How Teachers Can Get Paid For Extra Work

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

Anger

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.

Guilt

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.

Fear

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.

Altogether Now…

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.

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.

 

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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.

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One Way Teachers Can Fight Exhaustion Before It Starts

 

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

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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

It Must Be Nice

It’s midsummer, which means that if you’re a teacher you’ve likely heard some version of “It must be nice” from some of your non-teacher acquaintances.

It must be nice to spend the whole summer doing stuff with your kids.
It must be nice to take all those vacations.
It must be nice to spend a random Tuesday at the beach.
It must be nice to visit a bar on a Wednesday night.
It must be nice to have all that time off.

summer

It reminds me of a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago. We were visiting friends in Wisconsin. He’s a lawyer with a private practice who has done very well. She’s a stay-at-home mom with four kids to watch, entertain, feed, and shuttle from place to place. Because he makes a lot of money, they sometimes hear, “It must be nice” from friends and family members. And it pisses them off. As it should.

Everyone can see the spoils of their success: the nice house, the cars, the kids’ private school educations, the boat.

But what’s unacknowledged or possibly forgotten are the sacrifices made at every step. No one ever said to them:

It must be nice to live in a cramped apartment with a newborn.
It must be nice to take the bus to law school and back because you only have one crappy car.
It must be nice to miss large parts of your son’s infancy because you have to study.
It must be nice to get up and go into the office at four in the morning and not get home until eight at night.
It must be nice to be home with four kids all day and have to do everything yourself while your spouse is at work.
It must be nice to have everyone assume that your success is the result of anything other than sacrifice and hard work.

“It must be nice” is code for “I’m jealous of.” When we look at other people and say “It must be nice,” what we’re really saying is, “I’d like to have that, but I don’t want to make the choices you made and endure the sacrifices you did to have it.”

That’s why it’s insulting.

When you tell someone, “It must be nice” you are ignoring what the person gave up to have those things.

Successful lawyers give up time away from their families.

Teachers give things up, too. Most of us chose this profession knowing full well the trade-offs. We knew our college roommates who went into business or medicine or law would likely make more money than us. They would be able to buy nicer things. They’d go on better vacations. They would be more respected by society.

Teachers chose time. We knew that going into teaching meant less money, but it also meant we’d have more time to do things other than our jobs. We knew we’d have more days to do what we wanted than our college roommates would. We traded one value for another. We traded the chance to earn more money for the opportunity to have more time. Many people choose the opposite, which is fine.

What’s not fine is for either group to wish they had what the other has, knowing they had the chance to make the same choice.

So the next time someone says, “It must be nice”, smile at them and say:

“It is.”

Then cheerfully remind them of their ability to choose:

“You should go back to school and become a teacher!”

And watch most of them backpedal as they suddenly picture themselves spending nine months in a classroom instead of three on a beach.

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Related Articles:

Teachers, Stop Saying You Work During the Summer

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Evaluation

The Best Way to Thank Your Child’s Teacher

 

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How Teachers Should Respond to Guilt Trips

I’m currently writing a book about teacher exhaustion. Before I started, I emailed readers of this blog and asked if they’d share their stories. I wondered what they thought contributed to their exhaustion. One teacher wrote back:

Another factor is the ‘guilt trip’ administration lays on teachers about how ‘if you care for your kids you will do this.’

Principals sometimes resort to using guilt to persuade teachers to do things they would otherwise be disinclined to do. Principals need teachers to attend after-school events, join committees, do additional work after hours, and take on other tasks that are “part of the job” but not really the job. For a parent night, they’ll say, “Parents will expect to see teachers here.” They’ll stress the importance of the committee work. They’ll claim it’s a sign of “professionalism” to take on extra duties. They’ll remind you that “teaching isn’t like other jobs.”

Why They Do It

They don’t do it because they’re jerks. Most of them are in a tough spot. State and district mandates require certain work get done, and they need manpower but lack the funds to pay for it. The school improvement plan calls for more parent involvement, so they schedule two parent nights. As the date approaches, they start begging teachers to attend. The school needs a PBIS team, but the district won’t pay for subs for teachers to meet during the day, meaning they must meet before or after school. The cabinets in the science lab are a holy mess and need to be reorganized, but who’s going to do the work, and when will they do it? You know the answer.

Most of the time, principals use guilt because they don’t have money. If they do have money, they don’t want to set a precedent of paying for everything teachers do outside the school day. That’s understandable, but it’s not really teachers’ problem.

And guilt works. People who go into teaching tend to be selfless. They’ve chosen a career that puts others’ needs ahead of their own. They have a moral code and a self-image as someone who always goes the extra mile for other people. It’s hard for them to stand up to a guilt trip that implies they might be doing anything less than they can for their students, their parents, or their colleagues. Guilt works, so it gets used.

But it’s also manipulative, and teachers shouldn’t reward it. Administrators have other options. The best of them is to foster an environment where teachers want to do more (or at least don’t mind). Principals who trust their teachers, who show them appreciation, who understand the challenges of the job, and who support them and respect their personal time will need to use guilt far less often. Teachers who work for bosses like this won’t have to be begged. And if you’re a principal who finds himself pleading, prodding, and laying on guilt trips to get teachers to do more, then you should first question your school’s culture. If you think you’ve got a pretty good one but teachers aren’t willing take on extra responsibilities, find out why. Ask them.

What Buddha Can Teach Us About Guilt Trips

If you’re a teacher on the receiving end of the guilt trip, you might consider the story of Buddha and the angry man:

It is said that one day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him, saying all kind of rude words.

The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.”

The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

It’s true of guilt, too. When you refuse to accept the guilt someone is trying to make you feel, then you will not feel guilty.

How Teachers Should Respond to Guilt Trips

If you can’t, if you find yourself giving in again and again, then you need to reframe your thinking. Try these:

  • It is not my job to solve problems created by other people.
  • It is not “professional” to work for free.
  • It is only “part of the job” because teachers have allowed it to be.
  • My primary job is being an effective teacher to the kids in my class. If doing extras in any way hinders my effectiveness in that regard, then I should not do those things.
  • Allowing myself to be persuaded by a guilt trip makes it more likely I will be subjected to the same manipulative tactic in the future.
  • Choosing something means not choosing something else. Instead of thinking, “I should really help out at the after-school event,” think, “By choosing the after-school event, I’m choosing not to spend time with my family.”
  • Nothing will change if teachers keep volunteering their time. If I think teachers should be paid for their work, then I need to stop being part of the problem.

Guilt trips only work when you let them.

Stop taking the ride.