The Expectation of Free Work

I have a neighbor who’s a math teacher. He’s also the owner of a landscaping business. I figured the guy must really love taking care of people’s lawns to do it after teaching all day and on the weekends. Lawn care must be his passion to sacrifice like that. His calling in life, even. So I phoned him and asked if he could mow my grass once a week. He said sure. Then he quoted me a price. “Oh, you misunderstand, I’m not going to pay you,” I explained. “I figured, since you obviously love it so much, you’d just do it for free.”

My daughter’s pediatrician’s office left a message on my voicemail the other day. She was due for a checkup. I scanned my calendar to find a convenient time to take her in. I had to work all week, so after five or over the weekend looked good. I told them that when I called. They said they closed at five and weren’t open on weekends. I waited. “We can get you in at 11:00 am on Thursday,” the lady said. “I’ll be at work then”, I told her. “Listen, I can get there by quarter after five. We’ll just meet with the doctor then.” She didn’t seem to understand. I think I’m going to change doctors. This one’s obviously not very dedicated. Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to be there for the kids?

My mom had to stay overnight at the hospital a couple months back following a surgery and she had this great nurse. Rachel was kind, patient, funny, and explained everything she was doing to everyone in the room. She was very attentive. Mom loved her. But then, around 8 o’clock, a new nurse popped in. “What happened to Rachel?” mom asked. “Oh, her shift ended at eight.” We couldn’t understand. Rachel seemed so dedicated. She obviously loved her patients. How come she wasn’t doing everything she could for them?

I was in a golf tournament last summer to raise money for the local school’s athletic program. After our round, we were served an excellent dinner catered by a local restaurant. They had a number of staff there. There were a few waitresses going around refilling drinks, a couple of others tending to the buffet line, and one of those meat carving guys. I was really impressed. As he was slicing off a slab of prime rib for me, I told him, “Wow, this is really great of all you guys to give up your Saturday to do this. Thanks for helping out the kids of our community.” He smiled and said thank you. But I learned later that he was paid to be there. Here I thought he was carving that meat out of the goodness of his heart.

When we expect people to work for free, to bend over backwards to meet our needs, or even to donate their time in the interest of a worthy cause, it makes us, not them, look bad. It’s insulting to suggest others work for free. It shows exactly how much we value their time, their work, and their lives outside of work.

If teachers choose to donate their labor that’s their business, but they should never be asked or expected to.

Lawyers charge, doctors keep office hours, cops get paid overtime. Taking advantage of a teacher’s passion, dedication, generosity, or sense of obligation is wrong.

If a committee is important enough to create, then it’s important enough to pay teachers to be on it. If meeting with parents is a necessary part of the job, then those meetings should take place during paid hours. If teacher attendance at an after-school event is critical for the success of the night, then pay teachers to attend. The fact that teachers are “there for the kids” doesn’t excuse mistreatment, it makes it worse. If the work teachers do is so important, they should be paid to perform it.

___________
Related Content:
Not getting enough email? Subscribe to Teacher Habits and watch new articles magically appear in your inbox!

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

There is one thing every teacher can and should do if they want to be less tired and use their time at work more efficiently:

Quit working shortly after the kids have left. Go home.

There are many reasons teachers stay late at school. Some feel a sense of pride at being one of the last to leave. They believe their late nights reflect greater dedication to their students. They enjoy their reputation as a hard worker. Others feel guilty when they leave quickly. They keep working out of a misguided sense of obligation. They worry what others will think of them, fearing they’ll be thought of as lazy and apathetic. Many teachers act as if they have no choice in the matter. They’re on committees, run after-school clubs, or just have so much to do that they have to stay after work to get it done.

No matter the reason, all believe that staying late after school makes them a better teacher. But they are wrong.

Quitting, for lack of a better word, is good.

Quit for Your Health

I was jogging the other day when my back started to hurt. I tried to keep going, but it got worse. So I quit running and my back instantly felt better.

Restaurants have gone crazy with the size of their nachos.

I mean, will you look at this thing?

I get full about halfway through. So I quit eating them.

Smart people quit when their body tells them to. No one feels bad about it. But when it comes to work, we suddenly start believing we’re Superman and that no matter how tired we are we can and should just keep going.

Teaching is a unique job. One of the reasons it’s so exhausting is that we have to be on all day. To do the job properly, you need to be well-rested. You need to be enthusiastic and observant. Going home will help.

No matter when I get home, I want to maximize the time I have for myself.  On nights when I’m home by five o’clock, I’ve got six hours to do whatever I want. That’s a nice balance. Ten hours for preparing for work, commuting, and working, six for my personal life, and eight hours of sleep. Because I value my personal time, any day I get home late leads to a late night and a lack of sleep.

Getting home earlier also means you can eat earlier. Your body will have longer to digest dinner before you go to bed, and eating early gives the food enough time to settle so you can exercise without discomfort.

Quit to Be a Better Teacher

A lot of teachers stay after school because they have work to do, but they’ve chosen the worst possible time to get it done. By the end of the day your willpower is exhausted. Willpower is limited, and once it’s gone only eating and sleep can restore it. Willpower is what you need to make yourself check papers, read essays, plan lessons, and respond tactfully to emails. A lack of willpower means your after-school efforts are going to be inefficient. You’ll be more easily distracted, more tempted to check Facebook or gossip with colleagues, and more likely to head to the lounge to eat whatever you can find because your body needs fuel.

Parkinson’s Law is also working against you. It states that work will expand to fill the available time. I wrote and published my first two books, The Teacher’s Guide to Weight Loss and Happy Teacher in two months each. I was able to do that because that’s how long I gave myself to complete them. Because of the topic of my next book, I planned an October release. I started working on it in May. The book is taking me longer because I gave myself more time to do it, so many days I don’t write much and on some days I don’t work on it at all (I write long blog posts like this one instead).

This is Parkinson’s Law at work, and it will strike you as you sit at your desk after school. Instead of working until you complete a certain amount of work, give yourself 30 minutes. You’ll be more focused, your work will be of better quality, you’ll cut out any distractions or cute but unnecessary extras, and you’ll get it finished. Give yourself less time, and you’ll get more done.

Quit to Be a Better Person

Psychologists discovered something they call the morning morality effect. Basically, you’re a better person in the morning. Your body needs glucose for pretty much everything, including willpower and decision-making. Since teachers expend a lot of willpower and make a ton of decisions, we burn through glucose pretty fast. When it runs out we’re tired, cranky, impatient, have stronger cravings for sweets and other junk food, and we experience stronger emotions. All of which lead to bad decisions. The morning morality effect explains why you’re more likely to ruin your diet at night than in the morning, and why people are more likely to commit immoral acts like lying, cheating, and stealing in the afternoon. School is not a place you want to be when you’re more likely to make bad decisions. Go home.

Quit Because Science Says To

Many teachers reading this will still stay after school because they believe it’s the only way to be effective at their jobs. They’ve fallen victim to the culture of overwork. So a fair question to ask is:  Do longer hours make you more productive?

The research is clear. More work doesn’t equal more output. In one study, managers couldn’t tell the difference between employees who worked 80-hour weeks and those who just pretended to (which actually sounds worse). Numerous studies have shown that overwork leads to stress that causes health issues, sleep deprivation, depression, heart disease, memory loss, and greater alcoholic intake. Researchers have also found that working too much impairs your abilities to communicate, make judgments, read others’ nonverbal language, and modulate your emotions.

Also, your cat will miss you.

So go home. Eat dinner. Hit the gym. Kiss your spouse. Watch Netflix. Play Uno with your kids. Leave work at work. Detach. Live your life. And when you’re tempted to choose more work over all those things, remember this Arianna Huffington quote:

“Have you noticed that when we die, our eulogies celebrate our lives very differently from the way society defines success?”

You can read more here: Stop Working More Than 40 Hours a Week.

_________________

Related Content:

Why American Teachers Should Work Less

Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary If You’re Working for Free

Why Teachers Are So Tired

 

Want articles in your inbox? Subscribe here. 

7 Tricks to Keep Yourself (& Your Students) Engaged After Lunch

tired

 

GUEST POST by Shundalyn Allen, University Instructor & Contributor to Wisewire

What time of day are your students most disruptive? When asked this question, many teachers identified the transition from lunch back to the classroom. Tiredness after meals is common because energy diverts to digestion. How can you boost your energy after lunch? Here are seven tips to boost your energy and keep your students engaged after eating.

1. Get Moving

When blood carries oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, you feel energized and alert. Get your blood circulating with some light exercise. Walking around your building or stretching for a few moments are simple ways to incorporate physical activity into your day.

2. De-stress

Exercise is not a one-trick pony. It directly affects stress. Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that make you feel good. Don’t panic if you don’t have a lot of spare time or don’t feel fit enough for a high-impact workout. The Mayo Clinic reports that three ten-minute walks can take the place of one thirty-minute walk. You might even incorporate walking into a work duty. For instance, if you supervise recess or lunch, you can move around the playground, gym, or cafeteria as you monitor the students.

3. Stay Hydrated

Water prevents dehydration, which causes fatigue and makes it difficult for your body to operate properly. Drinking plenty of water will help your body maintain a state of alertness. For an additional boost, add a little lemon juice to your water bottle. Studies have shown that the smell of lemon promotes concentration, memory, and accuracy. In fact, it’s common in Japan to diffuse lemon-scented essential oils through the ventilation systems of businesses because it stimulates the mind while calming emotions.

Bonus: It tastes good! Track and maintain your daily water intake with this app.

4. See Yourself Where You Want to Be

Tired of being tired? Practice visualization by creating a mental picture of a desired outcome. For instance, teachers who mentally immerse themselves in a scene of a successful lunch-to-lesson transition increase the likelihood that they will experience the same smooth transition in real life. How can you do it? Picture your students’ engaged faces, the sounds of them pulling out their chairs to sit down, an intriguing question or problem written on the white erase board, and so on.

Another type of visualization involves envisioning each step of a process. Athletes do it all the time, but studies reveal that it also benefits the average person. In one study published by the Library of Medicine, thirty young volunteers exercised or visualized using their muscles. At the end of twelve weeks, both groups were stronger. The researchers concluded: “The mental training employed by this study enhances the cortical output signal, which drives the muscles to a higher activation level and increases strength.” In other words, when people imagine physical activity, the brain’s responds almost as if they were exercising in real life. The benefits of visualization aren’t limited to physical tasks. What an ideal option for teachers with little time for a full workout! Educators who incorporate visualization skills, such as guided imagery, into their lessons notice that students focus more on the subject matter. Will you try it out in your lesson plan?

5. Implement a Routine

Have you heard of the PAX Good Behavior Game (GBG)? According to the Game’s website, players work towards shared goals, cooperate with one another, and “self-regulate.” These skills translate to more engaged learning and significantly less time-wasting disruptions. Research indicates that the GBG reduces aggressive and disruptive behaviors in elementary school classrooms.

Even upper-grade classrooms flourish with an effective routine. Structure facilitates calm and focus. Whatever re-centering activity you choose—from answering a writing prompt in a journal to solving an equation or watching a short video—students should know the daily expectations. That way, they can begin working on the task as soon as they return to the classroom. And remember, routines shouldn’t be boring. Anticipating a fun video or an active game will give everyone something to look forward to in the afternoon.

6. Tap into Animal Energy

Playing with animals releases oxytocin, a hormone that inhibits stress and promotes focus and tranquility, according to a research study by the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. You probably can’t bring your dog to school, but some schools do allow small classroom pet, such as a goldfish, hamster, or lizard. Even watching the birds outside your window or installing a fuzzy bunny screensaver on your laptop can raise your spirits. Researcher Jessica Gall Myrick discovered that even people who viewed cat videos on the Internet experienced heightened energy levels and an increase in positive emotions.

7. Take a Nap

In Mediterranean cultures, it’s traditional to take a short nap called a siesta after the midday meal. Does sleep affect stress levels? Yes, according to SEMERGEN (Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians), brief naps improve heart function, mental alertness, and recall. One caveat, however, is that the benefits only appear if you nap on a regular basis. You might dismiss the idea of taking a nap at work. Who has the time? However, sleep expert Sara C. Mednick says that “you can get incredible benefits from [as little as] 15. . .minutes of napping.” Can you arrange your schedule to include a brief power nap during your free period or take a short nap after school before you start grading? If so, you can stave off the after-lunch drag.

If your students are rowdy after lunch and your energy is at its all-day low, you might find it extremely tough to get your class on task. Don’t lose hope. With a few small tweaks to your afternoon routine, you can turn your most challenging time into your favorite period of the day.
Shundalyn Allen is a University Instructor & Contributor to Wisewire. She started her career as a high-school French/ESL teacher in 2004. When she’s not in the classroom, she’s helping her clients, such as Grammarly and Wisewire, to provide engaging and practical content for their readers.

Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary if You’re Working for Free

Huffington Post publishes the writing of thousands of bloggers and they don’t pay them a dime. Why not? Because they don’t have to. When people are willing to work for free, they give up the right to complain about their pay.

And yet in almost any discussion about teacher workloads and salaries, teachers do exactly that. On the one hand, teachers will do everything they can to convince you that they work really, really hard. It’s not uncommon to read a laundry list of extra responsibilities submitted as proof of the teacher’s dedication and of how unappreciated her efforts are. On the other hand, they say they should be paid more.

A few days ago, The Educator’s Room Facebook page shared a post a teacher had written that outlined the pensions of a Texas educator and a Texas legislator. Needless to say, the teacher didn’t compare favorably. As usual, two points were made:

Texas teachers are paid poorly, and their pensions will be relatively paltry as a result.

Texas teachers work a lot harder than those bums in the legislature.

Both of which are true.

But the writer couldn’t help herself. She had to prove just how selfless and hard-working teachers are:

They are expected to work for free during the summer by attending professional development and preparing for the next school year. Their average workday during the school year is 12 hours and most devote weekend time to planning and grading.
In addition, most districts arrange to pay teachers for a ten-month contract over 12 months. This creates a common misconception that teachers have paid vacation over the summer. Actually, the teachers are providing an interest-free loan to the districts and are paid back during the summer. Teachers are contractors who work from year to year, contract to contract, but are only able to write off $250 of their business expenses like classroom supplies, tissues & hand sanitizer, and snacks for hungry kids. The average teacher spends $500 and many spend $1000+ on their classroom annually – and as budgets are cut, teachers take up the slack.

Some good points, to be sure. But what struck me, as it always does, is the contradiction between whining about low pay and bragging about working for free.

Because that’s usually what it is. Teachers who talk about working 12-hour days and going in on weekends and spending thousands of their own dollars aren’t actually complaining about it. They’re proud of it. They believe it’s proof of their dedication. It makes them feel superior to those who aren’t as selfless.

But these same people also feel like they’re getting the shaft. They ought to be paid more! Society doesn’t appreciate teachers! Their districts don’t respect the work they do! Look how much they’re working!

Whether or not you’re paid by the hour or earn a salary, you are involved in a transaction. You give your time and effort in return for compensation. In reality, all jobs are paid hourly.  Someone who earns $100,000 but works 80-hour weeks may have twice the money, but they only have half the time of someone who gets paid $50,000 for 40-hour weeks.

Teachers, then, have a really simple way of maximizing their hourly pay:

Work fewer hours.

Let’s consider two teachers:

Teacher A, we’ll call her Mrs. Balance, gets to work an hour before the kids and leaves about 15 minutes after they do. She doesn’t volunteer for extra responsibilities and says no to additional paid work because her time is more valuable than what the district offers for an hourly stipend. She works a 40-hour week and makes $40,000 per year.

Rate of pay: $40,000 / 1600 hours (40 hours x 40 weeks) = $25/hour

Teacher B, let’s call him Mr. Burnout-in-Progress, also arrives an hour before the kids, but he stays three hours after. When he gets home, he works another hour checking papers. On weekends, he puts in four hours every Sunday to get ready for the week. He’s on a few committees and does some paid advisory work. He also works over breaks and throughout the summer. Mr. Burnout-in-Progress averages about 55 hours per week, and he works about 46 weeks per year.  The extra duties earn him more than Mrs. Balance. He makes $50,000.

Hourly rate of pay: $50,000 / 2530 (55 hours x 46 weeks) = $19.76

Both teachers have reason to complain about their salaries. Mrs. Balance makes just $40,000, and Mr. Burnout-in-Progress, when he thinks about how much he works, feels like his district is getting a steal by paying him 50k.

And he’s right. His district is taking advantage of him. And the reason his district is taking advantage of him is the same reason Huffpo doesn’t pay its bloggers: He has allowed them to.

If you’re going to work for free, then why in the world would a school district ever pay you?

With the end of summer closing in, many teachers will be heading into their classrooms to donate some work. They’ll spend hours decorating their rooms for open houses and preparing plans for the first week of school. They’ll give and give and give some more. And their employers will be the happy recipients of their labor.

If this suits you — if you don’t mind working for free, if unpaid work makes you feel more dedicated, if showing up on a Saturday and being the only teacher in the building gives you a sense of pride no amount of money can match — then go for it.

But realize that nothing is going to change if you do.

So don’t complain about your pay.

You’re the one choosing to work for free.

 

____________________________________

A reasonable question to ask after reading this is, “Well, what am I supposed to do, just not get my room ready for the year?”

I’ll address that in my next post.

____________________________________

 

One Way Teachers Can Fight Exhaustion Before It Starts

procedures

One of the best things about being a teacher is we get to start anew each fall. With the school year around the corner, exhaustion is probably far from your mind. After a restorative summer, you are likely itching to get started. You have new ideas you picked up at conferences, new strategies for dealing with behavior you can’t wait to try, new technology in your classroom, new colleagues or principals, and what feels like a new lease on your career. The stress and fatigue you felt at the end of last year has drifted away like a dandelion fluff on the summer breeze.

So I hope you’ll forgive me for raining on your vacation and dousing your enthusiasm.

The stress and exhaustion will be coming back unless you do something different this year.

There are many steps you can take, all of which I outline in my forthcoming book, Exhausted, but there is one you must absolutely do if you hope to have more energy at the end of your work days. And you must start before students show up on the first day of school. What is it?

Plan and Perfect As Many Procedures As Possible

Every teacher knows the importance of teaching, modeling, and practicing classroom routines until students have them down. Teachers who want to avoid student confusion and the resultant behavior problems know they must establish procedures for nearly everything that happens in their classrooms. We also know that well-executed procedures make our classrooms more efficient: students get more done when routines are followed.

What many teachers don’t realize is that having routines can help with their own fatigue.

One of the major causes of teacher exhaustion is decision fatigue. Every time you make a decision, you use some of your limited store of self-regulatory resources, often called willpower. Willpower is like a muscle in that it gets fatigued the more you use it. Each decision you make is like another rep in the gym. And just like your muscles, the strength of your willpower fades with more and more decisions.

Teachers make a ton of decisions, which is one reason they come home feeling drained. Although you intended to go to the gym, you can’t get off the couch. You meant to cook a healthy dinner, but it was easier to drive through McDonald’s. You planned to finally check those math tests, but you can’t bring yourself to even think about work. Those are the results of decision fatigue.

One trick to coming home with more energy is to make fewer decisions. You do this is by establishing habits. It’s estimated that 40% of the actions you take in a day are the result of habits, from hitting the snooze twice, to putting your left leg in your pants first, to the route you take to work, to ignoring most of the menu at a favorite restaurant because you always order the same two or three items. There are many choices for which we don’t use mental energy because they are ingrained as habits.

A procedure is a habit you want students to internalize. When they learn it, it saves them and you from deciding.

Instead of students asking you where to turn in their papers and you having to decide how you’d like them to do so every single time, you establish a routine for students to turn in their work. Instead of deciding each time whether it’s okay for a student to get out of their seat to grab a Kleenex or sharpen a pencil, establish set times during the day for these activities and teach routines so that students don’t have to ask you and you don’t have to decide. Instead of deciding for a student what he or she can do when she’s finished with her work, make a poster of all possible options ahead of time.

Small decisions add up. The fewer of them you make, the less tired you will be.

Be proactive by going through your entire school day and deciding ahead of time, while you have the energy that summer provides, which components of your day can be turned into a routine. If you find yourself making too many decisions once the school year starts, ask yourself if a new procedure is needed. Figure out ways to decide ahead of time so you don’t have to make decision after decision in the moment. Your future self will thank you.

Here is the list of procedures I teach:

procedures

 

 

 

 

 

I teach third grade, so not all will apply. Feel free to make a copy and change what you need to.

For help on how to teach routines, check out these posts by Michael Linsin:

How to Teach Routines
How to Use Music to Make Routines More Fun and Effective
How to Use the Power of One Strategy to Improve Behavior

__________________________

Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/584/decision200602-15vohs.pdf)

For more information about willpower and decision fatigue, read the book Willpower.

Also read:

Why Teachers Are So Tired