Staffing

Work Day

The unique nature of teaching makes it difficult to compare teachers' work day to those in other kinds of jobs. Generally, teachers aren't expected to be on-site a standard eight-hour workday and the work year is substantially shorter at 187 days (compared to a more typical 220). However, you'd be hard-pressed to find a profession with less flexibility, requiring a six-hour daily performance before some pretty tough audiences! While most teachers accept these tradeoffs, it is not all that surprising that teacher absenteeism can be a problem, sometimes crossing the line into chronic absenteeism.

A letter from Kate

A Word from Kate Walsh

Unlike some of us, teachers never get to "dial it in" or work remotely. Even though they don't have typical vacation time, teachers still need the occasional day off to accommodate life's unpredictability. Unfortunately, we have uncovered a high rate of absenteeism among a minority of teachers that is likely to have an adverse impact on student learning. If this problem were uniform among districts, we probably wouldn't have much to say on the subject. However, some districts experience far higher rates than others, a disparity worth better understanding and solving.


A 2014 NCTQ study found that school teachers are at work 94 percent of the time, on average, taking off about 11 days of school each year.  However, a small percentage of teachers is responsible for a third of those absences. The chronic absenteeism of some teachers is a serious problem.

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Teacher Attendance

How do districts encourage good teacher attendance?

Approaches run the gamut, and we don't yet know which are most effective. The most common policies include allowing leave to carry over from one school year to the next and paying teachers for their unused sick leave at retirement. Some districts offer special incentives to teachers who make good attendance benchmarks, such as immediate payment for unused leave or earning additional leave. 

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Looking at the largest school districts in the country, the average work year for a teacher is 187 days, with an average of ten days reserved for working without students being present.

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Time matters

When it comes to the amount of time students spend in school, what seem to be fairly insignificant differences from one district to another can turn out to be pretty significant.

For example, back in 2007 Chicago students had both a short school day and a short school year, resulting in Chicago students getting the equivalent of 41 fewer days of instruction each year than their peers in New York City. In 2012, Chicago took major steps to close this gap by increasing the school day to 7 hours and adding 10 days to the school year.

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School districts provide on average 13 days of paid leave each year, most of it reserved for sick days, but often included are two or three days for teachers to attend to personal needs. States often dictate the minimum amount of sick leave teachers must be given. 

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