Perception and Pay

We’ve all heard it before. The justification for teacher pay based on the myth that “teachers only work nine months out of the year”. My contract is for 180 days. I receive 10 paid sick days, and 3 paid personal days each year so really, I only need to work 167 days each year to receive full compensation. I’m not even required to work an 8 hour work day! My contract day is 7.5 hours. That comes out to 37.5 hours a week. Most people work 40-60 hours on average every week. When you look at it that way, what we make seems fair, doesn’t it?

Except that isn’t the reality. Teachers don’t work just 7.5 hours each day. They don’t use their sick and personal leave because it’s a pain in the #$! to be gone. And all the teachers I know work well beyond those 180 days for which we are contracted.

Next school year, I estimate I will work somewhere in the ballpark of a cumulative 400 additional hours beyond my contract 7.5 hours/day. Seriously. For one, we’re producing a musical, which will amount for at least 1/3 of that time. The good news for me is that I receive a modest compensation for all the nights and weekends I spend at contests, concerts, auditions, and shows with students. For many of my colleagues, like the English teacher carrying out stacks of essays every night for grading, this is not the case. Doesn’t that English teacher have a planning/conference hour for grading, you say? Yes. He does. It’s also the time he has to contact parents, return phone calls and emails, meet with administrators or department chairs, write lesson plans, fill out district paperwork (bus requests, purchase orders, maintenance requests, etc.), attend IEP meetings, make deposits, tidy the classroom, and many other obligations I’m sure I’m forgetting at the moment. Some teachers have 45-55 minutes for these tasks. Some have as little as 30 minutes. Most days, we’re lucky to squeeze in a bathroom break amidst it all.

How many of us are committed to professional development this summer? I already have plans to attend at least two multi-day workshops. If I were still teaching AP Music Theory, I’d be attending the AP Summer Institute—a five day obligation—in Tulsa. Several of my friends are spending two or more weeks in class acquiring their Kodaly or Orff certification. These are financially uncompensated professional development days. In fact, many of us are paying fees and per diem for these workshops out of our own pockets. I haven’t even mentioned yet the hours upon hours that many teachers will spend either at school or at home preparing for the upcoming academic year by researching curriculum and preparing lesson plans.

Do we have to do these things? Technically, no. We don’t.

We know these experiences will make us better teachers and administrators. Continuing education affords us the opportunity to enhance our practices so that we can reach more students effectively. In short, we do it because it’s what’s best for kids.

Friends, we don’t just have a pay issue. We have a perception issue.

We have a problem in that the stigma surrounding teaching is that it’s an “8 to 4 and out the door” kind of job. We teachers know this is untrue. Those who live with a teacher, dealing with the stacks of essays to be graded, or math exams to be scored, also know it to be untrue. But there are plenty of people in our society who subscribe to the belief that teachers are compensated appropriately because they don’t even work an eight-hour-day for nine months out of the year. These aren’t bad people. They just don’t fully grasp the amount of time even adequate (let alone exceptional) teaching demands. I mean, let’s be reasonable, who can blame them? In what other comparably compensated profession would anybody work beyond their contract day without another incentive—like promotion.

We need to make the contract reflect what the job actually is. If we were to add instructional days, and extend the contract into the summer to include professional development for teachers, we could better make the case that teachers are poorly paid. Until we are willing to do that, I think the powers-that-be will continue to justify the current teacher salaries based on the myths surrounding the time we put into it. We need to make it clear that teaching is a year-round obligation, and that we work the same or more hours as professionals in other fields.

Are there teachers who manage not to clock a single minute during the summer? Sure. Are there teachers who follow the buses out of the parking lot? Sure. Are there teachers who read magazines during their conference period? Sure. In just about every profession, you’re going to find some slackers who are just phoning it in. All the more reason for properly reflecting the time obligations in our contracts. Some of those slacker teachers (don’t get mad…we all know they exist) will leave.

We teachers didn’t enter the profession for the money. But let’s face it. A lot of teachers are leaving because of the money. Money doesn’t buy happiness. But it does buy groceries, and pay the mortgage, and put shoes on our kids feet, and send them to college. We’ve heard the old saying, “you get what you pay for”. What kind of educators are we currently paying for? It’s a question worth answering, don’t you think?

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