Ask a Teacher

Would Education Collapse If Teachers Stopped Working for Free?

On Friday, the science teacher on my team rolled past my door on Friday afternoon. In hand – or on wheels, rather – were 2 carts full of spirit wear that she and her student council members created, sold, and distributed.
“Only crazy people come back to school on Fridays.”
When our school’s nurse retired after 25 years of service, she was burnt out. Drive to our school on just about any day – including many Saturdays and Sundays – and everyone who spoke about her retirement said the same thing over and over.
“Our nurse was always the last car in the parking lot.”
And as our administration decided to move the elementary teacher day 35 minutes later – to a release time of 4:35 p.m. – the teachers there have said
“We will not stay one minute later, and we will stop holding clubs for free.”
Here’s the thing: teachers are people-people. They care about students like they’re their own – that’s why we call them “my kids.” They would bend over backward to help a kid learn, grow, and succeed.
But the truth is, we could work at this job 24/7 and there would still be work to do. Honestly, helping 30 elementary kids or 180 secondary kids get their academic life in gear (not to mention their personal lives) is a struggle that is as infinite as the good intentions we have for them.
Here’s another thing: teachers are also problem solvers. When teachers speak with their friends about something they’d like to do or change, they do not sit on the sidelines. They take an active role in creating a plan, dividing up tasks, and making the most of it. That’s what makes watching a group of teachers cooperatively tackle a task is a work of art.
But the truth is, we are mostly paid half as much as administrators. We should offer them suggestions and stop doing their jobs. We should stick to what we do best, and that’s teaching children.
And a final thing: teachers have to stick to their 40-hour workweek. Angela Watson of the Truth for Teachers Podcast has started a 40-hour workweek program to help teachers keep their time at work under control. Is education a calling? Oh my God, yes. But is it something that should come at the expense of your family, your joy, and your well-being?
In her Truth for Teachers Podcast episode “5 Things Teachers Want in a Principal,” Ms. Watson believes that when a school takes on many initiatives, we should not pour our free time into them. Any extra time we put into something should be something of our own interest
If this crazy COVID-19 year has taught us anything, it’s the analogy of the oxygen mask on a plane is the best reminder of what we need to do as educators; that is, we need to ensure that we are taking care of ourselves first before trying to take care of anybody else.
So when you’re “on the clock,” give your everything to your students to teach them. To encourage them. To help them. To watch them grow.
But when as Ms. Watson says, when your time is up, know that you’re replaceable to your school. If you collapsed and fell over, there would certainly be a period of mourning. You would undoubtedly be missed. But you would eventually be replaced by a teacher with your certification.
To your family, your friends, and your joy, however, you are not replaceable.
So you’re okay to sometimes be “the crazy person” or occasionally be the last car in the parking lot.
On the other hand, you’re entitled to be the person who does a great job at work and nothing more, just so you can do a great job at home. You do not need to give a minute beyond what you’re contractually bound to.
At the end of the day, working an extended number of free hours might cause you to collapse; but education will not collapse if you stop working for free.

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