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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52 Replies to “Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary if You’re Working for Free”

  1. I agree. I have suggested to teachers that they stop doing everything for free. Let the parents and administration see the difference. Too many guilt trips every where. If you don’t do it or volunteer uou are looked down on and talked about.

    1. Until I get tenure I can’t go by this. Despite the overload of work and constant proving of oneself, it’s a very competitive district that I work in.

  2. If “the work” gets done, year after year, without the provision of real, paid time to do it…they have no need to change things! Teachers should arrive this Fall on the first day of preplanning at the time determined by the district. Use the time you are provided to efficiently prepare your classroom. Go home when the “work day” ends.
    #ourlaborisnotfree

    1. The problem with your ‘theory’ is that you, as well as most people, assume that teachers ARE given time to actually prepare our classrooms. That is not always the case. My district literally gives us one hour of prep time before students come – one hour! We are expected to be ready to teach from the moment students arrive and we are penalized on our evaluations if we are not. People have no idea what districts are expecting of teachers and the list of demands grows every year without any rise in salary. This country just does NOT value education at all!

      1. I think their point is that that stuff will simply not get done. If we work within the time provided and limit ourselves to 40hours of work a week, they will see what is possible within the paid time and either increase our pay (unlikely) or declare us salaried, and we will then be responsible to the work, and not to the clock… In fact… I think that is already how it is…

        BTW, your final statement is a logical fallicy. You infer that because they don’t spend enough on education, they don’t care. There are other rational explanations that follow from the evidence provided.

      2. I would like to know where this author’s next story is. You know, the one about not decorating rooms, since she seems to know everthing about teaching. I am hoping and praying to read her infinite wisdom.

        1. It will be posted tomorrow morning! Thanks for your interest. Since you’re interested in my infinite wisdom, you might want to consider becoming a subscriber. That way, my wisdom will be sent right to your inbox! Also, I’m a guy, but thanks for the compliment! I work with many talented women who know more than I do. They should start their own blogs!

      3. I grapple with this every yr (well, I know the answer but I feel unethical) — in Pre-K there is so much to set up, it’s not just dusting off books, firing-up a white board and if it’s not unstacked it’s not safe, we’d literally be crashing, burning. Bottom line: we should not go in but the assumption that high ups won’t care is why we keep doing it. Truth is, through history, our predecessors stuck their necks out much more than a skipped set-up/decorating day. Further, if we weren’t embattled, we’d feel autonomous, like salaried professionals and we’d put in wherever we wished to get out (if I leave this ppwork, it’ll be there waiting tomorrow, etc.).

        That said, this currant climate is so evil that many teachers would go beyond for fear of looking like they’re behind the ball since evals are almighty. Not a good time. Have a great year and all the best…

      4. Exactly! Even our plan times during the year are filled with meetings! When are we supposed to plan out our lessons, write lesson plans that align with our curriculum map, grade, create assessments, and so on? If we worked only the amount of time we were contracted to work, we could not get everything expected of us completed!

  3. If my room is not ready, or my plans are not done and entered online for admin, I will get poor marks on evaluations. These evaluations affect my pay and continued employment. I was called in by admin and forced to take 2 full days of professional development, with a stipend if $15/hr. My planning time is taken up by mandatory meetings, so I must grade work at home. I was promised a substantial ($7k)raise after 20 years, but my district changed their mind and took it away. At least I don’t have to work a second job anymore. I ‘m not whining, but people just don’t get it. I have summers “off”, so I should be grateful, according to my non teacher friends.

    1. Might be time to look for a different school in your district, or a different district altogether. Vote with your feet…

  4. I taught for 45 years. Hardly ever did anything deemed “extra.” Spent 100% of my time in the building teaching my-heart-out. I always ate alone at my computer doing administrative tasks. Called students to my desk while checking and correcting their work so that they could learn what they had done wrong. When the bell rang, I left with the students and very rarely did any school work at home. The students loved me, loved my teaching, loved that I was fair and tell me that I was their favorite teacher whenever I meet them out-and-about, now that they attend college and work in my neighborhood and city. It’s been a very rewarding career and a very enjoyable retirement. No regrets. No complaints. Traveling very often with my retired wife of 47 years. Next stop, Italy for the second time in a year!

    1. I maximize my time while I am at school so I do not have to take work home in the county that I am working now. I went to work last year to another County but I did not have enough planning time to do it during school hours. I ended working over and hour at leat three times a week and on Saturdays from 7-10 am I was planning. Things have changed through the years. I believe that as teachers, we always do whatever it takes to make things happen. I have put a balance with it because I believe that I have a life after work.

    2. Lucky you! But the times in education have drastically changed. Sitting at my desk correcting papers while the kids are there is not possible. We now have many behavior issues to deal with. If I’m sitting fights or arguments are breaking out that I have to deal with. I have so many academically low kids that I am trying to squeeze in one on one or small group instruction when ever I can. Then with all the standardized testing on top of regular curriculum makes it impossible to sit around around and get things done in the classroom. Basically my day consists of CONSTANTLY managing behaviors, cramming curriculum down the throats of students who are not ready for it, and TESTING, TESTING, TESTING!! Then the thought of retirement for me is horrifying. I’m not getting paid anything now, they have changed teacher pensions so new teachers are not putting anything in So I’m sure by the time I retire there will be no money for my pension. You are one of the lucky ones Enjoy your retirement, feel blessed you did not have to go through the hell that we are going through when you were in the classroom. Those of us currently in education are MAJORLY getting SCREWED !!

      1. I quit my teaching job. Too much complaining went on in the 13 years, from myself and colleagues. If you don’t like your job (whatever the reason) do something about it. Since I didn’t see a change in workload happening down the road, I changed what I could control…my own course. New job, revised workload (what suits my family and myself much better), revised salary (less–but thankfully we had enough mutual income to sustain our family), revised vacation time (only 2 weeks) new happy me (I am not frustrated and overwhelmed by the end of the day/week/school year).
        If you complain about the great life teachers have, become one and enjoy. If you complain about the work teachers have to do, stop being one and quit complaining. Life is too short. What would you instruct and motivate your students to do?

    3. Enjoy that retirement, Bob! Congrats on your long marriage. It’s definitely possible to be effective without killing yourself with extras. My strong suspicion is that you were able to have a long, fulfilling career because you didn’t burn yourself out like so many teachers who agree to all this extra work. And it sounds like you’re still very healthy and energetic. That’s what I want for teachers. Long, happy careers, followed by awesome retirements!

  5. “And their employers will be the happy recipients of their labor.”

    The author and those agreeing fail to realize it’s not our employers (or parents) we do this for…it’s our kids.

    #faultyreasoning

    1. I was thinking the same thing Cindy, if I do perform like Ms Balance who ultimately suffers when I can’t complete some things. Yes that’s right “the kids” our top priority!!!!

  6. The longer you teach the less you feel the pressure… very freeing to “just say no!”… when I retire in a few years glad I will look back and have no regrets about where and when I spent my time! Because in the end only you will care about all that non sense ….

  7. I have said this for years! If teachers would stop working for free, the district would stop assigning so many things!

  8. Bottom line for me is being prepared saves my own sanity and is better for the kids. I don’t spend a lot of “unpaid” time in my classroom, but I do need to feel confident in my plan for the day. My mantra is “Work smarter, not harder (more hours). Still, paid time is not sufficient. We have two paid days before the kids come, but they fill those days up with mandatory meetings and training (ridiculous stuff like Blood Born Pathogens, etc). We have no paid time to prepare. And the district would never notice or be interested in how well I am prepared.. They only look at scores. We are the ones who suffer. Looking forward to your next post, Murphy!

    1. That is exactly how I feel,,, work smarter,,, teaching art is a constant search (summer included) for new lessons, materials, integrating technology,,, if your not getting paid enough research your districts pay scale and move over or down as fast as you are able ( masters, other coursework, stipends, summer curriculum development, etc.),,, in my case retiring after 25 years and going back to work allows me to collect pension and 80% of my retiring salary

  9. I am in total agreement. That is why the district’s don’t want unionized workers. This crap would slow to a halt. But teachers are mostly women! They worry about children and like most”mothers” break their backs for their children. GET UNIONIZED AND BECOME RESPECTED AND FEARED!

    1. Our union has not changed this. When elementary teachers point out that it is different in middle school and high school, they point out that we chose elementary education.

  10. This is so blantly filled with many fallicous misconceptions. So this rebuttal the claims that the amount of work a teacher can do is justified by the pay that we receive. As a special education teacher, I have the loving task of educating the students whom have some sort of disability that impedes their ability to learn. So I have to develop those plans and ensure that there are modifications and accommodations that are suitable for the students. At the same time, I have to perform tracking for IEPs goals, manage their IEPs, write them, attend those meetings, attend regular meetings, answer to parents, answer to administration, and then hear the opinions of non-educators on how we can do all of this work in the allotted time of eight hours. I would love to see these people step into the classroom and complete an entire teacher task list and not complain or feel underpaid or unappreciated.

  11. I agree but you need a high volume of teacher to stop working to see changes. On the flip side I do think it’s necessary for newer teacher to spend more time prepping to get their method down. My first few years I spent a lot time working outside the classroom. I don’t regret it bc I am passionate about what I do. All that extra time made me effective. Now I’m going into my 6th year and I don’t have to do as much.

      1. Stick to your guns Murph, but I know in advance you will. Your article applies remarkably well to other public service careers as well. Like many gluttons for punishment, my formal education was for a career in education , but I ended up as a professional firefighter, now specifically training firefighters. Our “bosses” actually told us once how lucky we were to be able to have two full time jobs! You are correct sir, teachers are extremely dedicated and that “dedication” is manipulated by those in administration to produce and they reap the benefits from your good works while trying to blame you for the failures of the system, and quite honestly, the parents that expect you teachers to do their child-rearing responsibilities for them . Teachers don’t live in fear of what can you do if you are replaced, stick together . Clean up bad teachers and protect the good ones, something unions don’t do well at all, they end up doing the reverse. There is life and it is pretty good outside of teaching. There are many nice careers where you might be paid better for your abilities.

    1. This is exactly the point . It would need to be a united front and I think that is what it will take if you want compensated for your time. Teachers have more and more duties and responsibilities each year and we just do them. Every time we are not compensated for additional work, we are working for free. That sends the message that our time is really not worth anything. Also, that the profession is not worth much.

  12. At the risk of repeating many of the previous comments, I can also add the perspective of many years experience as a contract negotiator for teachers.
    –As part of being allowed to maintain a job as a teacher, most are required to agree to put in adjunct duty hours. Those are unpaid hours outside of contract hours which are used for school related activities (for example: supervising bus loading, dance chaperones, staffing at athletic events, back to school nights, open houses, etc). For reasons of legal liability, those activities cannot simply be completely turned over to parents even when there is an adequate number available and willing to help. There must be a school employees there to assume overall responsibility. I am familiar with school districts where required adjunct duty hours are as little as seven to ten hours per year up to districts where they are thirty to thirty-five hours per year. If you want your employment to continue, you do not have the option to refuse to work the hours.
    –The reality is that most citizens have experienced our education system only from the perspective of the student. The majority (including most school board members who control teacher compensation) have no clear idea how much time is required to prepare and follow up a smooth running class period. There simply isn’t time during the contract day to accomplish all that needs to be done and, as previously pointed out, teacher “work days” are almost always filled with mandated meetings rather than time to work on matters for your students. Every school with which I have ever had any involvement has had mandatory faculty meetings on a regular basis. Because of legally mandated student contact minutes, it is an extremely rare school that is willing to extend their schedule to include those meetings within contract hours. To bring it to a more personal level, I am currently in the process of establishing a physics program in a high school that has not had one in a number of years. In itself, beyond the necessary work to get the new program approved by universities as a college prep class, the job should not be exceptionally daunting. However, with many science classes needing to share common equipment storage areas over the years, when other teachers who needed room to store equipment came across physics equipment (often relatively old) and had no idea what it might be used for, it was not uncommon to simply throw it out in order to make more space. While the school does have a budget with which I can purchase new equipment, it is several thousand dollars short of the minimum I would need to teach the class for the year without leaving out significant areas of study. At this point, my options are to omit significant portions of the class or build the equipment myself. We are very fortunate in having a parent club that will help purchase many of the necessary supplies, but the design and build part is up to me.
    –As a negotiator for our teachers, it required five years of negotiations to reach a point where every teacher was allowed a minimum of thirty minutes of preparation time at least every other day within the contract hours. It was a given that high school teachers needed daily preparation time, but many board members saw no need for elementary teachers to prepare their lessons. They finally accepted our proposal simply because it became clear to them that we believed it to be important and were not going to simply forget it.
    –I have seen mention made of summer staff development in previous responses. What I have not seen is what the situation is when that staff development is needed as a result a change in state law. In that case, a generous district may offer to pay your housing expense if the training is out of your home area. However, the rest of the expenses and time are typically on the teacher under the threat of having their credential voided.

    There may, indeed, be some teachers who put in hours for free in order to brag about how dedicated they are. However, that would be a small minority. The reality is that the majority of teachers go into the field because of an honest desire to benefit students and take pride in doing the job well. Comparing them to people who blog for free is absurd. There is no negative consequence for a blogger who fails to write a blog. On the other hand, a teacher who does not do what is necessary to complete their job (whether within contract hours or not) is in danger of losing their employment. With experience, a teacher’s efficiency does improve and the number of extra hours needed decreases. With most younger teachers, the motivation to put in free hours is simply the fear of becoming unemployed. There is something seriously wrong with an education system that is not able to attract, train, and maintain anywhere near the number of teachers that are needed. I did not seek or apply for my current position. I was happily retired when the school district came to me and asked me to accept the position and to do so on my own terms. I was the only available and qualified individual they were able to locate within any sort of reasonable commute distance. I am now back in a teaching position in my 70s simply because there was nobody else available to do the job.

  13. No one brought up the point that if you are unhappy with your district, it’s fine for years 1-7; after that, you won’t be able to easily switch districts without losing pay (A teacher with 12 years of experience may only start on the year 7 pay level). Or if you switch states, you may have to go back to school to take classes to clear your credential before finding work… On your own dime. It’s not easy to just get up and leave for veteran teachers.

    1. Yep. I call it the loyalty penalty. Districts benefit greatly from salary schedules and the lack of an incentive to go out and pay for the best teachers.

  14. Another thought, we used to have a strong union as well a union friendly administration,,, consistent raises,,, now we have the opposite,,, weak union, anti union admin.,,, little- well no raises in 7 years,,, we just hired a new supe,,, we will see+++

  15. I used to come in early to get ready for the day. My principal would ask me to cover the home room of whoever was running late or out sick that day. I stopped coming in early.

  16. I’ve been evaluated as “unprofessional” for not doing the extra stuff and “disorganized” because papers as lesson plans weren’t done quickly enough. I love teaching, but I’m getting so tired of admins pushing us around.

  17. Our district has this beautiful clause that says “and other duties as assigned” consequently we get things dropped on us that cost extra time without extra pay. I’m walking into my classroom this year exactly how I left it at the end of last year. I’m not going in early, if we have time during our 3 days of PD I’ll unlock my desk and start getting things arranged. I’ve quit doing extra things that don’t pay extra. I manage my time at school, and rarely bring anything home with me (unless it was poor time management on my part at school). That being said, I’m still grossly underpaid.

  18. I put in a lot of extra time and money. But I absolutely love what I do. To me, it’s not work. I am volunteering that extra time and donating my own money to what I consider to be the most important profession out there. I don’t work for free. I volunteer my time and money, and I love it. I would never complain about the blessings of being s teacher.

  19. Once in a meeting with a district administrator, teachers were pointing out the amount of time teachers must spend outside of the required workday to do everything. The administrator listened politely, then replied with a matter-of-fact smile, “When you are a salaried employee, you do what you have to do to get the job done.”

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