“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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16 Replies to ““Is It Paid?””

  1. So true. It is disgusting how teachers are mistreated. I will be retiring in 2 years and this is one of the many reasons is why I can not wait.

  2. That’s like.. when a high school teacher spends their preptime subbing in another class b/c no subs are available, they get paid for it. But when I, a 2nd grade teacher, take on a whole ‘nother 2nd grade class (usually my teaching partner’s -she teaches math/science to both of our classes and I do the literacy/soc. st to both classes), and keep the all day with me and my homeroom class…. I don’t get compensated at all.. b/c it wasn’t “during my conference period”. I didn’t give up any “prep time”.. nevermind I had 44 kids all day in one room and saved the district the sub pay for that day!

    1. Actually, in my district, we get nothing for covering another teacher’s class (I’m at a high school) Not even PD hour. Or an hour of leave time/sick time credited to us.

  3. This article is spot on. I laughed when you mentioned “Joyce” who definitely resembles me especially late in my teaching career when so many others were afraid to speak up. Did you mean to say though that she disagreeable, or is she strong, brave and outspoken?
    P.S. Retirement is lovely, but I loved that job too and working with those amazing kids for 34 years!

  4. I need to start by saying that I completely agree teachers are underpaid. My kids are in high school and they have had many great teachers over the years who I am sure are not getting paid nearly enough for the work they do.

    Having said that, i see a big flaw in this post. He lists other jobs where he agrees that people take on extra work without extra pay, and says that it makes sense because there is a potential payoff in career advancement and higher pay. He also says that there is no potential payoff for teachers so therefore no reason for them to do extra work without extra compensation.

    I think the obvious solution is to structure teacher pay scales and career paths so they have similar opportunities to advance their careers by providing higher salaries to better teachers. So when they have their annual reviews, they can demonstrate what they accomplished over the past year and show why the deserve a higher raise, just like a new lawyer working extra hours to impress their boss. It makes total sense – the best performers should be paid more, which is how it works in almost every field.

    The problem is that teachers, at least the ones I’ve talked to, are very resistant to any sort of compensation system that would result in differing pay. Even if we could find the magic unicorn of an evaluation system that everyone finds acceptable (the standard system that almost every other industry uses of “the boss’ opinion” is a complete non-starter), the teachers I have talked to are completely opposed to the idea of it. They insist that all teachers should be paid the same based on years of experience and their education level.

    Before you tear into me for suggesting this, please remember that I truly do agree that teachers are underpaid and would like to see them compensated better.

    1. I’m in my 15th year of teaching. I see what you mean by what has been called merit pay. I am against this myself because I have no control over the students in which I will be rated on. I can’t force them to study and/or do their homework,. How do you define a teacher doing a better job? Why would any teacher want to be a special education teacher if they were paid depending on student results? Would this create dissension among the ranks when a particular teacher gets honors classes each year? This would need major restructuring to be a fair system for all.

    2. I think if we were talking about “bonuses,” the teachers would be on board. But they want to make teachers’ pay based on things such as student performance or improvement, which means paying some teachers LESS than the average rate if their students don’t perform well. But you can’t control how seriously kids choose to take tests. I can tell the kids all day every day that this test “counts a lot,” and some will still whip through it choosing C the whole way and be done in two minutes.

      If the pay had nothing to do with student performance, I’d be 100% on board. But that’s basically the same as paying for participation in committees, groups, etc. You’ll be paid more because you participated in two or three more committees than the teacher next door. Why not just pay for participation in the committee?

    3. I worked at a school (private) where there was “performance” pay. It was great.Thatbeing said, being a private school, test scores where not an issue, so there wasn’t that “you have to get these kids to pay/excel on the test” mentality. Public school systems put to much pressure to preform well on “the test” that teachers fear their salaries would be a reflection of how the students did.
      On standardized test does not measure good teaching.

    4. ^to Joe X
      I worked for three years ina district that banded teachers by pay. Math, science, and special ed were banded into the highest. 4th and 5th grade were oddly banded differently. The evaluation system was crooked such that the district was told that only so many teachers could be rated the highest to improve their pay the most. No matter how hard you worked, you couldn’t achieve the promotion you desired. It really was an effort to control the money in the district, not pay teachers what they deserved. It caused turmoil, turnover, and jealousy among the teachers. We didn’t want to collaborate because so and so might use it for his own evaluation. I had no desire to improve my own education because I wouldn’t be paid for it or promoted. Evaluations made me miserable knowing that I would be labeled mediocre and my buddy next door would be highly rated.

      I am now in a new district that pays well, offers raises for continuing education, and offers extra pay for committees and subbing my prep hour. This makes me feel valued.

      The true point of the article is that we do so much that our time is more valuable than joining the next committee.

    5. I understand your point of view, however, determining teacher pay based on “how well they perform “ that year is unrealistic. No two 1st grade classes are the same. Student demographics, varying instructional levels, and the impact of social situations beyond their control all impact the overall effectiveness of any teacher. What if one group of students has parent support and thrives even though the teacher sits behind her desk handing out worksheets but the teacher across the hall goes above and beyond to engage their students and is always seeking new strategies to impact student growth only to have homelives where they are provided with little or no support. Is the teacher with the best test scores then rewarded for doing a half a$& job by receiving a raise? What if that same teacher has a Masters degree (but is failing to demonstrate its value)? Do they then qualify for an even larger raise?
      Yes the system is flawed but it needs to be addressed and corrected by those in the field of education. Not just teachers or superintendents but by college Deans, retired educators, or even those who left the field. Without the input of those voices, I fear that those in the field of education will continue to be mistreated, misunderstood, and misrepresented by those who do not hold our profession up as anything more than glorified babysitters.

    6. I am a teacher of 20 years with a masters degree. I appreciate your honesty, and respect your point of view. Here lies the problem… who’s the “boss” who will approve these raises based on performance? Or what is the bar at which those should get paid more? Test scores? Grades? Standardized testing? What makes one teacher better than the other? The amount of time they spend in and out of the classroom – working on committees, taking classes to grow as an educator, planning, grading??? Who makes these decisions?
      Here is the other piece of the pie that the public does not understand, those who simply think pay the “great” teachers more. Just like you would a lawyer or doctor/specialist in their field, or small business owner. Lawyers decide which cases to take, doctors/specialist have a guide book- when you have these symptoms you prescribe this… if that doesn’t work you do this… as long as they follow the right course of action they are paid -and paid extremely well! Their pay even if they do not cure or save a patient does not change. Get ready because here is the real difference between a lawyer a doctor or business owner and teachers. We can not choose what kids we take, there is not a rule book or precriptions we can give so that everyone is the same. We can’t take out extra advertisements to promote our classroom or our teaching. We willingly and lovingly take every child and give them our best! So is the “great” teacher the one with a class that has an average IQ and pass the standerized tests, the teacher who has the best graduation rate? What about the teacher who saved a child from abuse, hunger, depression?? Which one is “great”? Who do we pay more? You are correct teachers don’t sell each other out…we don’t want to divide ourselves into the good and the great because there is absolutely zero measure that can accurately calculate what separates the two.

  5. Excellent. Preaching to the choir. And, if it’s not for pay, at least give us professional development hours for it. (We are required to do 25 every year, or 75 over 3 years)

  6. Last summer my husband signed a contract to teach summer school. During the summer school term he was told he was required to attend an out of town 3 day training. Not only was he NOT paid for the three days he was gone from the family and working during his “summer” time, he was also NOT paid for the summer school time he missed during the training. I’m so tired of teachers being held to superhuman standards at near poverty wages.

  7. Two quick examples that support this article:
    A few years ago I was a proud member of a teacher support organization that called upon my cohort to draft memos, white papers, and editorials for education issues in the county where I then worked. I was asked to write an editorial by a contact that called upon the experience and insight of our group. I was turned down because I told them what my fee was. They went to the next person in the group, who wrote it, spending a lot of time and energy doing so. When I asked her what she was paid, her jaw dropped. “I can charge for this?” she asked incredulously. Of course you can! And you should! Don’t do it otherwise.

    A couple of years ago I was asked by a well meaning grad student if I would help him start an after school tutoring program at my school, staffed by teachers who would stay after school about two hours a day two or three days a week to help improve test scores. His heart was in the right place, but he was totally naive about the value of teachers’ time. When I explained that he had no business offering any less than fifty dollars an hour for teachers to do this, he wilted. I showed him how much time we already invested in the classroom and on our own uncompensated with duty schedules, grading, and planning. It was an eye opener for him.

    “What does it pay,” or “What is the amount of the stipend,” has been my mantra for years. Every teacher should learn to ask it. And then not do it anyway just for “the privilege,” “for service to our kids,” or to “enhance a resume.” We are professionals. I for one will be paid for my professionalism and experience. Always.

  8. What if you just want to spend time with your own children and family nobody is even discussing this but we feel like we are bad if we say “no “ to doing extra things so here we go dragging our kids with us to things on nights and weekends or calling in to check on our tween and teens because we’re staying after for meetings l. We go to double concerts pto and fundraiser on both ends chaperone field trips and can’t even attend our own children’s Xmas parties because we work and can’t be considered for “room mom” so, even if it is paid maybe we just want to value our family over making money 💴 because we know all too well that they grow up too fast and we are missing out on so much especially those that leave their 2 month old babies to return to work. I know it’s a personal choice but some women have no choice but to work. They are excellent caring teachers and moms and give the best they have to offer which is their heart ♥️ If their heart is not in it and believe me I’ve seen it then you’re never going to help a kid who’s already failing. Many of the people I see doing so called “above and beyond “to further their career don’t really invest personally in the students yes they know the material inside and out but do they care and yes it is like being a doctor. Most doctors don’t build personal relationships anymore and if we go this route with students I believe it is a big mistake.

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