There are a number of studies that have attempted to determine how many hours teachers actually work. The Gates Foundation says 53 hours per week. The NEA claims 50. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics gave teachers a time-use survey and concluded teachers work about 40 hours each week. Teachers surveyed by AEI reported working an average of 44 hours, a little less than college-educated professionals in other fields.
Regardless of which study you believe, one thing is certain:
Teachers work a lot of hours for free.
In my last article, I argued that teachers are going to keep right on donating labor for a very simple reason: Employers like work they don’t have to pay for. If you’re willing to work for free, then don’t expect to ever be paid.
So how can teachers start getting paid for all the extra work they do?
The solution is simple. Stop working for free.
Don’t go in over the summer to set up and decorate your room. Don’t volunteer for committee work. Don’t attend after-school events. Don’t take work home to grade. Don’t meet with parents after school.
Unfortunately, that solution is also really hard. You’re probably uncomfortable just reading those ideas. That’s pretty messed up when you think about it. It shouldn’t be a radical idea to suggest that professionals be paid for their work. But most teachers with whom I share this idea react with at least one of the following emotions:
There is a subset of teachers who believe that teaching is a “calling.” They see it as special work that ought to be governed by special rules. They’re there for the kids. They’re selfless, often working to the point of exhaustion, and they wear that dedication proudly. The idea of them or their colleagues slacking off or demanding to be paid for things teachers have always done without compensation is offensive to them.
A lot of teachers like the idea of being paid for all their work, but they know they’d feel guilty if they simply stopped. What will those colleagues who put in so many hours before and after school think of them? Are they being shallow or greedy for expecting pay for things others are doing for free? If they’re not working lots of hours, are they letting other teachers, their principal, their students, and their parents down?
Teachers who do decide to cut back on extra, unpaid hours almost always betray the guilt they’re feeling by justifying their decision with high-minded reasons, like spending more time with their family. They hardly ever say, “No, I quit that committee and go home right after work because I’m not paid for that stuff.”
But feeling guilty about not working for free is absurd.
Why should any professional feel bad for expecting to be paid for the work they do on behalf of their employer? For that matter, even if everything you do is “for the kids,” why shouldn’t you be paid for those things? Surely, acting in the best interest of children is deserving of compensation. Things are so backward in education that the party who should feel guilty –the district for taking advantage of their dedicated employees — actually have the audacity to lay guilt trips on teachers when they don’t volunteer their labor.
Some teachers worry that their districts might retaliate. They might ding them on their evaluations. They may put pressure on them by reminding them how much their colleagues are going “above and beyond” (which is perhaps the most insulting and manipulative phrase in education today). They fear what parents might say when they make what should be a reasonable request to meet during the school day instead of after hours when they’re no longer being paid.
There’s not much I can say to those who are offended by the suggestion they be paid for their work. For everyone else, the solution to guilt and fear is a unified teaching force that takes a stand and refuses to budge.
When teachers are unified in their conviction that they will be paid for their work, the ball is then in the hands of district leadership. They will no doubt respond by pressuring the staff to return to the status quo. They’ll argue that teachers knew the deal going in, that other teachers work for free, that it’s always been like this, that “professionals” do what needs to be done, that you’re there for the kids. They’ll lay on the guilt because they like not paying you. There isn’t an employer in the world that would turn down free labor.
When that fails (and a unified front that wants to actually get paid for their work must ensure that it does), then districts may seek to punish. They may threaten teachers with poor evaluations. They might engage in a public relations battle to convince parents you’re not working hard for their kids. They might not renew the contracts of the most vocal ringleaders.
This is what most teachers fear, but my suspicion is that it’s unlikely. Look at it from the district’s point of view. If no staff member breaks ranks, then the district will be in a difficult position. Are they going to give every teacher a low rating and risk their own reputation?Are they going to fire the entire staff and risk making the national news over refusing to give in to teachers who want nothing more than to be paid for their work? Are they going to convince parents they’re right and that teachers are greedy for wanting what other professionals get as a matter of course? It’s a losing argument, and teachers should force districts to make it.
Paying People Forces Decisions
Districts will have to decide whether or not that thing for which it’s been relying on free labor is worth enough to pay for it. There’s tremendous value in that. Schools try to be everything to everybody and waste a lot of their employees’ time. Committees are created that meet often but accomplish little. After-school events put a strain on everybody in a school and sometimes result in low turnout. They often draw only those parents who are most involved anyway.
If the work, the committee, or the after-school activity is important enough, then they’ll find a way to either pay teachers or free up time to get it done during contractual hours. Alternatively, they might negotiate new contract language that requires a certain amount of donated time (for which any decent bargaining team will gain concessions in other areas). They might also pay someone else to do the work. For teachers who complain that nothing is ever taken off their plates, their willingness to work for free is one of the reasons.
So will I be putting my money where my mouth is? Nope. As I said, this only works if everyone is in the boat and rowing in the same direction. Short of that, it would be foolish for teachers to go it alone or with just a few others. You’ll succeed only in making yourself look bad. So like almost all of you, I will be heading into my classroom in the next couple of weeks to get the copies made, the lessons planned, and the classroom organized. I’ll be doing those things because I take pride in my work. I’ll do them because I’m a professional.
And I ought to be paid like one.