Education, Philosophy, Politics

No, Teachers Do Not Work 180 Days a Year

In the uplifting and validating comment sections underneath nearly every article I read about education, sooner or later someone says, “Teachers only work 180 days a year.” Let’s talk about this. This is my 20th year working in a public school. That “180 days a year is actually 186.” Not a big difference, I know, but let’s unpack it for a minute. 

There are 365 days in a year. Of those 365 days, teachers in my state are contracted to work 186 of them. Wow, that’s only like half a year, right? I mean, why are teachers always complaining about their salaries? They “should” only be paid half as much as other professionals if they only work “half” the days, right?

This can only be the opinion of people who engage in lazy math. 

The typical professional in this country does not work 365 days a year, In fact, most work only about 50 days more than teachers, if that.

Wait, what?

365 days a year minus 104 days for weekends already puts the typical professional at 261 days per year. The six paid federal holidays knock that number down to 255 days a year. Most professionals I know, especially those who have been in their jobs for a long time, get 4 weeks’ worth of paid leave. So 255 minus 20 knocks that number down to 235. That’s about 50 days more than teachers are contracted to work. I won’t even get into the hour-long lunch that is afforded in many professional workplaces because, well, with a teacher’s 30-minute lunch “break,” that actually knocks off about 16 more days from the standard professional’s schedule, narrowing the difference to about 33 days. I also won’t even include the amount of unpaid time educators put in during breaks, evenings, and weekends, because well, frankly, that would show that most educators in the country work the equivalent of about 300 days a year or more.

What I WILL point out, though, is that teachers only actually get paid for ten months out of the year. Summers “off” mean that teachers either have to budget their 10-month salary to last 12 months or pick up a summer job to try to close the gap. That is true across the nation.

So, let’s just think about a few of the benefits society gets for this investment:

Free and appropriate education. Despite all the screaming heads moaning about CRT and schools indoctrinating their children, I walk through the halls and hear teachers teaching science, math, art, music, reading, dance, history, physical education, health, and world languages. I see teachers working to select materials that represent their kids and planning lessons to engage them in learning.

Free tutoring. Every teacher I know provides free tutoring before or after school at least once a week. Most tutors I know charge $40-$50 an hour. You can do the math on that one.

Free child care. Yes, I said free. Educators are not babysitters, but as the last 18 months has shown, that is how we are seen by many working professionals and even some SAHMs. Taxpayer dollars are meant to pay for education, but as a bonus, parents get to drop their kids at school so that they can be free to work, take care of younger kids at home, play golf, or plot to disrupt school board meetings with anti-mask rants.

Free lessons in responsibility. Who knew this was the top-ticket item that parents want their kids to learn? And teachers provide this service for free. While we’re at it, we also provide free lessons in organizational skills.

The list goes on. Free counseling. Free coaching. Free teaching of social and emotional skills. Free life skills. Free clubs and extracurricular activities. Free meals or snacks in many schools (even ones who don’t receive federal funding for free and reduced meals). Free nurturing, encouragement, and love. Free safety, as best as we can manage.

I could keep going, but you get the point. We all know there are some crappy teachers out there. We’ve probably all had one or two. But believe it or not, using educators as a political football or vilifying every teacher because of some awful past experience you’ve had with one teacher is the surest way to get MORE crappy teachers into the classroom, not fewer of them. Because here’s the reality: whether they signed up for it or not, trained professionals in a particular subject area or combination of subject areas do so much more than even they could have imagined possible. And most of it is not actually in our job description.

But getting back to the matter of teacher salaries, my state ranks near the bottom in terms of teacher pay. Comment sections underneath every article about teacher pay are filled with teachers pushing back against those saying we only work 180 days and that we know what we signed up for. People and bots filled with vitriol tout the number of days as some “gotcha” narrative that doesn’t address the reality. And the reality is that being an educator is a tough and often thankless job where everyone, for better or worse, has an opinion about how it should be done. The reality is also that in many states, especially non-union states, becoming a teacher makes little to no financial sense. Some of our legislators and their acolytes believe that we don’t deserve raises or even, in many cases, a living wage. This, despite overall wage growth in the US in the past 18 months. This, despite the most competitive job market I’ve seen in my lifetime. This, despite the reality that most teachers, by and large, work more days than most professionals paid two or three times as much. And this, despite the fact that nationwide, teachers are retiring or leaving the profession at alarming rates with few people stepping up to replace them.

So to those who want to continue to believe that teaching is easy, that teachers have it made, that teachers only work 180 days a year, that “your” taxpayer dollars pay our salaries, I say only this: spend a year (or twenty) in our shoes. After all, schools across the country are hiring. 

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