is good enough.

There’s also your mental health to consider. Psychologists have found that compared to satisficers, maximizing individuals are more likely to experience lower levels of happiness, regret, and self-esteem. While maximizers accept higher-paying jobs, they tend to be less satisfied once they start working those jobs because they second guess themselves. They constantly wonder if they made the best choice. They’re always looking over the hill for greener pastures. For this reason, maximizers have a hard time finding contentment in life.

Not every lesson has to be a Lexus. Most of the time, a reliable Camry will get the job done. Stop trying to make everything shine. Be willing to accept good enough, and you’ll be a happier teacher with more time for yourself.

A Disclaimer

None of the above are things you should stop doing if you love doing them. If it fills your heart with gladness to color-code your classroom supplies or if creating lessons from scratch gets your heart racing, then by all means, keep doing those things. Just don’t complain about how many hours you work. Those are choices you’re making, and there are plenty of teachers out there making different ones and going home a lot earlier than you are.

Stop wondering how you will get everything done if you leave work where it belongs and go home shortly after the kids. Instead, give yourself less to do.

If you need a step-by-step guide to the above and many more time-saving techniques, I recommend giving Angela Watson’s 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club a look. It’s the most comprehensive resource I know of for overwhelmed teachers. Angela offers a money-back guarantee that her club will help you trim hours off your workweek.

If you’re wondering if the club is right for you, take this fun quiz!

To get a taste of what the club has to offer, try Angela’s free 5-day challenge, “Goodbye, Teacher Tired: 5 Days to Doing Fewer Things, Better”

If you’d like to read reviews from club members, click here.

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Teacher Habits is a proud affiliate partner of the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club and all links to the club are of the affiliate kind. That said, I’m a member and it’s good stuff.

 

 

Go For The Bananas

 

The story goes like this:

Five monkeys are put in a room by some scientists. A ladder is in the middle of the room. At the top of the ladder sits a basket of bananas.  Each time a monkey attempts to scale the ladder to get the bananas, the scientists douse all the monkeys with cold water. After a few attempts, the monkeys get the picture and give up.

Then, the scientists remove one of the monkeys and replace him with a new one. This new monkey, unaware of the others’ experience, goes straight for the bananas. But knowing they’re all about to get soaked, the others pull him back and beat the hell out of him, sending the clear message that ladders are not for climbing. The scientists continue replacing monkeys. Each new monkey is similarly deterred. Eventually, the group is composed of five new monkeys, none of whom has ever been sprayed with water.  Still, none will go for the bananas.

Imagine a new monkey entering the group and seeking advice from the sage monkeys who have years of experience in the habitat. “Hey, fellas. What’s with the bananas, and why aren’t any of you eating them?”

“Oh, we don’t climb the ladder.”

“Why not?”

“We just don’t. Bad things happen when the ladder is climbed.”

Without questioning the conventional wisdom, each new monkey remains one degree away from ground-level truth, the information he needs to make good decisions.

Simply by asking “why,” the entrenched behavior of the monkey community could be turned on its head. It’s possible that circumstances have changed — perhaps the scientists got bored and left or maybe they’ve changed the experiment — and they won’t be sprayed with cold water when attempting to go for the bananas.

The story appears to be completely made up and spread by the Internet. That’s okay. Aesop made up a bunch of stories and we have no problem telling them because we recognize that they contain valuable lessons. Fables are good for that, whether they star talking ants and grasshoppers or sadistic scientists and monkeys.

This one’s especially good for teachers today because just about any time I write about working less or saying no or not sacrificing your personal life for your school life, I get something like the following response from a few teachers:

“But I have to say yes or I’ll get fired (or evaluated poorly or shamed or scolded or choose-your-own-negative-consequence).”

Almost all of these teachers are acting like monkeys. I’ve taught nearly 20 years, and while I have seen teachers let go, moved into undesirable positions, written up, treated poorly by principals, and dinged on their evals, I have never seen those things happen to an otherwise effective educator and pleasant person who simply said no more often.

There may have been a time when teachers were metaphorically doused with water for protecting their own time, but I’ve never seen it. Most of us are just like the new monkeys. Even though we have no first-hand experience of being punished for saying no, we go on believing that doing so is dangerous.

What’s Good About Teacher Shortages

There’s a lot of talk right now about teacher shortages. The topic is usually used to highlight everything that’s wrong with education today.  Writers pointing to the shortage hope to create a sense of urgency to fix systemic problems so that teaching can be more attractive and schools can choose from better candidates. But not everything about the teacher shortage is bad.

Combined with our robust economy, the teacher shortage gives teachers more leverage than they’ve had since I started in education.  When schools know they’ll be scrounging to fill open positions and might have to hire someone who they normally wouldn’t consider, it makes them less likely to let teachers go for frivolous reasons. Smart districts will try to keep their teachers happy, knowing that if those teachers leave they will have a difficult time replacing them. Since many people do not want to do the job, those who do have power.

Rahm Emanuel famously said that you should never let a crisis go to waste. The teacher shortage crisis presents an opportunity for educators to flex some muscle. It won’t last forever, so while it does, teachers should fight to protect their time. At the very least, they should demand to be paid for their work. They should say no if districts don’t offer additional pay for additional responsibilities.

The circumstances have changed, as has the balance of power in many places. The time is now for teachers to climb the ladder.  And if you can’t bring yourself to do that, then you can at least stand back and watch when others place their feet on the rungs. You’ll probably see that there is no one waiting to soak you with water.

Stand up for yourself. Say no. Get what you want. Go for the bananas.