Education Impact: Misconceptions?

By Sarah Ostergaard

“Must be nice to have all summer off.” 

“Must be nice to get all those paid holidays.”

“Must be nice to be done with work by 2:30 (or 3:40 for high schools) every day.”

I am writing this article after presenting at the SC Education and Business Summit in Greenville and having conversations with 100s of teachers who were there

. . . in their free time.

. . . not being paid to attend the 3-4 full days spent at the conference. 

. . . because their schools need them to acquire training and/or certification.

Thank you, teachers.

In addition to thanks, let’s clear up some misunderstandings. 

Teachers are contracted to work 190 days, usually from July 1 to June 30 each academic year (there are exceptions and often the Career & Technical Education teachers are on a longer contract).

In an academic year, there are 180 days of classes with students and 10 professional development days to equal the 190 contract days. Therefore, teachers are not compensated for Winter Break, Spring Break, the occasional federal Monday holiday, or Summer Break. Teachers do receive a paycheck over Summer Break because the districts keep back a portion of their earned income as the district pays teachers over a 12-month period. In other states, for example, teachers have the option to be paid only over their contract period or to receive the interest on the extended paychecks because technically, extending salary payments from 190 days to 12 months means the teachers lose the possibility of earning interest on their own money (the time value of money concept). 

Teachers do work over the summer. But they aren’t paid for all of it. Teachers attend conferences, do training, get required certifications. . . and while hopefully districts and schools will reimburse expenses like conference fees and a hotel, they don’t always. Regardless, the teachers’ time is usually not compensated. At the conference I just attended, teachers spent 3 full days working toward a necessary certification to enable them to teach a required course for the benefit of all the students in their high schools. And they weren’t compensated a dime for their time. 

Formally at their schools, teachers work on curriculum maps and course progressions and more over the summer to plan for the year ahead. Many also do training required by the district’s federal magnet grants. There generally is payment for this work up to a fixed number of days, but the amount seems to grow smaller and smaller. Informally and without pay, teachers read up on best practices, educate themselves about their subject areas, and research teaching strategies. We recognize that other professionals do this, but it needs to be known that teachers hone their craft in their free time, too. 

Further, teachers are financially compensated only for the hours they are required to be at their schools. High school teachers are required to be at school from 8am to 4pm (5pm on Tuesdays for an extra hour of training and meetings). For an elementary teacher, the hours shift earlier. Attending evening events like open houses, magnet fairs, etc. are sometimes required and always unpaid – there isn’t even comp time. And the specified number of hours, calculated when a teacher takes a sick or personal day, is 7.5 (or sometimes the fine print said 7.0) hours of work. I know no teacher who gets their professional tasks done in that timeframe. It is virtually impossible to teach classes, complete normal teacher duties, grade student work, plan lessons, contact parents, do required paperwork, satisfy the vague “other duties as assigned” portion of the teacher contract within 7.0, 7.5, or even the 8.0 (9.0 on Tuesdays) hours that teachers are required to be in the school building. Teachers work evenings and weekends throughout the school year, which means more unpaid-but-required work. The work day for a teacher does not end when the students leave the building at 2:40 or 3:40. 

Teachers must have many skills and much knowledge, patience, creativity, dogged determination, compassion, and flexibility. They must remain calm under pressure. They must be accepting of long hours and incursions on their free time because the job must get done and society depends on it being done well. 

Thank you, teachers.