Vol.#46: The Teachers’ Time Off Myth

UPDATE  Comments have had me look more closely at the data in the table. For example, I realized I should have divided by 5 instead of 7, since weekends were already removed from both sides. The infographic has been updated several times to reflect the new numbers. Many thanks to commenters and their efforts to keep this an active, living document!

In my post “Vol.#35: Do NC teachers really deserve more money?”, I’d included an infographic I’d created showing the breakdown of what a teacher is paid. I’d received this emailed response:

“Thank you for your time and energy to bring the plight of NC Teachers to the forefront of America’s awareness! Your graphic shows the breakdown for pay only for days directly teaching students.  I’m a math teacher, so I want to show the numbers just a bit more specifically.  We are paid for 210 days.  At this point, most people get agitated about how “little” we work.  So let’s compare to any other profession.  Most careers, with college educated professionals work Monday through Friday.  With 52 weeks a year, that is 104 days off for weekends.  The US has eleven recognized paid holidays. Taking the 365 days in a year, and subtracting the 104 weekend days and 11 holidays, that leaves 250 work days.  Most career professionals get two weeks of vacation, or more, but let’s use two weeks as a beginning point. That is 236 days working in a year.  Teachers only work 26 days less than the average beginning career professional. I would venture to say the typical career adds weeks of vacations as a perquisite the longer one holds the job. Teaching days remain constant through the life of our career.”

Using her math as well as this study which found that teachers work 53 hours a week on average, I sought to mathematically prove my thesis of last week’s post “Vol.#45: Why Doesn’t George Clooney Have to Deal With This Crap?”: that though they comprehend it in other professions, the public at large severely misunderstands the demands of time placed on teaching professionals.


41 thoughts on “Vol.#46: The Teachers’ Time Off Myth”

  1. I’ve never been one to say teacher’s shouldn’t get paid more, but most “careers with college educated professionals” also work more than 40 hours a week. It should be possible to prove your point without distorting the facts.

    1. Hi Mel,

      Of course some do. It’s important to point out that the teachers’ hours a week is an average – some work more than that too. I do more often than not. As I’ve explained here, the point is that non-teachers grossly misunderstand how teachers have a full-time job’s worth of work to do that they largely can’t do during their day at the job.

      Thanks for your comment,


  2. Though I believe teachers are grossly underpaid, this table is extremely inaccurate. A 40 hr/week job with 2 weeks vacation equates to 2000 hrs/per year. Even if you give 11 federal holidays, which by the way most non-government jobs do not give off, you still have 1912/hours per year or 47.8 weeks/yr. My point in all of this is the writer should not give false numbers to negate someone else’s work to prove a worthwhile point. Numbers always lie.

    1. Keisha,

      I don’t think an analysis of time spent on the job negates anyone’s actual work and my apologies if you felt this infographic threatened or misrepresented yours. It’s true some professions work on the federally recognized holidays like Christmas Day and the Fourth of July, such as those who work in a hospital. However, having those days off is certainly not a “government job” thing. Banks and doctors’ offices in the private sector are closed, however police are paid by taxes and DO work those days. As for the truth in numbers, I want to be clear I understand yours. When you subtracted a two-week vacation, are you leaving in the weekends?

      Many Thanks,


    1. Hi Margaret,

      I just tried to start with the days expected to be at work in a year. The comparison many usually have made in my experience is 180 (the number of days we have students) vs. 365 (total days in the year). This is false. So I tried to compare our contracted days of work with the number of days someone else would actually be at work by subtracting the weekends and legal holidays. Neither side is including things like sick days or personal days taken off, which of course both groups get to take. No, teachers do not have paid vacation. (At least, not in the states where I’ve taught.)

      I hope this made it clearer. Thanks for your question!


  3. In response to the question about if teachers get personal days. In my state teachers get two personal days per year. $50 is deducted from their check for each day that they use to help cover the cost of the substitute. Many teachers cannot afford to take days off during the school year.

    1. Just googling found a policy manual from NC from last year and it says teachers 1-5 years experience get 2 weeks paid vacation. That would be equivalent to what was subtracted in the table for non-teachers. And I not arguing that teachers don’t deserve better pay – they certainly do. But I think the numbers are off in this table.

      1. Margaret,

        Again, on the teacher’s side I was starting with contracted days. I was not subtracting days not worked because it appeared that had already been done. However, maybe that was a faulty assumption on my part. Let’s remove 14 days from the teacher’s side too and see what happens:

        196 /5 = 39.2 x 53 = 2077.6

        2077.6 > 1888

        Teacher’s hours are still greater by 189.6 hours a year.



      2. Hi Margaret,

        I wish you’d included the link to what you found so it could be part of the discussion. I am not attempting to try any smoke-and-mirrors, and the fact that some people seem to think teachers don’t work hours like this and therefore I must be misleading people is why this discussion is so important. People simply don’t realize how much of our job is expected that we can’t do during our work day with students.

        I have added the vacation days you mention equally to both sides of the infographic and updated it. Thank you for your discussion about accuracy. People will not accept it as truth if they think it is trickery as opposed to our reality.

        Many Thanks,


    2. Excellent point, Kristen. It costs us $50 to take a personal day as well. Also, the planning involved for a substitute is no minor feat. I’m always a little envious of the office personnel at our school who hang a sign on their door and send an email, and that’s all the preparation for being out they have to do.

      Thanks for your comment!


  4. You are describing every single public job. Teachers do not work more per week than the average public servant. A 53 hour week is a good week for me (legal aid). We do not get most federal holidays (I know few people who do, public or private, outside of those who work on a federal schedule). And on average, most american workers do not take all of their vacation. Teachers do. The fact of the matter is teachers work less days. “Only” 26 days is not a number to be taken likely. Do not use false numbers to boost your argument.

    I am not saying that teachers do not deserve more pay. Use the argument of your value (which you have extreme value… like other public servants), not you work more. Moreover, despite what you claim, you are belittling others work.

    1. Ashley,

      My intention is not to belittle anyone else’s work but to inform the public about how much they misunderstand the time invested in a teacher’s job.

      “And on average, most american workers do not take all of their vacation. Teachers do.”

      This statement of yours is at the heart of A HUGE misconception among non-teachers. There is no job that has so little “time off”. I’ve compared teaching to the business world and acting already, but let’s try the legal realm.

      Like a lawyer, we have to know legal processes and procedures. We collect data. We need to create documents, respond to calls and emails, and file paperwork, but we don’t have any legal aids like yourself to help with any of that. Imagine a lawyer (with no legal aids, secretaries, etc.) who is presenting 114 cases this year (my current number of students.) Some are similar, but many are very different. Some clients are resistant to his or her help, even hostile. Some are even disrespectful to him/her in court. Most importantly: This lawyer has to be in court almost five hours of the day. They can’t work on preparation for the cases five hours of the workday – they are busy presenting the cases in court.

      If he or she went home after court and did nothing until court again the next day: Would that be successful?

      I don’t care what the calendar says about how much they “have” to work. Like teachers, they’d be preparing quite a bit on the “time off”.



      1. Again, you are making false assumptions. I do not have an assistant (a good portion don’t either). I closed over 300 cases so far in 2013. Most clients are hostile, in crisis and we do spend the majority of day in court (I am writing this from court while the court is in recess and I’ve been here for the past 4 hours). Each case can take 5-30+ hours of prep time. This is in addition to calls, walk ins, speaking engagements and meetings.

        And by the way, I’m married to a teacher. I am not, by any means, telling you that he works 7-3 and goes home to do nothing. However, he can tell you the disparities in our schedule. (and he is recognized for his work). Does everyone in America have this schedule? No. But to summarily state that teachers work more than most other professions is downright wrong.

        And I said before, use arguments that are persuasive. I’ve skimmed a good bit of your blog and some of your posts are very very good. You have great worth and should be paid more than you do. Obviously, I’m not going change your mind and it’s fruitless to continue this debate. I wish you the best and hope that our government will see your worth.

        1. Ashley,

          You are right. I assumed when you said you were a legal aid that you were assisting a lawyer or legal team. I did not realize you were on your own to do so much. I agree: many people in salary positions work more than a 40 hour work week. However, I still think it important to draw a baseline of what we as a society have deemed “full time” and show that teachers meet that threshold. This was my only intent.

          Thanks for your words of support.


  5. Hey Erica

    I thoroughly support that teachers need salary increases and I’m glad you made this available. I’m all about truth in numbers because even with variables, they certainly do not lie. I did some personal research in comparison to other jobs that require a Bachelor’s with little to no experience and found some interesting facts. One example you gave in a comment stated private doctor offices, so I used an RN (Registered Nurse) for my comparison. In NC the average per hour pay for teachers with less than 5 years experience and only a Bach. is less than $14 per hour using your numbers above. An RN with the same credentials, even when working through all holidays and no paid vacation earn over $25 per hour average. That’s almost double a teacher’s salary WITH the benefit of the doubt given to the RN’s. Factor in vacation and holidays, it’s ver $28 per hour plus $2,200 they would earn for the paid vacation. In either instance, teachers earn well over $20,000 less than an RN with the same level of education. Thank you for taking time to read this and I hope this information is useful


    1. Hi Kevin,

      Thank you so much for adding that information! I think RNs and teachers have quite a lot in common. They both use data to inform what ‘treatment’ the patient/student needs in order to heal/learn. Both make so many important decisions quickly and often are in “triage” mode. The difference in pay, I suspect, is in part from the public’s understanding and respect of the teacher’s job. They have a concept of how hard a nurse’s job must be, but some must think, “I went to school. I know what that looks like. How hard can it be?”

      Many Thanks,


      1. I completely agree, most people think of teaching as an ‘easy job’ no matter the age group the teacher works with. I was actually an explosive ordnance disposal specialist in the Army with a Bach. Science in Psychology, disarming explosives daily, even with my bare hands sometimes! One mistake could not only hurt me but many others. Most would agree that’s a hard job, but I received about the same pay as a teacher fresh out of college. So many people disregard the mental stress teachers are put through keeping a state maintained schedule, ensuring the students are learning the information they need while also adapting to the students learning capabilities. If I may assume, the standards set by the board as well as the material taught only complicates the older and more advanced the students are.

    1. Also rarely do those paid on a salary pay scale in the “real jobs” only work 40hrs. I believe that requirws some reconsideration as well. I dont dispute teachers working their fair share and maybe more but your demostration is very misleading.

  6. As others have pointed out, you are misrepresenting “normal” job work days. However, what seems even worse to me is that you are misrepresenting your own work days.

    You are in Wake County, correct? The typical teacher contract in WCPSS is 194 work days. Why are you using 210? How about using what your own county says you get: 180 student days, 14 workdays, 10 annual leave days and 11 holidays. [http://www.wcpss.net/careers/new-employees/work-calendars/trad1314.pdf]

    And your leave only goes up from there: [from the WCPSS Employee Handbook]
    Years of State Service Days of Leave Earned per Month of Employment
    Less than 5 years 1.17
    5 but less than 10 years 1.42
    10 but less than 15 years 1.67
    15 but less than 20 years 1.92
    20 years or more 2.17

    Can you clarify why you say contracts in your county are 210 days?

    The way you have chosen to approach this is not helping us convince the public how challenging the career of teaching is, you are turning this into a false “us vs. them” issue.

    1. Thank you for including the link! As I said in the post, I was using the math argument provided in the email which I quoted. I have now updated the infographic to the days worked that you have provided. I am not including annual leave, holidays, or paid vacation for either group. I was not comparing “packages” but the time actually worked. My goal, as it was here when discussing an IBM executive’s experience as a substitute teacher, is to give some awareness to those that talk about our summers off and getting out by 3 pm. To quote her again:

      “When I worked for IBM, my job was to make phone calls, process paperwork, make contacts, and have meetings. Now as a teacher, I still have to do all of these things. I need to plan lessons. I need to call parents. I need to process paperwork. I need to grade stacks of papers. I need to meet with other teachers, with parents, and with administrators. However, very little time during my day is available for me to actually do any of the that large part of my job. Teachers have a 9-to-5 job’s worth of work to do, and they can’t get any of it done from 7:30 to 3:00.

      It’s my belief that teaching profession is largely misunderstood in this regard. I don’t feel it puts down other professions to raise awareness about ours. Many have pointed out “but I work more than 40 hours a week.” And I almost always work more than 53 hours a week. I just think it’s important for people to realize that unless they have done it, a teacher’s job is more full-time than they can possibly imagine.

      Many Thanks,


  7. In 11 years of non-teaching work, I have NEVER had a year where I had every weekend off, had 11 holidays off (more like 5-7), or worked 40hrs a week on average (more like 50hrs avg). Nor has this applied to anyone with whom I’ve worked. Maybe others have had different experiences but I’m not sure I buy these numbers.

    To be fair, one year, I did receive overtime pay if I worked over 40.

    That’s not to say that teachers don’t deserve a raise. But, it is to say that just as much as teachers don’t appreciate people undervaluing their work, neither do the rest of us.

    1. Travis,

      You didn’t include what you do or with whom you work, but I understand many people have various hours and demanding schedules that they work. The 40 hour work week is supposed to represent what we as a society have deemed as full-time work in one week, not as an indication of what you or each individual commenting here specifically does.



  8. While I’m not undermining the fact that teachers work extra hard during their working time, I do want to point out that to get federal holidays, you must work at a government job/bank. Most of the workforce is lucky to get off Thanksgiving and Christmas, some only one or the other, or if you are like me, I’m not guaranteed either holiday. My company is 24/7/365. Also, many people out there work more than 40 hours a week. Many people out there are holding down two jobs because minimum wage doesn’t begin to cover basic living expenses. So if you subtract the 11 holidays, which teachers do get off, we are at a little over a week more. But then, I have to all myself where does your number 53 hours average worked come from? I think all in all we work about the same. The argument shouldn’t be about who does more, but is the pay on both sides a livable wage.

    1. Kara,

      “Most of the workforce is lucky to get off Thanksgiving and Christmas, some only one or the other,”
      Doctor’s offices, Dentists, most all stores (until Thanksgiving this year), courthouses, and more are closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sure, people who work those jobs might be working on materials, such as I might be grading papers. Hospitals are open. Police, who are a government job, are working. Bless them.

      “Many people out there are holding down two jobs because minimum wage doesn’t begin to cover basic living expenses.”
      You imagine that doesn’t apply to teachers? MOST teachers?

      “So if you subtract the 11 holidays, which teachers do get off, we are at a little over a week more.”
      I already have. Those days are not included in our numbers. You would be subtracting it from us again.

      “But then, I have to all myself where does your number 53 hours average worked come from?”
      See my other reply.

      “I think all in all we work about the same.”
      Perhaps, but other professions aren’t consistently told how lucky they are to get out so early and regarded as some kind of part-time job. This was the point of my post.

      “The argument shouldn’t be about who does more, but is the pay on both sides a livable wage.”
      My argument isn’t either one of those here. I have several posts about the abysmal teacher pay, and how we haven’t gotten a raise or our experience step increase or cost of living adjustment in 6 years. Also, I fully support the efforts of others to raise the minimum wage.

      But that’s not my point in this post.

      Here’s the point: Teachers, who are often told how much time they have off, meet the threshold of what we as a society have deemed “full time”.

      Perhaps the other column should have simply been called “Full Time Job” and not “Real Job” so people would not seem so threatened or offended?



  9. Sorry, I see where you derived your 53 hours. However I went back up to some of your other comments where you say you don’t include leave and holidays, but you do include it on the normal job side. Automatically deducting 2 weeks from them. Why don’t you start teachers aside with the baseline personal days that a teacher would get starting out?

    1. Kara,

      The research for the 53 hours is both linked my post and the address is at the bottom of the infographic. (Right next to the 53 there is an asterisk, and then a matching one at the bottom that says “Source”.) I am not including leave or holidays for either side. I am showing days worked, and by definition one would not work leave or holidays.

      As another commenter already pointed out, personal days cost teachers $50 a day to use. Fourteen years teaching I think I’ve had to use personal leave for my materniy leave once my sick leave was wiped out and that’s been the only time. Even then, it was only because I wasn’t given a choice.



  10. I think many people have taken personally, Erica’s attempt to show just how much a teacher works in a week as well as how many different roles we take on. This doesn’t say that many other people in the world don’t also work long hours, but it is simply showing that teachers do not work 8-3 five days a week like a lot of the public seems to think! I think the point of this forum is to raise awareness of how little teachers are valued and just how important we actually are! In order to take our “personal” days we have to pay for a substitute so therefore we are not getting our full days pay! Teacher workdays don’t count as days off; we actually have to work those days! Duh!
    Here’s an example of some of the roles I take on “each” day other than teaching (which is the job I signed on for): I am a counselor for some who are going through troubles at home; nurse the small boo-boos because most schools have no nurse regularly; mediator for the disputes, drama, or misunderstandings; secretary while filling out paperwork for the state; these are just to name a few. Teachers also have to answer phone calls, emails, attend meetings and do various other tasks each day. We should also throw in field trips which take loads of preparation, fundraisers, school functions (dances, concerts, plays, etc) which are typically after school hours that we here again get paid no extra for, as well as sporting events that we attend or work for our schools with no extra pay.
    So I think the point Erica is trying to make is the fact that though there are many public jobs out there that require long hours with plenty of hard work, teachers are grossly UNDERPAID for the work we do!! Add UNDER-APPRECIATED to that!

  11. 10 annual leave days and 10 work days cancel each other out. (If you carry them over unused to retirement you get paid at the increased rate of pay at that time.) NC requires 1025 hours of instruction. Period. It is not that difficult. Professionals do not get paid by the hour. They are expected to work 40 hours per week minimum. Conclusion: 1025 hours for teachers vs. 1936 for other professionals (50 weeks per year x 40 hours per week MINIMUM – 10 holidays maximum (80) = 1920 hours. 1920 hours – 1025 = 895 hours less that teachers work than other professionals.

  12. Lets take a look at this from another angle, the time off.

    During School Holidays –
    Fall break = 5 days
    Thanksgiving break = 5 days
    Winter break = 10 days
    Spring Break = 5 days

    Summer Vacation – 6 weeks (8 weeks – 2 work weeks) = 30 days

    Total days off for a teacher: 55 days +/-

    Non teacher:
    Federal holidays: 11 days
    Vacation: 10 days

    Total days off for a non-teacher: 21 days +/-

    In general, teachers get double the days off than non-teachers and they pay for it with reduced salary.

    To all the non teachers out there: would you take a 25% pay cut for a 100% increase in days off?

    And a question for the teachers: Would you take a 25% raise in exchange for 50% less holidays?

    1. Brandon,

      You’re looking at it in the exact way that is the problem with society – the crux of the misunderstanding. For example, we AREN’T “off for the summer for six weeks” just because students are. We actually have sessions, requirements for our certificates, and more. I grade papers through all of my breaks you listed. Right now, it is 6:11 pm and I am grading a stack of papers that will easily take me two hours tonight. Most jobs, things you do for the job are “on the clock”. The amount of work a teacher is expected to do “off the clock” – and then be told “but you’re off the clock and don’t work then”, as you just did – is beyond what a non-teacher can fathom.



      1. Maybe so but I see other professionals like my spouse doing work off the clock, weekends, even taking calls on vacation, having to travel on short notice and they don’t whine about it. Sounds like you would be happier punching a time clock or in another profession.

        1. I’d be happy if my chosen profession were rewarded and respected as the noble calling that it is. I assume your wife – in whatever she does – gets that very respect and/or compensation, or she’d “whine”, and understandably and deservedly so.

  13. Erica,

    I appreciate your reply and your clear heart for teaching. I do have several more points to address though.

    First, I think you will agree that teachers do get a substantial time off outside the office compared to almost any other profession. Even though teachers do have to work during ‘time off’, working from home in the midst of family or at a coffee shop is still not the same as at a typical office environment! I think one of the awesome benefits of being a teacher is that you get to be with your family so much more than a regular job. How much money do you think that the flexible work environment and more time with family is worth?

    Second, I completely agree that time off is normally not time off for teachers. I would argue however, that almost any good paying job that requires a college degree is very similar. On my days off, I also usually have work to do so I wake up a few hours before my family and get the job done. I did not go mining the internet for an article but I know that not a single person I know with a job & college degree is exempt from working on time off (to varying degrees). Restated, I think you are the one not being fair to college degree workers assuming 40 hours/week.

    Third, in your post & comments following, you state several times that you don’t get weeks off in the summer because of conferences, work, etc.. How much time off do you actually get? I would think you would take ((8 hours in a day) x (days “off” – conferences, work days, etc..) – (total hours spent preparing lessons etc..) ) / (8 hours in a day) / (5 days in a week) = (weeks off each summer)… since I do not have experience as a teacher, what would that number come to? My guess was that you get 8 weeks “off” and work 2 equivalent full weeks = 6 weeks off. It was only a guess though.

    Again, I really do appreciate your replies and admire your profession. I am very interested to see your reply!


    1. Hello Brandon,

      To your first point: I teach at a year-round school but I do agree that those who teach a traditional calendar certainly are not in an office during the summer as much as a paralegal or a dental assistant. I love having time with my two boys, but they forgo camps, trips, music lessons, and many other things I wish I could afford. Asking how much that time is worth to me isn’t fair: the pay freeze in my state of the last five years has cost me personally $14,870.00 (source). And that’s not including retirement cuts, just salary.

      Second: Your first sentence in this paragraph was really what this post was trying to get people to acknowledge or understand. While I certainly understand this happens in other jobs, I maintain teachers have a higher ratio of preparation that has to happen outside the job time. Here’s a post I wrote about this phenomena and how others don’t seem to understand this reality of teaching. In addition, the chart in this post doesn’t compare our time to a “nurse” or “lawyer” or other specific profession. It shows that what society deems “full time”, and that we meet those hours annually. (But are not paid as such of course.)

      Third: I have track outs, not summers, and I work about half that time. Teachers are not off whenever students are. But when school is in session, it’s your equation’s component: “(total hours spent preparing lessons etc..)” – and also add time spent assessing work – that is much larger than anyone who hasn’t taught ever realizes. For example, a teacher with four classes each of only 30 students has 120 students. If the teacher looks at each child’s work for only three minutes s/he has six hours of grading to do. That’s a full day’s work that isn’t part of the day. How many assessments do you assume a teacher collects weekly? And, as the post I linked above talks about, unless you want me to give students all textbook questions (eww) than preparing lessons is no small task either.

      I hope this clears up the intentions of this post. It’s not to “one-up” other professions. It’s to shed light on a profession little understood by the masses.



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