Paying Teachers Less for Summers Off
Do teachers really get more leave than other professionals?

Blog post Megan Boren, SREB Project Manager

Megan BorenA common comment I hear in my work researching the teacher workforce and its challenges is that “teachers only work 10 months per year, so they should make less money.”

In my view, compensation should be about the level of skill and knowledge required, the impact of the position and the growth of the employee. In addition to the market rate, these are the typical elements factored into compensation for professionals.

But for now, let’s focus on the argument that teachers work fewer days. Does summer off mean teachers work far less, justifying lower pay in comparison to other college-educated professionals?

Let’s dig in.

Great teaching requires high levels of skill and knowledge. SREB President Stephen Pruitt likes to say that it’s not rocket science ─ it’s harder than rocket science. 

U.S. schools are generally open for 180 days of classroom instruction. Add required professional development and workdays to instruction days, and teacher contracts are typically between 185 and 215 days per year in the SREB region. For instance, Oklahoma requires 185, Texas 187, Delaware 188, Virginia 200 and North Carolina 215. 

Paid Time Off Averages 

Yes, most teachers have extended leave time in the summer. But how much leave time do teachers actually get when you factor in unpaid work during their contracted time? According to a RAND Corporation study, the average teacher works 53 hours per week, compared to 46 hours per week for other working adults. Another study estimates that in the summer leave months, teachers work 21.5 hours per week to complete professional development and required continuing education courses. 

Remember, teachers do not have the option to take much paid time off during a school year. There are regulations for how many days off teachers can take. While teachers do get sick leave days (usually 10 per year), these go largely unused.   

The math doesn’t add up. When we include the number of hours they work, teachers actually get 27.5 fewer paid days off during the year than similarly educated professionals.  

Many teachers forgo their sick leave because they are responsible for leaving lesson plans and instructions for substitutes, and in some cases must even find a substitute if they take leave. Teachers often tell me that they come to school sick just to avoid these tasks and the extra work of catching students up.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that teachers, on average, hold 80 days more of accrued unused sick leave than other professionals.  

What About PTO in the Corporate Environment? 

Professional careers that require a college degree typically provide more paid leave time benefits than non-professional jobs. Across all professions in the U.S., full-time employees take an average of 8 to 16 paid days off per year, depending on years of service. Professional workers take, on average, 20.3 days off per year.  

European countries guarantee 20 paid leave days per year. The United Kingdom guarantees 28 days per year, or 5.6 weeks.  

Comparing Benefits for Teachers and Other Professionals

Let’s review average wage and leave benefits for teachers compared to other professionals in fields that generally require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

U.S. AVERAGE WAGE COSTS Teachers: $42.40 hour     Other Professionals: $50.60/hour      
PTO Type

Average PTO Benefit for Teachers

(200 days/year contract)

Average PTO Benefit for Other Professionals

(250 days/pear contract)
Weekend days 104 104
Federal Holidays 10 9
Sick Leave 10 10
Vacation 41 19
TOTAL 165 paid leave days/year 142 paid leave days/year

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Teachers on average get 23 days per year more paid leave than their professional counterparts.

If teachers work on average 53 hours during the school year and 21.5 hours during summer weeks off, and other professionals work 46 hours per week all year, what do we find?

Additional days of work
based on average number of hours worked per week
Teachers Other Professionals

53 hours/week worked
X 200 contract days or 40 weeks 

= 65 unpaid workdays
per school year

+ 21.5 hours/week worked X 61 summer days or 8.7 weeks 
= 23 unpaid workdays
per summer


65 + 23 = 88 unpaid workdays per year

46 hours/week worked
X 250 contract days or
50 weeks 

= 37.5 unpaid workdays per year

TOTAL LEAVE 165 paid leave days
– 88 unpaid workdays
= 77 paid days off per year
142 paid leave days
– 37.5 unpaid workdays
= 104.5 days off per year

On average, teachers get 27.5 fewer paid days off during the year than similarly educated professionals.

So do teachers deserve lower pay because they “get the summer off?” To me, the math doesn’t add up.

Great teaching requires a high level of skill and knowledge — it’s harder than rocket science, SREB President Stephen Pruitt says.  The value of teachers in our society is central to having a thriving economy, so we should support our teachers with meaningful benefits and compensation.