Teachers’ Extra Hours Are Different


For something that should be relatively easy to calculate, there is a lot of debate about just how many hours teachers work. Read the comments on nearly any online article about teaching and you will be met with vigorous disagreement on the matter. Make the claim that teachers should be paid more and you can be sure that someone will point out our seven-hour days, summer vacations, and breaks for the holidays. Argue that teachers are overpaid, and you will be besieged by outraged educators who will tell you just how many hours they spend on the job each week, how even their breaks are actually just more work, and how, when they’re dead and buried, they’ll still find a way to grade papers.

The data isn’t particularly helpful, either. Like most topics people enjoy arguing about, you can find a study to support damn near any conclusion you want:

The NEA reports that teachers work an average of 50 hours per week.

The NUT teachers’ union, in a survey of 3,000 of its members who were age 35 or younger, found that 74% worked 51 hours or more each week.

A 2012 report from Scholastic and the Gates Foundation put the average at 53 hours per week.

Teachers self-reported working a mean of 43.7 hours on the Census Bureau’s Current Population survey.

And the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employing time-use surveys, found that the average teacher works about 40 hours per week.

But whether teachers are working five hours beyond their contractual time or fifteen, what’s almost always left out of this debate is the fact that teachers’ extra hours are different.

When a police officer works extra hours, she gets paid extra money. Same for nurses and nearly every hourly employee in the country. You’ll never see headlines like these about teachers:

Detroit police overtime pay up 136% over 5 years

Overtime allowed several East St. Louis police officers to earn more than $100K in 2017

5 Lansing bus drivers made more than $100K in 2016

Outcry over firefighters making up to $400,000


There is no overtime pay in education. Teachers who work even one extra hour per week know they will get nothing in return.

Hard-working teachers also have no hope of being promoted. To what job would they be promoted? There’s no going to the principal, explaining how many hours you dedicate to the job and how your efforts have resulted in greater student achievement, and then asking for a raise. Teachers who work extra hours do so with the full knowledge that it will not lead to a better, higher-paying job.

No matter how great a teacher you are, how much you improve test scores, how loved you are by parents and students, how respected you are by your boss and colleagues, and how much your contributions improve the performance of your school, you will not receive a year-end bonus check. There are no bonuses for hitting targets in education. Teachers who work extra hours to be successful with students will get nothing but satisfaction for their efforts.

Unlike small business owners, who are well-known for their long hours, teachers have no hope that their sacrifices today will lead to a brighter tomorrow. There’s no slaving away for ten years as you build your classroom practice with the hope that, eventually, it will all pay off in the end. Teachers start over every year. No one cares how effective you were if you no longer are. Extra hours early in your career don’t lead to riches later in your career.

This is how teachers’ extra hours are different: In literally every other field, the person who puts in extra work expects to benefit financially. Only in education do we expect people to work more hours solely for the benefit of others. And that’s why whenever I read something that questions how many hours teachers actually work I want to scream.

Even teachers who donate a single hour of their time can claim the moral high ground over every other professional because teachers’ extra hours are, by definition, altruistic.

Merriam-Webster: Altruism refers to a quality possessed by people whose focus is on something other than themselves.

Every time you see a teacher leave work thirty minutes after her paid day has ended, or take work home on the weekend, or check papers at her kid’s soccer game, you are seeing a person who is acting selflessly.

No one will pay her for her time.
No one will promote her.
No one will slip her a bonus check at Christmastime.
Most of the time, no one will even thank her.

Instead, they’ll hop on the Internet and explain how selfish and greedy teachers are for those pensions they’ll earn after working countless hours at no taxpayer expense over their 30-year career.

And if the ignorant carping weren’t bad enough, teachers who go the extra mile are often punished by their employers. In every other field, going above and beyond is rewarded. In education, doing more leads to more work. If you work hard to become an expert classroom manager, you can expect to get the toughest students. If you’re competent and conscientious, you get asked to lead school initiatives (usually with little or no extra pay). If you’re dedicated and hard-working, you’ll be expected to attend after-school events (again, without pay).

With the exception of positions like coaching or department chair (which tend to pay peanuts), every hour — no, every minute — of time that teachers work beyond their contracts is given with absolutely zero expectation of it personally benefiting them.*

Teaching is the only line of work where this is true, and that’s why teachers extra hours are different and it’s also why the argument about how many hours teachers actually work misses the point entirely.


*Except in that warm fuzzy feeling kind of way we always expect should be enough for teachers, since they’re working with kids and the job is so meaningful and all that hoo-hah. Odd that we don’t feel like that’s enough for pediatricians.

Related Articles:

How Teachers Can Give Themselves a Raise

American Teachers Should Work Less

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home


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I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort is starting this summer, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to receive a reminder email to sign up for Early Bird Access on June 8.

15 Replies to “Teachers’ Extra Hours Are Different”

  1. The argument you make is why districts want to go to pay-for-performance. We all know how that will turn out. Please edit your article or update it or whatever you need to do. Teachers deserve more pay because of the awesome responsibility we have to students, parents and the community. We shouldn’t have to take second or third jobs just to keep a roof over our heads.

    1. Your thoughts on “pay -for–perfrmance” is spot on. I agree with you.. It does not led to anything educationally good in the long run. It only inflates standardized test scores which is not real learning. The public schools in NYCm where I teach, had a program based in part on this for several years about a decade ago give or take a year or two. It was based on a letter grade. a school would get. needless to say individual bonuses earned
      by teaches ad administration if schools got an A or B however overall learning did not increase. THere were some cases in schools where scores were hidden or work on a prtfolio fudged. The program ended in part as it became ot expensive for NYC. As well as negative publicity.

    2. All of the extra hours and not to mention paying for graduate classes to keep up certifications and the hours of work for each graduate course

  2. I love you! I love all these posts you make! You speak my mind, for which I get into trouble at school for sharing. Thank you!

  3. Multiply teacing hours by three and that’s our work week. Someone who teaches four 5-hour claases has a 60 hour work week. Ok. So if classes are 45 minutes long, maybe it’s a 52 hour work week. Still ridiculous.

  4. This article is 100percent correct! Schools sometimes get what they call school recognition money for being an “A” school. Originally that money was supposed to go to the teachers but it’s become voted on and goes to probably most everyone because it becomes a bone of contention in the school. people like secretaries and custodians get upset when it doesn’t go to them because they feel like they’re doing their part in the school. The problem with things like this is the way the laws are with written. The recognition money should go to the teachers, it’s based on the school scores this is strictly my opinion. Oh I’ve seen it get nasty! This leads to lots of hurt feelings in schools, and so people just decide to vote and give it to everyone because they don’t want tension in the school teachers are trying to make things right again! So yet again teachers become the Pleasers! I’ve worked 19 years at a part time job and if I didn’t do that as a single person I couldn’t make it! I also teach an extra class which pays me 20% more above my salary, which is basically what I should be paid. If I made the 20% more without the extra class I would be fine. That means I have no planning period. I work every Sunday and a lot of Saturdays and I stay late a lot of days and that’s even when I do have a plan planning period.

    1. School recognition money is voted on by all school members. Maybe we should have teachers VAM scores as well as test gains to determine if every teacher should be compensated? Taking a birds eye view of an entire school, I have found most often teachers who claim they are the only ones who are successful in student success, are least effective. If we only compensate teachers, does that mean music, art & PE teachers should not be compensated? Does that mean kindergarten, first & second grade teachers who don’t participate in state testing shouldn’t be compensated? Does that mean resource teachers and assistant teachers shouldn’t be compensated? Have you read the research on student success in the classroom? Do you know how well students are taught by teachers in a grade below or above you? There is so much more to the equation than only rewarding teachers. We are not talking about the Little Red Hen here. The ground is prepped, seeds secured and planted, fertilizer applied, crop is harvested, to be celebrated by an entire team. A school will not rise or fall by the work of one person. It takes an entire TEAM.

  5. I agree with the spirit of this article. I wish its author spoke of educators rather than teachers. As a school counselor, I assure you that every educator in the building puts in more hours than their paid forty. Ohhhh! And while we are speaking of compensation, why in the name of cash flow are educators paid only once a month?

  6. I agree completely. I teach part time, 2-3 sections of the same community college class, and I spend almost all my time outside of class working on making my course materials even better, grading exams, preparing exercises and exams, and putting in way more office hours than I get paid for. And I still love it.

  7. Teachers are not paid for holidays and summer break. They are paid for required number of days and that amount is divided by 12 months instead of 9.

  8. I’m so over hearing “but it’s for the children”. The administration and school board needs to put their money where their mouth is. As a CDA in VPK I have 14 kids on my list while the lead teacher has six ESE kids. I do the same as a teacher with half the pay plus I’m expected to stay late for lesson plans, IEP meetings, entering assessment and test scores, attend meetings at other schools after hours, and so much more while others ride the bus and get time and a half. I love what I do but a decent wage would be nice.

  9. While I do agree that teachers deserve more I feel like this article is in parts untrue. Teaching is not the only profession that is underpaid and overworked. Working in addiction recovery I put many, many hours in without any financial compensation. Spend many hours at work every week off the clock. Many calls and emails after hours and on weekends. While I would love overtime pay or other compensation for what I put in I feel that my true payoff is in what I give others. To see previously broken clients regain their families, become the mother, daughter, sister or wife that they were meant to be, to see the light come on in their eyes…those things are my compensation. Some professions, unfortunately, will never receive the compensation actually deserved but we know this going into these professions. When I focus on the bad I become miserable and resentful. While it can be very frustrating when my family time is interrupted I must continue to focus on my real purpose, and that is not getting rich. It is simply putting others before myself and knowing that I am making a difference for others and their future. As a teacher, if this isn’t your purpose, is teaching for you??

  10. As a former teacher I agree with much of this article. However, I can definitely not agree with the idea that the idea of working beyond the contracted hours is unique to the profession of education. I work in a very large community organization and it is not unusual to show up on a Sunday, or at 9:30 pm, or for that matter 5:00 am and see multiple directors there. We bring our work home, we answer the phone at 3:00 in the morning. We do it without compensation and without complaining because it is what we do, and what we love. We are not the only profession who does this, it’s the difference between having s job and having a career.

  11. Some very true points but it bothers me that you kept referring to teachers as “her” it’s not only a job for women. We have Male teachers

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