“You are so lucky to be a teacher,” I’ve heard countless times. “You only have to work 9 months of the year.” I nod politely (sometimes) or lose my cool and start dropping facts (most other times). I flashback to my first five years of teaching. My husband, also an educator, and I spent 4-5 hours grading at coffee shops on the weekends. Our evenings were lesson planning over quick dinners, and talking about what went right and what didn’t that day. While we’ve since learned a bit more work-life balance, the number of hours we, and most teachers, spend outside the “workday” amounts to a serious bit of unpaid overtime.
According to a Scholastic survey of 10,000 educators in all 50 states, teachers are working 11-hour days. However, teachers are only being paid for 7.5 hours on average. This breaks down to: “90 minutes beyond the school day for mentoring, providing after-school help for students, attending staff meetings, and collaborating with peers,” and “another 95 minutes at home grading, preparing classroom activities, and doing other job-related tasks.”
This amounts to around 17.5 hours of unpaid overtime per week. Some naysayers point to planning time, referring to the 30-60 minute bell some unions require teachers to have for their own lesson planning and grading. However in many schools, that time is “micromanaged, or attempts have been made to reduce it entirely,” the National Education Association (NEA) reports. For example, in Missouri, the state suggested removing 250 minutes of planning time from its mandates and allowing each district to decide on their own, leaving teachers vulnerable to plan bell reductions and eliminations.
As teachers aren’t paid hourly, but rather by salary, the only possible answer is a nationwide increase in teacher salaries, which right now average $63,645, according to the NEA. Some state governments are pushing for a statewide salary increase for public school teachers, such as one Virginia delegate who proposed a bill to raise salaries 4.5% over a 5-year span. But in some cases, red tape is preventing teachers from seeing the actual money, such as some Florida teachers who are awaiting a promised pay bump from the government.
Teachers, we must protect ourselves from burnout.
So what can teachers do in the meantime to ensure they won’t be overworked and burned out in a few short years from working too many unpaid hours?
#1 Grade less
Take a hard look at how many practice documents you are grading from your students. Some can just be practice, meaning they aren’t graded for accuracy. This doesn’t make you a lazy teacher; it frees up your time to give high-quality feedback on the assignments you do grade.
#2 Set clear boundaries
Those weekends at the coffee shop as newlyweds are hours of our lives we can’t get back. One of the hardest lessons we learned after a few years of teaching is that nobody is going to set a boundary if we don’t set one ourselves. Maybe you are okay with grading 1 hour each night outside of school. Maybe your home life requires that you don’t grade at all after hours. Whatever you decide you are okay with, create a clear boundary and stand by your decision. Everything else, including student, parent, and admin emails, can wait until the next day.
#3 Analyze your efficiency
Are you working for two hours after school? Get real with yourself about what exactly you are doing during that time. Are 20 minutes of it spent chatting with colleagues about an upcoming assessment you are giving? Maybe another 10 is a well-deserved bathroom and coffee break? Maybe you spend 15 more minutes catching up on social media before you start grading. If you can get 1.5 hours of work done in 30 minutes, and leave earlier to have more time outside the building, it may be worth it.
How much unpaid overtime are you working each week as a teacher? What have you done to set boundaries and find balance? Come share with other educators in the Empowered Teachers community.