Do Not Join That Unpaid Committee

The start of the school year is closing in fast, which means that in mere weeks (maybe even days) you will be welcomed back, told how important your job is and how appreciated you are, and then, before such words have even dissipated into the ether, asked to give away the most important thing you have, your time.

Your boss will want you to join a committee (or three), be a team leader, or serve on a school improvement council. In some cases, you’ll be asked to do this work for nothing.

Say no.

You’ll be tempted to say yes. It’s the start of the year. Optimism is high. The summer worked its rejuvenating magic and you and your fellow teachers are bursting with energy. You can practically taste the positivity.  Idealism runs rampant. You’ll do whatever is necessary for this school, for these kids! The job ahead of you is hard, but together you can do it!

Say no anyway.

Say No For Yourself

You are going to be overworked. You will be stressed. There isn’t enough time in a week for teachers to do everything they know they should be doing, and that’s if you do nothing other than teach the kids in front of you. By Halloween, you will be exhausted. You will resent whatever extra work you agreed to in that heady fog of feelgood at the start of the year. You’ll dread sitting through an hour-long meeting after school when you should be at your kid’s soccer game. Jumping off a bridge will sound preferable to the prospect of filling out another stupid survey that the state has mandated and the principal has pawned off on your team.

Teachers complain about not having enough time and then they give it away for free. Teachers complain about how much they’re paid and then work for nothing. Do not allow August exuberance, guilt, fear, or the opinion of others to cause you to do something you know you shouldn’t do. And don’t be a martyr. We have enough of those in education already.  The work you do is difficult and tiring. It makes zero sense to voluntarily take on even more of it, and even less sense to do so without pay.

Say No For Your Students

There is only so much time in a day, a week, a school year. The more of it you spend in one area, the less you have in another. If you want to help your students, spend more time on things that will help your students and less time on stuff that won’t make a difference in the classroom. Most committee work does not affect the students under your care.

George Couros says that teachers shouldn’t be classroom teachers, they should be school teachers:

““School teachers’ can do all of those things that classroom teachers do within their own classrooms and subject matter, but when they walk out of their room, every child in the school is their child.” 

Teachers should be careful with this mindset. It’s easy to go from smiling and encouraging every student you encounter to signing up for every committee because you tell yourself that every committee is doing good work that will, in some way, benefit some kids somewhere inside the school eventually.

The best thing you can do for your students is fully commit to them. That means saying no to anything that won’t make you a better classroom teacher. Burning yourself out with extra work won’t help your students. Resentment over being stretched too thin is not an attitude you want to carry into your classroom. Being overwhelmed and stressed out won’t make you more effective.

An hour spent in a meeting is an hour not spent planning better lessons. Or reading your students’ writing and providing feedback. Or communicating with parents. Or reading the latest research on best practices. Or anything else that might make a direct impact on your students. You cannot do it all, even if all of it benefits kids.

Say no for your students.

Say No For Your Profession

In too many schools, teachers who give away their time resent or look down their noses at those who don’t. They see them as selfish or lazy and feel aggrieved that they are working so much more than some of their colleagues. That’s a script that needs to be flipped. Instead of assigning virtue to those who help perpetuate exploitative practices, let's honor those who stand up to such practices. Click To Tweet

You are a professional. Pros get paid. The reason teachers get asked to donate their time is because they’ve always been willing to donate their time.  The asking won’t stop until the answer is consistently no. You can’t blame an employer for trying to get employees to donate labor. Blame the teachers for continuing to give it away because they are undermining the teachers who want to be treated with the respect employers afford their workers in other fields. Put bluntly, they are the problem. When every teacher says no to unpaid extra work, only two things can happen:

The committees disappear because there’s no one on them, or teachers are paid to do the work.

The only way to change the way teachers are treated is to change the way we respond to the treatment. Click To Tweet Saying no to additional, uncompensated work is good for your colleagues, it’s good for teachers you don’t even know, and it’s good for those who won’t step into a classroom for years. Saying no gains respect and it’s good for the profession.

Do yourself, your students, and your profession a favor. Say no to unpaid extra work, and get your colleagues to say it, too.

26 Replies to “Do Not Join That Unpaid Committee”

  1. I like the concept of this very much, however, many teachers are not asked, we are assigned or “voluntold” to participate in committees or teams without the option to say no. What do you suggest for these cases?

    1. Agreed!!! We every year are voluntold to sign up for 2 athletic Gates. We don’t get paid. Last year one teacher said NO and this year we were told NO was not an accepted response and it would be reflected in our evaluations!!! So now what???

        1. Many states don’t have unions and therefore don’t have grievance processes. My contract states my hours and duties adds “and other duties as assigned by the school principal.” So I do what I’m assigned or I risk losing my job.

          1. If you refuse to comply with any clause in your contract it can be perceived as striking. You can be disciplined and/or fired. The same thing applies if you are giving up a club or activity in which you have participated. We were told never to say, “It’s not in the contract”, or “We don’t get paid for it.” An acceptable excuse is “I need to spend more time with my family.”

      1. Talk to your union rep about this. All of you need to band together to have language put in your contract protecting you from this exploitation. Also, if the entire staff refuses to participate, the district will have to pay you. At our district we have paid crossing guards and playground aides, so no one has to give up their lunch for “yard duty.” It can be done.

  2. Laurie, I feel your pain! Your situation is a difficult one. Do you have a union? What does your contract say? In my experience admin preys on your feelings by first praising you because you are so good at xyz, then because we are big hearted people, we fall for that and say yes. I have learned to default to, “Let me check my kids soccer schedule and get back to you.” Usually they don’t bring it up again, which shows me how not valuable I was to the committee anyway.

    1. I belong to our union and am a building rep. We have a handbook that does not really address this issue specifically. I teach Music and happen to be in a building in which the admin appears to believe that Art, Music and PE teachers do not have the same amount of work or preparation needs as classroom teachers. We have been assigned to extra supervisory duties, committees and book studies because “the classroom teachers work so hard and are so busy.” It is insulting to have your subject area treated with such disregard, but the bigger issue is that the building climate is one of different tiers of teachers—classroom teachers are the upper tier and anyone else is below them. I have taught for 27 years and do not appreciate this mindset. It is worse in this building than in any other place I have worked.

      1. There is no teacher’s union in NC. NC is a Right to Work state and doesn’t allow state workers to have union. We do have PACs and lobbying groups represent these same state government oriented workers. Reading the NCEES evaluation standards, it can be considered in teacher evaluations and can often be a great benefit to be involved in something that builds school climate and connections to students in addition to the classroom. Often the best teachers are involved on one or more such committees. And, often some of the weakest teachers are 7:45-3:15 seen only. In the end, it’s up to the individual and the level of confidence they have in their ability to be active outside of the classroom.

        1. I have plenty of confidence in my abilities both in and out of the classroom, however, with my salary having been frozen for the past 7 years, I have taken a part-time job this summer and plan to continue working at least 1 evening during the week, as well as some time on the weekends. There are only so many hours in a week and I have a family, also. If schools respect teachers as professionals, they should be willing to pay for extra service on committees the way they do for coaching or extracurriculars.

  3. I like this idea and am adopting this attitude this year. I gave up two unpaid roles for this year and am thinking about the third.

    We never get paid for committees in my county because it is so poor, so I am not doing anything that doesn’t get me renewal credit or trade time this year.

    Sometimes, trade time is worth more to me than money because it allows me to stretch out my winter and summer breaks. Trade time can also be used to make up snow days which allows me to stay home on those snowy teachers report to the building kind of days.

  4. I have found that if you don’t volunteer and take a leadership role then you cannot work your way into administration, if you want to be an administrator.

    1. Unfortunately, another potential problem could be with administrators who might evaluate staff negatively simply for not doing extra tasks at school.

  5. I am willing to sit with kids beyondo what’s required if a kid asks for help. I am not willing to volunteer for other types of nonsense. I am willing to volunteer if I think the task is interesting, stimulating and meaningful. It just depends but blindly saying yes is not helpful.

  6. I figure I’ll be criticized for this but I’ll share my thoughts anyway. I realize that on the flip side, if I don’t join that “unpaid committee,” I will not have a voice and my administrator, who is actually a great person to work with, will make ALL of the decisions. If I don’t join that “unpaid committee,” my voice and insight won’t be heard and it will affect my students. I realize that by contract, I am paid for my 6.5 hours to be on campus and in order to contribute to my school community, I spend more time, free, to make it a place where parents want their children and I can offer a more valuable education to these students. I’ve observed family members in other professions working on unpaid committees – pastors, professors, one soda distributor, one working in graphic arts. There is simply a balance in this profession of saying yes and no. Don’t over-extend oneself, but contribute to the school community.

    1. I think that’s fair. I don’t know any teachers who don’t work for free at least some of the time. I also don’t think the expectation that teachers will work for free will change if teachers keep working for free.

  7. In our district, to obtain the highest level in our evaluation rubric you must “display professionalism”. The highest level includes “going above and beyond” what is expected. Our admin will sometimes put a request out there and add “this is a great activity for your domain 4 if you are on eval this year!”… so we end up with people who want to do well and get the highest score they can (most teachers?) and volunteer their time. This past summer at my previous school the “beautification committee” was painting the hallways, weeding the garden, planting new bushes, etc. because they got tired of the way the school looked. I think that’s a very noble idea, but you know the admin is seeing who is doing the work, whether or not they claim it’s all voluntary. Plus, I think this is a job that our district should be paying for.

    1. Grade chasers gonna chase grades. Your evaluation matters in one regard only: it’s good enough that you’re invited back. (Unless you have merit pay, but it’s usually so minimal that it isn’t worth the time to shoot for it.)

  8. I joined one of those unpaid committees because I wanted to have a voice. My voice, along with the voices of other teachers, was ignored because the principal had already decided what the policy was going to be. “Face time” may be great but I don’t consider it a valid use of my time.

  9. Talk to your union rep about this. All of you need to band together to have language put in your contract protecting you from this exploitation. Also, if the entire staff refuses to participate, the district will have to pay you. At our district we have paid crossing guards and playground aides, so no one has to give up their lunch for “yard duty.” It can be done.

  10. No union in NC!! Our superintendent tells us we work until the job is done because we are salaried. All of us MUST be on a committee and they all meet at least 1 hour once a month after school. School Improvement Team meets twice a month. We have mandatory district meetings at a different school after school once a week. We are not paid mileage nor offered transportation. And what do we do at these meetings? “Review” (aka “rip apart”) lesson plans of other teachers on our district.

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