Teachers deserve fair compensation for their invaluable work. This is not the first attempt to shine a light on the often overlooked and underappreciated nature of the teacher workload that accompanies this profession. It is the expectation that teachers should go above and beyond their regular duties to ensure the well-being and success of their students. It is essential to recognize that this expectation is unique to the teaching profession.
Most people know that teachers spend a multitude of hours outside of the school day preparing lessons, grading papers, tutoring, attending meetings, and conferencing with parents, to name a few. But many may need to learn that teachers are exempt from overtime pay, regardless of how little they may be compensated. This means that even if one believes teachers deserve fair compensation, they are not eligible for additional compensation for their extra hours. These extra hours often extend well beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. This starkly contrasts with other professions, where employees are typically entitled to overtime pay for working beyond their regular hours.
In 1967, Congress added teachers to the exemption alongside doctors and lawyers in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). While doctors and lawyers were seen as quasi-public officials due to their licensing requirements, the rationale behind including teachers in this exemption is unclear. At the time, teaching was considered a high-status, white-collar profession. However, today, teachers are not regarded on par with doctors and lawyers, especially regarding salary, yet they are still subject to the same exemption.
There is a misconception that most teachers only work 180 days a year; therefore, they do not require overtime pay. In reality, teachers do not get paid over the summer, nor any holidays. However, they often work year-round to prepare for the upcoming school year. Teachers spend countless hours planning lessons, grading assignments, and creating materials during the school year. Teaching is not an 8-to-3 job; it often extends into late evenings and weekends. All the extra time teachers donate to their profession means that teachers exceed the hours most work an entire year.
A post from the Bored Teachers website outlines the workload like this:
Teachers are putting in close [to] well over 2,000 hours a year, depending on their situation….according to the Pew Research Center. The average American only works about 1,811 hours a year. Factorin the thousands of teachers who need to take on a 2nd or 3rd job just to pay the bills, and the number of hours teachers work throughout the year is off the charts. It’s a staggering mathematical exercise and one that doesn’t seem to be getting better any time soon.
Planning and preparation are the centerpieces of the teacher’s workload. Unlike other professions, teachers must plan their lessons and gather materials in advance. This requires additional work outside of regular working hours. An article in EdWeek analyzed the data from the 2020-21 National Teacher and Principal Survey and found:
Full-time public school teachers must work 38.4 hours a week, on average, per their employment contracts with districts. But in reality, teachers spent an average of 52 hours working during a typical school week.
Many teachers put off necessary appointments, family obligations, or delayed medical procedures to avoid the additional workload of addressing these matters during the school year. For most teachers, the hassle of writing detailed lesson plans and finding other teachers to agree to take over duty or meet obligations isn’t worth the effort. Plus, the idea that most substitute teachers will not follow these lesson plans that took hours to put together is another reason to put off critical outside responsibilities.
In conclusion, teachers’ undervalued and overworked nature calls for a change in mindset and greater appreciation for the work that teachers do. Teachers deserve fair compensation for the actual hours they currently donate to their profession. If they are lumped into the same category as doctors, lawyers, and other executives exempt from overtime, then it’s time they receive the same level of compensation. It’s a matter of respect and an indication that what teachers do is invaluable. Good teachers and the education they provide are the foundation that every major profession is built upon. Without that foundation, doctors, lawyers, and other education-based professions could not build their careers.
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