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 a doctoral degree. 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 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 his nose at Authority and the undercurrent of fear as she waited 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 building 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 just 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 the 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. Click To Tweet
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