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Teacher Workload vs. Teacher Salary: And the Winner Is…

December 23, 2017

I stumbled upon a blog called, authored by Michigan elementary school teacher, Paul Murphy. It appears that Murphy started blogging in February 2017.

The post that first caught my attention is from July 2017 and is entitled, “Stop Complaining about Your Teacher Salary if You’re Working for Free.”

An excerpt:

Huffington Post publishes the writing of thousands of bloggers and they don’t pay them a dime. Why not? Because they don’t have to. When people are willing to work for free, they give up the right to complain about their pay.

And yet in almost any discussion about teacher workloads and salaries, teachers do exactly that. On the one hand, teachers will do everything they can to convince you that they work really, really hard. It’s not uncommon to read a laundry list of extra responsibilities submitted as proof of the teacher’s dedication and of how unappreciated her efforts are. On the other hand, they say they should be paid more. …

But what struck me, as it always does, is the contradiction between whining about low pay and bragging about working for free.

Because that’s usually what it is. Teachers who talk about working 12-hour days and going in on weekends and spending thousands of their own dollars aren’t actually complaining about it. They’re proud of it. They believe it’s proof of their dedication. It makes them feel superior to those who aren’t as selfless.

But these same people also feel like they’re getting the shaft. They ought to be paid more! Society doesn’t appreciate teachers! Their districts don’t respect the work they do! Look how much they’re working! …

Teachers, then, have a really simple way of maximizing their hourly pay:

Work fewer hours. …

If this suits you — if you don’t mind working for free, if unpaid work makes you feel more dedicated, if showing up on a Saturday and being the only teacher in the building gives you a sense of pride no amount of money can match — then go for it.

But realize that nothing is going to change if you do.

So don’t complain about your pay.

You’re the one choosing to work for free.


A reasonable question to ask after reading this is, “Well, what am I supposed to do, just not get my room ready for the year?”

I’ll address that in my next post.


(By the way, I happen to write weekly for Huffington Post for free because I enjoy doing so– same reason I started my own blog five years ago. However, writing for free sometimes leads to paid engagements.)

As of this writing, Murphy’s post about teachers working for free has 57 comments (including a number of responses by Murphy). Thus, telling teachers that they are choosing to work for free elicited some interesting commentary.

Of course, I had to read the next post, the one in which Murphy offers his solution: “How Teachers Can Get Paid for Extra Work.”

Yet another excerpt:

In my last article, I argued that teachers are going to keep right on donating labor for a very simple reason: Employers like work they don’t have to pay for. If you’re willing to work for free, then don’t expect to ever be paid.

So how can teachers start getting paid for all the extra work they do?

The solution is simple. Stop working for free.

Don’t go in over the summer to set up and decorate your room. Don’t volunteer for committee work. Don’t attend after-school events. Don’t take work home to grade. Don’t meet with parents after school.

Unfortunately, that solution is also really hard. You’re probably uncomfortable just reading those ideas. That’s pretty messed up when you think about it. It shouldn’t be a radical idea to suggest that professionals be paid for their work. …

There’s not much I can say to those who are offended by the suggestion they be paid for their work. For everyone else, the solution to guilt and fear is a unified teaching force that takes a stand and refuses to budge. …

Look at it from the district’s point of view. If no staff member breaks ranks, then the district will be in a difficult position. Are they going to give every teacher a low rating and risk their own reputation? Are they going to fire the entire staff and risk making the national news over refusing to give in to teachers who want nothing more than to be paid for their work? Are they going to convince parents they’re right and that teachers are greedy for wanting what other professionals get as a matter of course? It’s a losing argument, and teachers should force districts to make it.

Collective bargaining.

“if no staff member breaks ranks” is a big if. But the idea of collective bargaining is not a new idea, and it is one with which I agree. I am a member of my local teachers’ union, a union that this year successfully negotiated our first district pay raise in several years, and one that also negotiates the terms of teacher contracts, including teacher planning time during the school day; the parameters of that planning time, and the number of required meetings outside of the school day.

Interestingly, Murphy closes his “How teachers Can Get Paid for Extra Work” post as follows:

So will I be putting my money where my mouth is? Nope. As I said, this only works if everyone is in the boat and rowing in the same direction. Short of that, it would be foolish for teachers to go it alone or with just a few others. You’ll succeed only in making yourself look bad. So like almost all of you, I will be heading into my classroom in the next couple of weeks to get the copies made, the lessons planned, and the classroom organized. I’ll be doing those things because I take pride in my work. I’ll do them because I’m a professional.

And I ought to be paid like one.

I also find it interesting that Murphy’s follow-up post one has a single comment, posted a month after the post itself:

And the worst part is that until every teacher thinks the same way (the day after never most likely) nothing will ever change. Most districts don’t care about teachers working after hours, planning and attending evening events, or doing “extra” things for your students. They don’t truly value what you do, so if you stop doing the “extra” stuff, the only thing that will happen is that the kids will get less than what they deserve and the district/parents will say you’re only there for the paycheck.

Yes, I’m speaking from experience.

So after 30+ years of teaching I’ve found one way to balance the budget…at least a little. 🙂

I do my VERY best to only do things that are absolutely essential to keeping my job and rather focus on doing what I think is best for my students. It doesn’t always line up with what the district (or even the parents most times) want, but, I still go home every day with a clear conscience because I know no matter what, I’m making a difference in some young person’s life. I’m sure that sounds like a cliche but if you saw my paycheck and took a look at what I do from August to July (yeah school starts in September and ends in June) you’d see that I’d be considered certifiable if I said I was just doing it for the money 🙁

There is certainly a place in advocating for a living wage and for working conditions and expectations that do not lead to burnout. However, the teachers I know ultimately choose the classroom for the love of teaching, the love of learning, and the love of students.

apple scale


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. kesheck permalink

    Teaching for the love of it is leading to many teachers to work second jobs. Teaching for the love of it is leading to fewer and fewer teachers to have a defined benefit pension. Teaching for the love of it is leading to more and more teachers fearing graded observations. Something has to change.

  2. Teachers DO work really hard…and most of the time they talk about it not because they are bragging about how much they work, but because they are often not given credit for working full time!

    I find a lot to disagree with (and be offended by) in Murphy’s postings…beginning with teachers being “proud” of working for free. What we’re proud of (and I’m speaking from past experience since I’ve been retired for a while) is that we put the students first even when the state or local governmental units don’t.

    If I didn’t come in early (hours or days) or stay late to finish checking student work or “decorating” my classroom, then my students were the ones who would suffer. In my experience, most of the “decorations” that teachers put up in their classrooms are for the benefit of the students. Posters for motivation, calendars, word walls, charts, maps…those are what we call “teaching tools” not “decorations.” As a former contract negotiations team, I remember regularly asking for more prep time to do those thing…and being regularly refused. Should we have gone on strike for that? Perhaps (and now and then we did), but now that collective bargaining in my state (IN) has been gutted to the bare minimum, we can no longer bargain for time. It’s against the state law (thanks to Mitch Daniels, Tony Bennett, Mike Pence, and a host of anti-public education, anti-union, pro-ALEC, legislators).

    I never felt a sense of pride because I bought supplies for my classroom. I only felt shame that we prioritized our students so low that there wasn’t enough money for needed supplies. I worked in an area where the PTA/PTO or individual parents would help subsidize their kids’ classrooms…but that doesn’t happen everywhere. Take a look at this post if you want to see how some (many? most?) low income kids are treated in this great nation:

    Spending extra money and time on our classrooms is often the only way to put our students first. Pride? Not really. Necessity? You bet. Murphy even admits that he wouldn’t stop doing those extra things…

    And I haven’t even touched on the offensive language in the Murphy’s phrase “whining about low pay.” Maybe I’ll save that for another blog post.

    /end rant

  3. campak14 permalink

    The profession of teacher/educator within K-12 school settings is much more than dispensing standardized content knowledge by motivating children to participate in curriculum activities based on that content through rewards and punishments.
    Unlike ed-policy bureaucrats, system functionaries and corporate edusysters, who could care less about the complexities of learning experience within an advanced industrialized-democratic society, teachers work with the most complex physiological organ of a human being, the mind.

  4. Socrates permalink

    Those elementary teachers sure are precious, aren’t they? They ought to spend some time trying to grade labs or essays only during the time that they’re at school. Working overtime as a high school teacher *is* doing the minimum. Sheesh.

  5. I will recommend th relevant article. I would love to hear your opinion in the subject.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. …in which I rant about poor word choices and ignorant teachers. – Live Long and Prosper

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