Teaching Oddness #2: Teach More, Get Paid More

Today, the topic is a teaching oddness I have taken regular advantage of. Like many teaching oddnesses, it exists primarily at the high school level.

High schools determine staffing requirements based on the number of sections the district gives them. The administrators divide the sections by the contractual class load—very often five, for six-period days. In our school, it’s three. (Yes, we teach three 90 minute classes and one 90 minute prep, and then we start all over again mid-year.)

So suppose our school has 192 sections and divides it by 3, meaning they need 64 full-time staffers, but they only have 62 teachers, so six sections are unassigned. Three of the extra sections are math, two English, one history.

Rather than hire extra teachers, the administrators just hand out the extra sections and we get paid for the extra work Some teachers don’t get paid very much more (this article actually shocked me). Others get paid on a schedule like this, stolen at random from an Irving, TX district:


But every school I’ve worked at, the extra teaching duty pay schedule denominator is reduced by one. Teaching an extra class in a 6-period schedule results in a 1/5 pay boost. Teaching an extra class in a 7-period schedule results in a 1/6 pay boost. Teaching an extra class in a 4-block schedule results in a 1/3 pay boost. That’s what my principal told me, anyway, the first time I accepted the duty. I’ve never actually reviewed my paycheck on that point.

So I’ve been getting 33% over my usual pay for the past year, and for the upcoming semester. I’m in a high-paying district, and I have seven years experience, and a metric ton of education, putting me all the way over to the right column on step and column scale—and then there’s the Master’s bump. In addition, from what I understand, this does wonders for pension calculations. I’m doing my best to save most of it.

I’ve mentioned before that teachers can’t do overtime. In this we are like typical “professionals”, as in “non-hourly workers”. Our decisions on how and what to teach were our own, as were the hours we put into these tasks. We can do as much or as little as we like to deliver the class. As I wrote in Teaching and Intellectual Property (a topic that shall return), we get paid to deliver the class, not to create curriculum.

However, the delivery itself is beautifully quantifiable. We teach n classes a day for d dollars a day. So teachers have an excellent case: If we teach n+1 classes a day, the additional class will be paid d⁄n dollars. Left at issue is the actual dollar value of d , and the method of counting n.

In my district, n = classes in a standard schedule, while d = yearly salary. This is sublimely generous, and reflective of the fact that teachers in my area are hard to find and pretty expensive.

In other districts, n = periods in a standard day, while d = yearly salary. Still very generous, the only difference being that the “prep” period is counted as work time, I think. So instead of a 20% boost on a 6 period day, you get a 16+% boost.

In the horrifying district linked in at first, I’m assuming teachers are easily found and cheap. The fixed price suggests the district uses a different d, perhaps calculating the average cost of class delivery for all teachers. So these teachers get paid the same amount for the extra work, or perhaps the contractual per-diem hourly rate. Ick. (sez Ed, snootily.)

But in all cases, the teacher gets paid directly for the additional work. Cue the cries of “This isn’t how professionals operate.”

So I was a professional out in the world once, even working for corporations. And when professionals are handed additional work, it used to come with several implicit assurances:

  1. This will result in more money and an improved title somewhere down the line.
  2. This will result in an improved resume that leads to more money and an improved title at another company if option 1 doesn’t come true.
  3. This won’t result in anything other than more work. Be grateful for the job.

Back in my day, 1 and 2 held court; I’ve heard things have been different in my world since the dot com bubble crashed, in 2002 (I was still partially in, and rates definitely took a huge hit). Anecdotally, I don’t see many people, even in tech, comfortably in the driver’s seat these days. They’re happy to have a good job. That’s for college educated tech workers; in today’s world Amazon makes temp factory workers sign non-compete agreements for 6 months simply because they can. (it’s the immigration, stupid). That is, these days quite a bit of extra work is handed out without additional payment but merely the assurance that doing the work will save one’s job, for the time being.

Typically, Republicans point to the perks of government employment–such as the awful practice of getting paid for doing more work—as unions extracting unearned value for their workers.

But look at the list again, and realize that none of these in-lieu-of-pay offerings hold for teachers. We don’t want a promotion. We can pretty much teach whatever classes we have credentials for, so the resume add-ons don’t help much, and we can’t be fired for refusing to work extra hours for free because our employer is the government, baby, and it can’t deprive us of our property right in a job without a good cause, and working for free isn’t that cause. (Private employers can, apparently.)

Remember, too, that schools have to provide a properly credentialed teacher in every class and it becomes clear that in tight job markets, teachers have the upper hand when negotiating for “extra duty”. The district has a need, and teachers are in an outstanding position to make them pay full price for that need. In slack job markets, of course, not so much.

So when we are handed a certain form of more work, we are immediately paid more money in proportion to the demands made on our time. Cool beans. And definitely odd, I think, in the private sector.

Two observations arise out of this oddness.

First, reformers like Bill Gates or Fordham Foundation like to push the idea of giving teachers bigger classes–like, say, 4 or 5 more students per class, for more money.

These conversations never seemed reality-based, since they always begin with the premise that teachers have 20-22 students per class. I have three classes of 35 right now, and one class I literally call “tiny” at 20. But in any event, it’s become very popular to advocate changing base pay to a form of “merit” pay by giving teachers bigger classes.

Is it clear, once again, that reformers demonstrate bizarre ignorance of the actual logistics of staffing a school?

They’re calling for increased class size—in an age when parents unequivocally support smaller class sizes, data be damned—and a contractual change giving some teachers more money for taking more kids. Unions will oppose them tooth and nail for anything approaching merit pay, they’ll never get it anyway, and all to get “good” high school and middle school teachers about 20 more students a day, in a standard 6-period day. Elementary school teachers, just the 4 or 5.

Meanwhile, right now, on the books in most districts, exists a means of giving each “excellent” middle or high school teacher 25 to 35 more students, as well as a lot more money, without upsetting parents and increasing class sizes. No negotiations needed, no formalization of procedure–it’s there already. I am reasonably certain that principals already use “extra duty” as a way of rewarding high quality teachers interested in the money.

So are they ignorant? Probably. Would reformers start promoting “extra duty for excellence” if they had some small inkling of how staffing actually works? Probably not, since their goal, really, isn’t rewarding teachers but breaking contracts. But in any event, the next time a reformer pushes the idea, have this essay at the ready.

(Note: In the comments, Brett Gillan points out another problem with paying teacher by classload so obvious I could kick myself for not thinking of it. Namely, student load is not constant. I often end up with much smaller classes; students transfer to alternative school, go to a different district school, move, and so on. The higher the poverty level of the school, the more the variance.)

Second observation—well, on second thought (thanks to Roger Sweeney), I’m going to make this second thought a second post.

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18 responses to “Teaching Oddness #2: Teach More, Get Paid More

  • Brett Gilland

    Another practical concern that would cause massive headaches for schools and is fairly obvious to those who have taught: when and how are you counting students? Sections are easy to count. The number of students I am teaching? Massively in flux throughout the year. Let me give an example from my current school, which is, admittedly, an outlier.

    Math teachers at our HS generally start out in the 120-130 range for total students in a day. There is some variation based on reputation, but the school works pretty hard to roughly balance loads at the beginning of the year. By Christmas, I had 154 students throughout the day, just 6 day of our legal max (state). This was with me teaching an AP Calculus AB course that only had 13 enrolled. You can imagine what my other 5 courses looked like. Another teacher, who consistently runs students out of class, both by kicking students out directly and through treating them poorly, was down to 107. Last year at that time, this teacher was under 100 students over 6 mods. Our youngest teacher, who was only teaching 5 courses while finishing her alt licensure coursework, had about 10-20 more students.

    So when do you count our load and calculate pay? First day? 40th? 120th? Do you just give me a pay bump every time I get a new student on my roster? Does that teacher take a commensurate pay hit? How badly do you want to fight that teacher/ the union about expected salary? How badly do you want to fight parents to keep them in that teacher’s course? Right now, the answer is not very hard. Scream loud enough and we will move the kid. But when pay is tied to moving people around, that issue gets forced pretty hard.

    As the teacher regularly eating extra students, I would kind of like to see that issue finally get the attention it deserves. But I have also taught in several schools where students moved for all sorts of non-problematic reasons, and I imagine it would have been a giant legal and HR clustermess at those institutions as well. Basically, in order to believe that paying per student is a good idea, one has to believe that students are static after initial placement, which is plainly ridiculous for anyone who has ever worked in a school. (This is yet another reason why tying students to a teacher for standardized test scores is problematic as well, FWIW.)

    • educationrealist

      Wow, that’s exactly right and I knew that, too. I began my second year with 125 students–three full size algebra classes and one double block of 20 (shoot me now). By the end of the year I had 98, through no fault of mine–a lot of the students just left school, went to alternative high school (they’d just been marking time).

      I should have thought of that. I’m going to update and link to your comment.

  • txredd

    There’s a good chance that Irving, TX district is breaking the law. Unless there was a change during the last legislative session (possible), Texas schools are required to include 450 minutes per two week period for planning and parent conferences in each teacher’s schedule. I believe districts are prohibited from assigning extra classes during that time, even for extra pay and even if the teacher is willing.

    I teach six classes (one prep), with two planning periods. My colleagues who teach seven classes and have only one planning period are on the same salary schedule as I am.

    In my district, which is in the same metropolitan area as Irving, teachers are paid an annual stipend for extra duties like coaching or sponsoring extracurricular activities and a flat hourly rate (usually $21, but $25 for some things) for covering a class during a planning period when there is a shortage of subs or an emergency, and on occasion for tutoring and other academic activities outside of the regular school day. It is true to some extent that this is a means to reward the good teachers. As you say, we receive extra pay for extra work, though it’s generally less than our normal rate.

    There are also stipends for teachers in shortage areas and in schools that are hard to staff. These extra payments always come with extra duties – training requirements or paperwork. Free market principles alone are never sufficient to justify extra pay for a teacher who has the credentials to earn twice as much in the private sector.

    None of this is negotiated by unions, by the way. Collective bargaining by teachers is illegal here. We have unions, but I think membership is on the order of 10-20% of teachers.

    • educationrealist

      “I teach six classes (one prep), with two planning periods. My colleagues who teach seven classes and only one planning period are on the same salary schedule as I am.”

      You are saying that in a 7 period day, some people get two preps and teach 5 classes, and others get one prep and teach 6?

      “Free market principles alone are never sufficient to justify extra pay for a teacher who has the credentials to earn twice as much in the private sector.”

      I wasn’t implying they were. Everything you describe is the same in most states (except that hourly rate is horrible). But it’s more likely that districts aren’t banned from giving extra classes than you think.

      • txredd

        Oh, oops – you and I might be using “prep” differently. When I say “one prep” I am referring to the fact that I teach only one subject. Out of 8 class periods (4 per day on alternating days) I teach 6 and plan 2. It amounts to the same proportion as your schedule – three 90 minute classes/one 90 minute planning period. I have coworkers with only one planning period – four 90 minute classes on “A” days and 3 classes with one planning period on “B” days.

        In my case it’s because I agreed to be part of a team that is assigned the most “at risk” students. We (the teachers on the team) can’t be required to plan together during our statutory 450 minutes, and also we are expected to perform all kinds of special miracles, so we were given an extra planning period. Other teachers have extra planning periods because they are department heads or technology gurus or whatever.

        My remark about free market principles wasn’t disagreement with you, it was snark about the extra hoops I have to jump through to get my math stipend. When I worked in private industry, nobody had heartburn about paying engineers more than, say, graphic designers even though we worked the same number of hours, but in a school district they can’t just pay someone more without dreaming up extra chores for them to do. Our district motto has something to do with preparing students for careers, but most of our upper echelons have no idea how things work in the real world. Sort of like the billionaire reformers who have no idea how things work in education.

      • educationrealist

        I wrote a whole piece on the different meaning of “prep” (linked in). But it sounds as if you mean it in both ways. First, you get fewer “preps” (subject taught) and then you get more prep periods (2, instead of 1), because you teach high maintenance kids.

        On the other hand, that method of reimbursing teachers more is controversial, since it implies (correctly) that some kids are less attractive to teach than others. And if it ever actually worked to draw in the best teachers, the middle class would get annoyed.

        I’m not sure teachers should get paid much more by subject.

      • txredd

        Some teaching jobs are harder to fill than others. Some teaching jobs are harder to DO than others. Some teachers are better than others. In private industry, any of those reasons is sufficient to pay one employee more than another without controversy, but in teaching none are.

      • educationrealist

        For really good reason. Keep in mind that teachers in high needs areas get loan forgiveness, which is a lot of free money.

      • txredd

        Hardly. High need areas exist because people have better options. Consider a max loan forgiveness amount of about $20k spread over a 5 year teaching commitment. (If there are better loan forgiveness programs than that, I am not aware of them) The extra $4k per year doesn’t come close to the salary discrepancy between teaching math vs. working as an engineer or accountant.

      • educationrealist

        Yeah, but it’s not like most math teachers are able to work as engineers and accountants. I’m an English major, and plenty of math majors can’t teach high school students.

  • Roger Sweeny

    This has nothing to do with the substance of your post but near the end I was thinking:

    1) I often come to the site and am disappointed that a new post isn’t up.

    2) You seem to have implied that you think some of your posts are too long.

    The reason I was thinking both these things is that the paragraphs beginning, “Thus, as promised, a return to intellectual property,” could easily have been broken off as a separate post and put up a few days later. The post would have been a short one but there’s nothing wrong with that. And it would have made happy those of us who jones for a new educationrealist post when we stop by.

    In fact, when you said earlier in the post, “As I wrote in Teaching and Intellectual Property (a topic that shall return)”, I thought you meant when you return to it in a later post.

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  • Darren

    Very well-written, thanks for pointing this post out to me.

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