Teachers Work For Salaries or Students


Taylor Mali on what teachers make. YouTube.

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

You have heard it said, perhaps you uttered the statements.  “I want to be a teacher and work only ten months a year.”  “I want a career that allows me to leave the “office” at 3 in the afternoon.”  “Those that can do; those that cannot teach.”  Some think, the job of an educator is a simple task.  There are no challenges.  The time spent on campus is short and sweet.  Yet, studies show that individuals are leaving the profession in mass.  According to the Washington Post half of new teachers quit within five years. 

Educators flee from a profession they once thought prized.  This has been the trend for quite some time.

Jessica Jentis fit the profile of a typical American teacher: She was white, held a master’s degree and quit 2 1/2 years after starting her career.

According to a new study from the National Education Association, a teachers union, half of new U.S. teachers are likely to quit within the first five years because of poor working conditions and low salaries.

Jentis, now a stay-at-home mother of three, says that she could not make enough money teaching in Manhattan to pay for her student loans and that dealing with the school bureaucracy was too difficult.

“The kids were wonderful to be with, but the stress of everything that went with it and the low pay did not make it hard to leave,” she said. “It’s sad because you see a lot of the teachers that are young and gung-ho are ready to leave.”

The proportion of new teachers who leave the profession has hovered around 50 percent for decades, said Barry A. Farber, a professor of education and psychology at Columbia University in New York.

Nevertheless, the misnomers surrounding this vocation continue to circulate.  Life is bliss when you work to help children learn.  Perhaps that is why teachers work as hard as they do.  They know they will not be fully financially compensated for doing as they routinely do.  Yet, their actions and the results of these are extremely rewarding.

Recently, Education Week published Teachers’ Workday Is Difficult to Pin Down.  This exposé discusses the dynamics of the teaching profession, from hours paid to hours worked.  Recently, a report , still in its preliminary stages revealed that teachers work, on average 15 ½ hours a day.  In an article published in the The Honolulu Advertiser teachers share their perspectives.

Dawn Kodama-Nii, a third-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary, called the study “pretty accurate,” at least in describing the amount of extra time she and her colleagues work.

She arrives at school by 7 a.m. to prepare lesson plans and get her classroom ready. She leaves at around 5 p.m., taking work home. Nearly every Sunday she puts in another seven-hour day.

“We put in so many hours,” said Kodama-Nii, who is married with a 2-year-old daughter. “As a teacher, your job is never done.”

But Sylvia Koo, a veteran math teacher at Farrington High who works an average of 10 hours a day, said it’s not the quantity but the quality of hours that should matter more.

“We do work more than our seven-hour day, but I don’t work 15 1/2 hours every day,” said Koo, who also advises the school’s math team and teaches math in an adult education class twice a week. “The fact that some teachers go home at 3 p.m., though, doesn’t make them bad teachers.”

Nor does it make them a teacher, “absent without official leave.”  Educators take their work with them wherever they go.  Most instructors cannot and do not leave their work at the “office.”  In my own life, once I exited the school building, my day was not done.  I graded papers while dining.  I wrote plans beginning in the late afternoon.  I was working and reworking into early evening.  Before I realized it, the day began again and I had yet to go to sleep.  Rest seemed less essential than preparing for my classes.  On most mornings, while in the shower, I would think of a better way to present the material. I would quickly make changes.

I drove back to the school building and waited in line to use the copy machine.  Well, I could have stood still and chatted; however, other arrangements needed my attention.  Students scurried in before the bell, hoping to speak with me.  There were parents to call, electronic mails to file through, paperwork to complete, and of course meetings.  Weekends were slightly different.  There was time to look for resources and materials.  These could help me motivate minds individually.  In truth, I must excite each pupil personally if they are to truly learn.

My story is not unique.  Teachers throughout the world could tell the same or similar tales.  Nevertheless,  those not driven to the teaching profession think this scenario is overstated, unreal, or simply not credible..  Individuals quarreled over the findings in this recent report.

An Advertiser editorial said that the 15½-hour workday “defies logic,” and added that the newspaper’s reporter should have spoken with someone outside the committee who could have brought perspective to the matter.

But the debate in Hawaii throws up a question with as many answers, it appears, as there are education interests: How many hours does the average teacher clock in?

Further complicating the issue is the fact that teachers work a calendar different from that of other professions-usually around 38 weeks a year.

Based on the shorter work year, some researchers have argued that teachers are on a par with other professions in pay for actual hours worked. A controversial report that came out earlier this year from researchers Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters of the New York City-based Manhattan Institute computed hourly wages for teachers using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to find that, on average, they earn more than economists, registered nurses, and architects, among others. In fact, it said, the average public school teacher was paid 36 percent more than the average white-collar worker in 2005.

While I, and many studies dispute this claim, I think it is vital that we look at what goes on in the classroom. On average, a single class may have twenty to forty students.  Each pupil has his or her own history and manner of working, coping, or relating to information and instruction.  These may not be complimentary.

The stress on a student or a teacher takes a toll.  While most educators feels connected to the scholars in their space and to the curriculum, troubling matters amass.  Frequently, a teacher is frustrated.  They feel they have little time to teach.  Discipline is a dilemma.  Class size does not always lend itself to effective instruction.  Efficacy is reduced.  Sadly, educators no longer believe that they can facilitate growth.  We have all heard the phrase, “teacher burn-out.” Frequently, educators, as people in all professions expect much of themselves.

We all see parents unable to “control” the crying of a lone child.  Perhaps, we are the forlorn mother or father embarrassed when our offspring runs rampant up and down store isles.  Imagine, being an instructor, trying to stimulate a class full of students, each with their own individual interests, while maintaining a constructive classroom demeanor.

The ability to control students in a classroom is a critical factor in any educational setting.  After all,  if teachers do not react adequately to students  when their behavior is disruptive, instruction suffers.  Teachers who distrust their ability  to maintain classroom order cannot avoid this key  factor of the job.  Day in, day out, they must  continue to instruct students in order to reach educational goals.

Teachers who have no confidence in their classroom management abilities are confronted by their incompetence every day, while  at the same time understanding how important that competence is if they are to perform well and  achieve the educational goals.  Furthermore, they are likely to know that their colleagues routinely  succeed in obtaining a comfortable classroom environment (Metz, 1978). 

Teachers who (1) distrust their classroom management abilities under standard job conditions  and (2) understand the importance of that competence, (3) cannot avoid the management tasks if they  are to reach the educational goals, and (4) are informed that colleagues routinely obtain a comfortable learning environment, can easily suffer  stress, exhaustion, and negative attitudes (Davies  & Yates, 1982; Usaf & Kavanagh, 1990).

Several  studies demonstrate that doubts about self-efficacy can in themselves trigger the burnout process.  Chwalisz, Altmaier, and Russell (1992) found that  teachers who score low in self-efficacy reported a higher degree of burnout than their counterparts who score high in self-efficacy.

Greenglass and  Burke (1988) conclude that doubts about self-efficacy contributed significantly to the development  of burnout among male teachers.  The more specific  relationship between teachers’ perceived self-efficacy in classroom management and burnout has  been investigated as well.  Friedman and Farber  (1992) found that teachers who considered themselves less competent in classroom management  and discipline reported a higher level of burnout  than their counterparts who have more confidence  in their competence in this regard.

Sigh deeply and continue to assess the predicament of educators.  When the Manhattan Institute cited their conclusion, there was a clamor among educators.  Career professionals spoke not of the circumstances within the learning environment.  They addressed other concerns, those mandated by government.

The study met with vehement opposition from teachers’ unions, which pointed out that it did not take into account additional hours that teachers put into their jobs outside the classroom.

While school days have always been long, “there is a lot going on now in terms of the No Child Left Behind Act,” said Reg Weaver, the president of the 3.1 million-member National Education Association, referring to the mandates of the 5-year-old federal law.

“There is a ton of paperwork that needs to be done in addition to other responsibilities, and teachers are trying to juggle the duties and responsibilities they have both in classroom and after school,” he added.

We have heard that from many a teacher; yet few take the time to consider the truth of this statement.  Assumptions are made.  Instructors often have students grade their own, or a classmates work.  Yet, those methods for correcting are not always practical, possible, or pedagogically sound.  Humans crave attention and the admiration of those they perceive as experts.  When a pupil works diligently, and receives a score on a paper and no comments, they feel lost, devastated, and desirous of more.  If an academic is expected to excel they must have information to assist them.  Authentic achievement involves much nurturing.  It is challenging to stimulate learning within a large group.  Individuals want and need attention.

Showing interest in each learner takes a lot of time.  The clock is ticking.  Twenty students, perhaps forty, five, six, or seven subjects to teach, this is the dilemma.  Journalist, Vaishalo Honawar, writes, this is a complicated question and the answer is equally complex.

Across the political spectrum, experts tend to agree that many teachers put in hours well in excess of the seven-hour workday stipulated in most union contracts.

According to Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, teachers work as hard as professionals in other fields, and then some.

“Teachers work as many hours per week as other college graduates, ? or at least women teachers work as much as or more than women college graduates in other professions, while male teachers work slightly less than male graduates in other professions,” said Mr. Mishel, whose board of directors includes labor-union officials.

“I think it’s a mistake for people to think teachers only work their contracted hours,” said Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a conservative-leaning advocacy, and policy group in Washington. It is “difficult and almost impossible” for teachers to get all their work, including preparation for class, done within the hours stipulated in the contract, she added.

Even the Bureau of Labor Statistics acknowledges that there is more to the question of teacher work hours than hard facts. In its latest annual survey on worker compensation, released last August, the bureau found that elementary teachers worked 36.5 hours a week, while secondary school teachers worked 36.9 hours. Special education teachers worked 35.4 hours.

But the bureau also says, in its Occupational Outlook Handbook, that after including school duties performed outside the classroom, many teachers work more than 40 hours a week.

Teachers’ unions, meanwhile, have their own figures. According to Mr. Weaver, the average teacher spends 50 hours a week on instructional duties, and 12 more hours on non-instructional tasks, such as grading papers, advising students, and serving on bus duty.

Those responsibilities, in essence, stretch the workday of an average teacher to more than 12 hours-almost twice what is stated in most contracts.

Yet, many quibble.  Among the economists and researchers, remarks are made.  Michael Podgursky, an Economics Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison quipped, “People always think they’re working. But if I’m on a treadmill thinking about work, does that count as work?”  Nevertheless, in Hawaii there may be some hope for overworked and underpaid teaching professionals.  It seems the Time Committee cares.  Will parents, Principals, School Boards, and Districts?

$63,000 More?
In Hawaii, the Time Committee was set up in 2005 as a result of a collective bargaining agreement between the school board and the union. (Hawaii has a single, statewide school district.) It was in response to teachers’ concerns of spending many extra hours on the job, said Joan Lee Husted, the executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

“Our teachers have been complaining that with NCLB and with standards-based education, they have been doing more testing, more paperwork, and more committee meetings than they are preparing for delivering instruction,” she said.

The preliminary report found that teachers spend 1,780 additional hours a year, or 254 additional seven-hour workdays, on noninstructional duties that include creating lesson plans, grading tests, counseling individual students, and communicating with parents, among many other tasks. If teachers were compensated for the additional work at the average daily rate of pay, the report says, it would cost $63,000 more per teacher per year.

Meanwhile, the NEA’s Mr. Weaver said a teacher working for 15 hours does not sound, to him, beyond the realm of possibility.

For most teachers, he said, a 12-hour workday is common.

“Teachers are always engaged with the children and the community,” Mr. Weaver said. “We spend a lot of time working.”

Perchance an additional $63,000 per teacher is ah, but a dream.  Nonetheless, in a time when American students are falling behind, we as a nation might consider that investing in education and educators benefits society as a whole.  Schools are not meant to serve as storage spaces for children, while parents go off and play or make money to pay the bills.  Our educational institutions are the foundation for our future.

A Teachers Work and Wages . . .

  • pdf Teachers’ Workday Is Difficult to Pin Down, By Vaishali Honawar.  Education Week. April 18, 2007
  • Teacher’s day ends long after bell, By Catherine E. Toth. Advertiser Urban Honolulu Sunday, March 4, 2007
  • How Much Are Public School Teachers Paid? By Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters.  The Manhattan Institute
  • The National Compensation Survey (NCS) U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Half of Teachers Quit in 5 Years, Working Conditions, Low Salaries Cited. By Lisa Lambert. Reuters.  Washington Post.  Tuesday, May 9, 2006; A07
  • pdf Half of Teachers Quit in 5 Years, Working Conditions, Low Salaries Cited. By Lisa Lambert. Reuters.  Washington Post. Tuesday, May 9, 2006; A07
  • Insights Into Why U.S. Students Lag Behind in Global Academic ‘Horse Race,’ By Edward B. Fiske. International Herald Tribune. Tuesday, February 11, 1997