Nobody Works Harder Than Teachers! You Sure About That?

I recently wrote the most-commented article on this site to date about the number of hours teachers work and comparing those to standard business world people. As I write this one, I’m sure it will stir up just as many responses, though many of them will surely be in disagreement with me. Just keep reading, and tell me where I’m wrong at the end!

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One of the comments to that article said something to the effect that “nobody works harder than teachers do!”

While I agree with the sentiment, I think it’s possible for our own passion to cloud our word choice at times.

Comments continue coming in about that article, and I saw an email right before I went to be last night about a comment by sciguy left on this topic. He explained that he had taught 2 years, he then went off to work in the business world for 10 years, he owned his own business for 3 years, and has been teaching again for the last 3 years.

His claim was that teaching is demanding, but it doesn’t exceed the stress or work involved in owning one’s own business. I had a sneaking suspicion that his comments were the truth.

I was disappointed when I checked my site this morning, didn’t see his comment, and then realized he had actually left it over on a similar post on Learn Me Good.

While I am keenly aware that our jobs are demanding and far more time-intensive than many people realize, the example I gave in my response was that of people in the medical field.

If I screw up in my work, someone gets some wrong information that I have to go back and correct later on down the road. If I don’t realize I’m wrong for a few years, it’s no huge loss.

If a doctor or nurse screws up, someone’s health (and potentially their life) is in jeopardy. Add to that the numerous long hours they work, and it can get to be a lot.

As sciguy brings to light, an entrepreneur is financially responsible for the success of the business. When you open your own business, if becomes your life.

And honestly, the job security of education is a pretty sweet deal too. I mean, people are going to continue making babies and that means ignorant people will continue to need to be educated.

When we walk into work each day — assuming we don’t do something stupid to a kid or break a law somewhere along the road — we pretty much can rest assured we’ll have a job until at least the end of the school year. That’s an assurance that most people in the business world don’t have.

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I mean, even if a district is in a budget crunch (is there a district in the world that isn’t in a continual budget crunch? I swear I’m sick of hearing that over and over again!!!), they are pretty much guaranteed to keep you on the payroll until at least the end of the semester.

While it’s not the most lucritive job in the world as far as pay or hours or stress levels go, I think when we step back to look at the career honestly and in an unbiased way, we can all recognize that there is at least some level of cushiness involved with our line of work.

How many times do you think this conversation gets played out?

“What do you do for a living?”

“Oh, I go in to work at 9am, have an hour or more for lunch, have occasional meetings with clients and supervisors throughout the day, leave the office at 5, and spend the rest of the time doing whatever I feel like.”

“Wow, I wanted to do that when I was a kid. I totally respect you! It must be nice knowing that you are making a difference in the world.”

And yet how many times do we have the same question, tell them we teach, and get that response? We have it good, folks. Quit your whining and enjoy the rest of the summer!


Update: 7/14/08
Miss K has an awesome comment that I wanted to respond to in the article so people who stumble over here don’t miss it. Go read it first, and then read my response here.

@Miss K – I think you hit the nail on the head here. Passion. Dan Miller has a book called 48 Days To The Work You Love that I have heard highly recommended. One of the coolest blogs I’ve seen it The Chief Happiness Officer where he talked about loving your work.

I wonder how many teachers get in the business and realize they don’t absolutely love the thought of waking up each morning to go and teach! How sad that must be. Could it be that those people who find themselves in that place are somehow trapping themselves into a system that requires immense amounts of diligence and motivation that they simply don’t have?

I have written a handful of articles that address this very topic in one way or another:

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

27 Comments on Nobody Works Harder Than Teachers! You Sure About That?

  1. I think everyone thinks their own job is the most stressful in the world and it’s always a bit of hyperbole.

    One thing you may not have mentioned is that a lot depends on individual personalities. Teaching may be less stressful for the guy you mentioned but more stressful to someone else who doesn’t have the stomache for it.

  2. I think teachers work long hours. I don’t think they work “hard”. Digging a ditch is hard. Construction in Phoenix is hard. I think our jobs come with a lot of stress because of parents and administrators and than makes us very tired. Boring inservices stretch our minds to the limit and our butts to the point of exhaustion. But, Hard?

  3. Every time I hear teachers griping about our profession somehow being the hardest or most important it reminds me of “Just Like Heaven.” Reese Witherspoon plays a medical resident who works past the point of exhaustion on a regular basis and winds up as a ghost (a cute ghost) after a head-on collision because she’s so tired driving home from the hospital.

    I’m SO glad I don’t have to worry about that. ;)

  4. I agree that there are plenty who work harder than teachers; maybe people mean to say …harder for the pay? I’m not one of those whiners, because while I am new to the career (and make more than I did before I got into it), society treats teachers, especially early childhood ones like babysitters (all you do is watch kids all day, what more do you need?) Teachers (those not yet jaded) may complain because of the mental, emotional (depending on the person), physical and maybe other demands that this field can have on you when dedicated. When I took work home before it was hardly compared to this, and when I played the freelance-hustle and entrepreneur games for a while I didn’t FEEl the strees because of the passion for what I was doing. People complain no matter what–maybe if teacher’s can maintain passion in a thankless world, the complaints will lessen.

  5. @Miss K – I think you hit the nail on the head here. Passion. Dan Miller has a book called “48 Days To The Work You Love” that I have heard highly recommended. One of the coolest blogs I’ve seen it The Chief Happiness Officer where he talked about loving your work.

    I’m going to add some to the bottom of this article in response to what you wrote. Awesome comments!

  6. A lot of people like to play the game of “topping” someone else’s story. This is like the guy who says, “So you got your leg cut off? Well let me tell you what happened to me…” We teachers love to brag about how tough we have it, even if we aren’t totally realistic. I have busy times, but when a teacher is continually busy, I really wonder if that teacher is working as efficiently as he or she could.

    Right now I’m enjoying 3 of the biggest perks of teaching: June, July, and August.

  7. I love teaching. The only year I felt stressed my Mother had died, my two teammates hated each other, and my principal was investigated. The teammates battled royal all year long and spent a good deal at time trying to scream at me about each other. To the point of another teacher and I both having to tell them to be quiet because students could hear them.

    There are teachers that I know, who are completely stressed. Often times they don’t like kids, or kids the age they teach. I’m glad I took my cousin’s advice before seeking my Teaching Certification. She told me stop and think long and hard about what grade levels I wanted to teach. She suggested I ask myself – If I was going to take a group of my cousins for the day and have to be completely in charge of them – which group would I take?

    Now admittedly that works better when you have 25+ first cousins, and another 30+ second cousins to choose from. I settled on elementary and focused on upper elementary. Old enough to have a good conversation about a book, history, or science, but young enough to still have the fear of God in them.

    I now teach K-5, and admit each new group of Kinders is a little stressful. Most of our kid have never touched a computer before, so helping 21 kinders, learn how to use a mouse is a challenge. Once we get that down things go pretty smoothly.

  8. I think “whining” may be too strong a word here. The connotation may be off, but I digress.

    I think the reason teachers have complaints is that they are not paid a competitive wage as others with comparable education, and oftentimes respect is not given to them (by some administrators and the public at large).

    How many good news education stories do we hear in the media in comparison to the bad news/scandal stories? This makes the job quite difficult at times. I know some complain to hear themselves, but I do believe teachers have some legitimate gripes and to voice them may not be “whining” but highlighting an issue or even advocacy.

  9. @DrPezz – I disagree with you. As much as understand where you are coming from, I think too often we use low pay as a scapegoat for job dissatisfaction. I believe the perception that we are doing something that makes a difference is generally far more effective at increasing job satisfaction than a pay increase it.

    Would I accept a $5,000 raise if my district gives one to me? Of course I would. Do I honestly sit here and think that $416.67 a month (BEFORE taxes) would change my world? It would make my debt repayment go faster, but most people would like the idea of the raise more than the raise would give them better quality of life.

    While money may be a contributing factor in the problem, it is nowhere near the sole culprit. I think there are a number of elements that suck the passion out of too many teachers. Lack of respect is another. I think the key is to look at the relationship teachers have with the others in their school.

    I’m sure that we could all find other teachers to complain about nit-picky things to. Those really aren’t the relationships we want to be cultivating if we want to be happier at work, are they? Another reason I try to avoid the Faculty lounge environments…

  10. As I write this, I’m a little afraid of potential repercussions, but I would have to say I don’t necessarily think teaching is the hardest job in the world, for many of the reasons you mentioned above.

    1. We get plenty of vacation time. Before getting my credential, I was part of the work force where you earned your 2 weeks vacation by giving the company a solid year of work with only limited sick time off. Only after a few years did employees earn their third week of paid vacation time. At that point in my career, since I was in sales, any time away from my job meant lost income, even if the company still paid me my base salary.

    2. My district’s duty hours for teachers are 7:30 – 3:15. For several years now, I have been able to get all my work done within those hours. I still do some of the “above and beyond” types of things because I enjoy it, but I am under no actual obligation. Mind you, I teach elementary music. I know things are very different for high school music teachers.

    3. Teacher unions tend to be extremely strong. I have some issues with the way things are done, but that’s another story. The fact is that we have a very powerful union.

    4. Your point about job security is extremely valid. While music teachers often fear layoffs, so do people in other professions. The difference, as you mentioned, is that teachers can usually see the pink slips coming from a mile away. Laborers and other members of the work force may not get the advance notice teachers tend to get. I can’t imagine showing up to work one day and hearing, “We’re giving you your two weeks’ notice and two weeks’ severance.” I’m sure the severance part is pretty uncommon at that.

    One consideration, and perhaps you’ve written about this in the past, is the ratio of education required to the average salary. In other words, what is the average salary of someone with 5 years of college education who is in the work force vs. a teacher.

    As always, Joel, very thought provoking.

  11. @Stengel99 – Shhhh! As I read these comments, I realize that our job as secondary music teachers seems to have a whole lot more “windshield time” than most teachers, but far less private time consumption. At the same time, we cycle through kids like a revolving door and have to teach something different every single class.

    Most secondary teachers have a lot of the same classes over and over. Most elementary teachers teach less than 40 students, whereas I know music teachers who have close to 600 students each week.

  12. I guess there are two threads running through this post and the comments: how hard is teaching in comparison to other jobs and commensurate pay.

    My father was a music teacher and while he put in quite a few hours outside the school day (performances and some practices for the most part), his take home work paled in comparison to mine as an English teacher (reading and paper grading). I definitely felt that our hours were spent in very different ways with very different types of fatigue.

    I’m not sure that our profession requires more work than other professions, but I do believe people think it’s an easy job. How often do you hear people say, “well, if this doesn’t work, I’ll go teach” or “I have a teaching certificate to fall back on”? They don’t get it and don’t see it. People believe it’s a cushy job inside and out (not just job security and summers).

    However, I do believe pay and respect are two major contributors to job satisfaction and adds to perceptions. My buddy’s company paid for his masters degree. They also pay for all of his extra schooling as his job adapts to new methods and ideas. Teaching does not do this for us. Thus, we’re paid less and pay more. Granted, I knew this going in and don’t factor it into my personal complaints (which are basically respect and horrible PR by our districts).

    Relationships are an excellent point as well, but I also know I can just close my classroom door and be just fine. Sad but true.

    I think part of my stress as an English teacher is that I am responsible for everything except math according to those in power. Reading or writing scores are low, I need to change. The scores go up, I need to change. Kids struggle reading texts, I need to add this. Kids don’t have enough cultural literacy, kids need to be internet savvy, kids need better research skills. And so on. However, I view reading and writing (and the others) as across the curriculum and not solely an English job. In fact, most state tests align with science and social studies curricula more than language arts. Anyway, that’s a personal piece.

    Keep up the good posts. :)

  13. @Nikki Fontaine – I totally agree with you here! I take the summer off. I enjoy bad weather days. I enjoy three day weekends. I enjoy spring break and Christmas break and all that stuff.

    I agree that there are a lot of people who need to find different employment venues. I also have seen more than my fair share of teachers who retired two or three or a dozen years too late.

    Us teacher folks seem to have this sense of obligation to continue helping out as long as we can. Even to the point that we fail to notice when the “help” is not helpful! I guess that’s why there will never be a shortage of teachers who sign up for summer school…

  14. Being self employed, I work from 4am to 8pm seven days a week. Rain or shine, snow, sleet or hail. I take one week vacation if I’m lucky. I’m in the groundskeeping business, so it is hard physical labor. ARE YOU SURE that no one works harder than teachers? I think I work harder.

    • Yes!!!!!

      Why are there all these complaints from teachers. Try going out and working in a real HARD job!!!

    • Wow–and what do you do exactly? Most outsiders think teachers “have got it made,” because of the schedule they have, but to them I say trade places with a teacher for a day and see how it works out for you. Those people have no idea what it’s like to spend countless hours preparing engaging and intriguing lessons for apathetic kids, some of whose parents send them to school and ‘hope that everything works out for the best,’ expecting teachers to raise the kids or otherwise make corrections and teach lessons that should have come from home. Despite this however, I do love teaching though aware of these glaring realities. I hope you read this article in full and grasped the dualities that were given in the discussion. Naturally, no one should attempt to judge another’s situation if they haven’t been through it, and there are clearly some jobs that I would never want to do–but to anyone who talks about teachers and their complaints, I BEG you to sub a day or two in my classroom.

    • Miss K,

      It sounds to me like you see underappreciation as a huge downside to teaching. While the effectiveness of teaching may take longer to see, we get a whole lot more appreciation than most workers do.

      For instance, it takes much less time to see a stack of boxes get loaded onto a truck than it does to see a concept being taught. But how many people do you think truly express their appreciation to all of the people who work in your district warehouse? On a daily basis, it’;s probably even. But what about those Christmas gifts and end of year gifts that we get?

      Do you think we get less of those than the manual laborers even in the school district? Cafeteria employees? Custodians? Security? What about the secretaries?

      Many of these people work at 1/3 of the pay of even a first-year teacher! Do you honestly think that they have 2/3 less of the problems and complaints that we have? Are we underappreciated? Probably so. Are we mistreated? Not even remotely.

      I do enjoy this discussion!

    • Agree with you 100% Joel, just somewhat scoffing at today’s poster who had that what’s-the-problem-you-get-off-work-3pm mentality. I am definitely not mistreated, and thankful for my career and what I am blessed to do everyday. I cannot or would not want to collect the trash in my city nor build anything in it, nor work a graveyard shift for anybody! However, I would not try to tell people who do that that they need to stop complaining…

  15. @Randy – I agree. As I’ve said frequently through the comments here, as well as in the original article, I flat out disagree with the idea that teachers work harder than anyone else.

    I admire you for your dedication to pursuing your dream of owning your own business! The world needs more hard-working entrepreneurial types like you!

  16. Joel, you’ve struck a nerve with me and apparently a lot of other people with your topic here.
    One thing that makes teaching different than other professions is that while teaching, you’re always “on.” There is always a group of students in front of you to control, to lead, to teach. By contrast, I remember back to my office job days and the truth was that I could work as hard as I wanted or be as lazy as I could get away with. No one really kept track of my actions from moment to moment, so I could slack off or take a little extra time doing mundane tasks if I wanted. All the while, I believe I was a respected employee, and worked a little harder and was a little more effective and successful than average. Granted, some teachers are lazy and let their classes go wild, but it’s unlikely those teachers are really successful.
    So I guess my point is that it’s easier to get away with being lazy in some other professions than in teaching.

  17. Good afternoon all. This is my first time visiting this site and I have yet to read the other “controversial” article, so I apologize if I restate anything that has already been said. However, I want to chip in my two cents’ worth.

    I do not want to say “no one works harder than teachers.” One reason is because there are lousy teachers out there who don’t do squat and are just collecting paychecks until retirement, and they sure don’t deserve any kudos for that. The other reason is because there are individuals in other professions who work as hard or harder, and it wouldn’t be fair to say otherwise simply because they don’t teach.

    However, anyone who groups individuals together based on their professions and then makes generalized statements must be at best uninformed and at worst an idiot. (Specifically referring to the charming individual above who said teachers need to try a “real hard” job.) :) There are good teachers and bad teachers. There are good doctors and bad doctors. There are good business people and bad business people. There are varying degrees between “good” and “bad” in all professions. It makes no sense to lump everyone together and make blanket statements.

    I for one usually work 12 hours a day, even though I don’t get paid for the extra time. I teach middle school band, so that means a ton of other responsibilities most other teachers don’t have to worry about. (For example, washing and organizing uniforms, multiple fundraisers throughout the year, multiple performances, maintaining about $20,000 worth of instruments every year, etc.). The chorus director next door to my room usually works equally long days. Our jobs are in fact very difficult (neither one of us is taking the summer “off” and we are both going in over the summer without pay to do work), BUT we knew that getting into this. So we deal with it because we know down the line we will reap the rewards when our kids can make music together. However, I still want to brutally beat anyone who tells me my job is easy and I need to get a “real” job. Maybe try doing what I do for a year or more before letting anything that ignorant come out of your mouth.

    • 12 hrs a day? Such complete bull. I work for a school board and no one, not one works those kind of hours. Give me a break.

    • Chuck, I think it’s important to realize that not everyone does all of their work at their place of employment. At the same time, we must remember that not every minute spent at one’s place of employment is actually spent working. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be “work 12-hour days”.

      That being said, many educators and administrators literally do spend 12+ hours a day at work. As a band director, I have worked plenty of 12-hour days. When I was working at the high school level, a typical Friday during football season would begin at 6:45 opening up the band hall to prepare for the morning pep rally and would end somewhere around 11:45 locking up after the football game. Saturdays during October are typically more early mornings and late nights as we prepare and travel to marching festivals and contests.

      Most of the extra-curricular teachers and administrators I have worked for will spend one evening a week watching a basketball game, attending a concert, traveling to all-region tryouts on a Saturday, staying for booster meetings, bringing in guest clinicians to work with their ensemble, assisting another campus, working with individual students, etc. well beyond the standard school day.

      Now perhaps your school district does not have high school sports or extra-curricular opportunities for the students, but the overwhelming number of schools in the United States have sports, music, academic, and other sorts of activities that the students participate in beyond the traditional school day. All of those events require staff members.

  18. It is very obvious that the author of this article is very proud that it is one of the most commented articles on this site!! Kudos to you. You should also be proud that you had teachers who worked hard to educate you so that you have the ability to write such an article.

    Teacher do work hard and yes it is extremely stressful. I agree that when a person in the medical profession makes a mistake that it could be life-threatening. However, when a teacher makes a mistake we also have a huge impact on a child's life. I remember numerous nights not be able to sleep because I hadn't been able to get through to “little Johnny” and he wasn't reading. Not being able to read is life altering. Many times we have parents who refuse to help their children at home (It takes a village) or parents who were not capable of helping their children. We are often responsible for life-altering decisions–that is stressful.

    Administration makes demands that teachers often feel are not in the best interest of students, but may make schools look good on paper. However, we know the children are missing out. (teaching to the test to assure good scores) We are caught between a rock and a hard place.

    Teaching doesn't end at 4:00. I attend meetings, tutor, attend college classes,grade papers, sponsor clubs or athletic teams. Teachers take calls at night from parents and often sacrifice time with their own families to assist one of their students.

    To be a career teacher it does take passion. I have taught for 25 years. I have a masters, several cerifications and a specialist degree. I make what many of my friends did when they took their first job out of college. I love the educational field, but do I encourage my own children to go into it. No. I want more for them, especially the respect they deserve for doing a job well.

  19. According to BLS studies teachers actually work less hours day-to-day than many other jobs, not counting the summers they get off on top of all that. I think people (and teachers) who don’t work in industry think that you go in at 9 and leave at 5 and that’s it. But it’s not. People stay late all the time, take their work home with them all the time, prepare things at home for work all the time. There is often also more at stake in the short-term since it’s much easier to lose your job than it is for a teacher – so it is also a lot more stressful. I grew up in a family full of highly rated teachers, and I can see the amount of work they put in – it is very high when they first start a new subject, but after htat it is extremely low compared to the side of my family working in industry. And finally it does require less skills than many of the high paying jobs to be a teacher. Currently, the bar for being a teacher is set pretty low, so even if you yourself are a great teacher, there are tons who are not, because the bar is low.

    Teachers often ask for more money even though they work less day-to-day and also get summers off. But if they got more money a lot more people would apply for the positions, and these people would have many more qualifications, making the field much more competitive. This would be good for teaching since it would improve quality, but many of the people who complain about teachers’ salaries would be left out of the field. They would then get another, low paying job, and complain about why they still aren’t earning as much as X,Y,Z profession. Everyone thinks they would be the awesome teacher who stays, but most people would be utterly crushed under the weight of top talent that would be attracted by, say, a 6 figure starting salary.

    This is the reality – being a great teacher may be hard, but most teachers are not great since the bar to enter is so low.

    • I can’t say that I agree with you on this. The bar to enter may have been low at one point, but all of that has drastically changed within the past 3 or so years. I know this because I only just received my bachelors degree a few years ago. I was part of the last batch of graduates to have the more “cushioned” transition between getting a degree and not getting one. At present, to obtain your initial teaching certification you are subjected to video testing during student teaching, 3 exams that you have to pay for yourself (the ones I paid for were between 80 and 120 dollars per exam), and an extremely vigorous work load that demands lesson plans that meet the needs of ever student in your charge. Yes, I have heard this becomes easier with experience, but that is not the point since your argument is that the bar to become a teacher is set so low.
      I myself was up until 12 am every night writing lesson plans and, as I said, I was part of the last group of students who did not have to go through the much more vigorous acceptance process NYS currently has in place. I can only imagine how difficult it is now. So no, you do not get to simply skate by in college to get a teaching degree. It is a LOT of hard work and preparation. They don’t just hand you a certificate for minimal effort – or expense. Also, the state has done away with permanent certificates so you must maintain your certification once you obtain it or it will be revoked. Furthermore, none of this hard work garantees a job immediately after graduation. Teaching is a very competitive field right now. I have been interviewing and looking for a job for a very long time despite working my butt off in undergrad. I have a 4.0 but no job in my chosen field to show for it. I’m not saying that teaching is the hardest job in the world. I’m not even saying that everyone works equally as hard to become a teacher. I know for a fact I worked much harder than some of my classmates. What I do know is that getting a teaching certificate takes effort and perseverance. Getting the job itself takes skill and patience and is not as easy as you have portrayed it to be.

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