Cover: All Work and No Pay — Teachers' Perceptions of Their Pay and Hours Worked

All Work and No Pay — Teachers' Perceptions of Their Pay and Hours Worked

Findings from the 2023 State of the American Teacher Survey

Published Sep 12, 2023

by Elizabeth D. Steiner, Ashley Woo, Sy Doan

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Research Questions

  1. How satisfied are K–12 public school teachers with their base salaries and weekly hours worked?
  2. How much would teachers like to be paid to feel that their salaries are adequate?
  3. How are teachers’ reported base salaries and weekly hours worked related to their self-reported well-being and intentions to leave their jobs?

Although well-being appears to have improved for many public school teachers of kindergarten to grade 12 (K–12) since the beginning of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, in some states, more teachers left their jobs at the end of the 2021–2022 school year than in the two previous school years and at rates higher than prepandemic averages. When teachers leave their jobs, student achievement can suffer, and the cost of replacing teachers can be high.

The authors describe the roles that salary and work hours play in teachers' intentions to leave their jobs and how these factors relate to teacher well-being. The research indicates that teacher dissatisfaction with hours worked, salary, and working conditions appears to drive poor well-being and lead teachers to consider leaving their jobs. In addition, recent gains in racial and ethnic diversity in the teacher workforce could be in jeopardy because Black teachers were more likely to consider leaving their jobs than White teachers were; many cited low pay as their top reason. The authors recommend increasing teacher pay, reducing hours worked, and improving working conditions to boost teacher retention.

Key Findings

Most teachers feel overworked: During the 2022–2023 school year, teachers worked more hours per week, on average, than working adults — 53 hours compared with 46

  • On average, teachers reported working 15 hours per week longer than required by contract. One out of every four hours that teachers worked per week, on average, was uncompensated.
  • Perhaps as a result, only 24 percent of teachers were satisfied with the total number of hours they work per week, compared with 55 percent of the general working adult population.

Most teachers feel underpaid: Only 34 percent of teachers said that their base salary was adequate, compared with 61 percent of working adults

  • Teachers who said that their base salary was inadequate desired, on average, a $17,000 increase in base pay.
  • Teachers in high cost-of-living areas desired higher base salaries, on average, than their counterparts.

Recent gains in racial and ethnic diversity in the teacher workforce could be in jeopardy

  • Black teachers reported working more hours per week and were less satisfied than White teachers with their base salary.
  • Black teachers were more likely than White teachers to consider leaving their jobs.

Teacher dissatisfaction with hours, salary, and working conditions appears to drive poor well-being and lead teachers to consider leaving their jobs

  • Pay increases alone – without improvements in teachers’ working hours or conditions—are unlikely to induce large shifts in teachers’ well-being or intentions to leave.

Recommendations

  • Policymakers and district leaders should increase teacher pay and improve working conditions. State policymakers could set minimum pay for starting salaries, and local leaders can increase starting salaries and salaries throughout the pay scale. District leaders should expand opportunities for extra pay for additional school-related activities and ensure that the amount of compensation and the opportunities are equitably distributed.
  • Increases to base pay could be smaller when accompanied by improvements to working conditions but may need to be larger absent efforts to improve working conditions to meaningfully shift teachers’ satisfaction with their pay.
  • District leaders should help teachers work fewer hours. For example, district leaders could dedicate more time for teachers to perform the tasks they usually do outside of their contracted hours, or they could reduce the amount of time teachers spend providing social, emotional, and behavioral supports to students by increasing the numbers of school counselors, nurses, or psychologists.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was funded by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.