I don’t volunteer; I work overtime.

Let’s talk about teachers’ volunteer hours. Because, yesterday, we were informed that although we’re locked out – that is, told by the employer that we aren’t permitted to work – we’ve been invited in to set up our classrooms and prepare for the school year. See, we’re not allowed into the schools to work, but we can volunteer our time.

It made me groan a little. Because honestly? All the talk about the volunteer hours that teachers put in starts to sound a bit martyr-ish after a while. It almost sounds like we’re holding ourselves up as selfless, as constantly going above and beyond for the sake of others, which only opens the door for being lambasted that we’re actually selfish and greedy because we expect to get paid for our work.

I’d much rather we had a contract that just laid out an eight-hour workday so we could stop talking about how much time teachers “volunteer.” You want me to be at work from 7:30-3:30 each day? Fine. Put it in my contract. I’m already there, anyway. Maybe then the public would stop insisting that we only work six hours a day; it could only be a public relations win, right?

So I looked into it. I researched why our contracted hours don’t match the time actually required to do the work, and noticed that the hours not only don’t match, but they make no reference to overtime hours – not even to say that the position is salaried and overtime won’t be paid. You need to remember that I’m still a new teacher, and that I have many years of corporate work experience before this; I’m still trying to figure out why things are done one way with teachers when they’re so different in the business world. So I dug further.

I started with the actual contract dates. I’m talking about my yearly, temporary contract with the school district – the one that says I’m employed from September 1st until June 30th. Right now, I technically don’t have a job. I was laid-off as of June 30th, and my new contract doesn’t start until September 1st. So, going in before September 1st to set up my classroom would truly be volunteer work, as much as I hated to admit that. I can’t even call it overtime since I’m not actually employed.

Why not just extend the contract by a couple of days, then? Make it so we work the last couple of days of August too, if its imperative that the rooms are in tip top shape for the first day of school?

Then it hit me. I couldn’t remember decorating, moving boxes, and arranging desks in my job description. They couldn’t extend the contract by a couple of days because this necessary work isn’t actually acknowledged as work.

So, what is actually considered to be the work of a teacher? I consulted the British Columbia School Act, which is the document that lays out roles and responsibilities in the school system, to find out. According to the School Act, this is what a teacher must do:

Teachers’ responsibilities

[Section] 17

(1) A teacher’s responsibilities include designing, supervising and assessing educational programs and instructing, assessing and evaluating individual students and groups of students.

(2) Teachers must perform the duties set out in the regulations.

Alright, well part 1 is pretty straightforward: that’s all the stuff involved in teaching. The second part is a little murkier, so I went to the School Regulations, which pretty much works as an extended version of the School Act. These are the duties of a teacher, as set out in the regulations. (Note: I know it’s long, but stay with me! I’ve even highlighted the key points if you’re tempted to skim over these.)

Duties of teachers


(1) The duties of a teacher include the following:

(a) providing teaching and other educational services, including advice and instructional assistance, to the students assigned to the teacher, as required or assigned by the board or the minister;

(b) providing such assistance as the board or principal considers necessary for the  supervision of students on school premises and at school functions, whenever and wherever held;

(c) ensuring that students understand and comply with the codes of conduct governing their behaviour and with the rules and policies governing the operation of the school;

(d) assisting to provide programs to promote students’ intellectual development, human and social development and career development;

(e) maintaining the records required by the minister, the board and the school principal;

(f) encouraging the regular attendance of students assigned to the teacher;

(g) evaluating educational programs for students as required by the minister or the


(g.1) evaluating each student’s intellectual development, human and social development and career development, including, as required by the minister, administering and grading Required Graduation Program Examinations;

(g.2) ensuring the security of Provincial examinations, including retaining completed  Provincial examinations for any period of time set by the minister;

(h) providing the information in respect to students assigned to the teacher as required by the minister, board or, subject to the approval of the board, by a parent;

(h.1) advising the school principal regarding the organization of classes in the school and the placement of students with special needs in those classes;

 (i) when required to do so by the minister, verifying the accuracy of the information  provided to the minister under paragraph (h);

(j) regularly providing the parents or guardians of a student with reports in respect of the student’s school progress as required by the minister or the board; and

(k) attending all meetings or conferences called by the principal or superintendent of  schools for the district to discuss matters the principal or superintendent of schools considers necessary unless excused from attending the meeting or conference by the principal or superintendent of schools;

(1) admitting to his or her classroom to observe tuition and practise teaching, student

teachers enrolled in a university established under the University Act or in an institution for training teachers established under any other Act, and rendering the assistance to the student teachers, and submitting the reports on their teaching ability or on other matters relating to them or to their work, considered necessary for the training of teachers by the university or institution.

(2) Reports referred to in subsection (1) (j) shall be made at least 5 times during the school year as follows:

(a) 3 written reports, one of which shall be at the end of the school year

(i) on a form approved by the minister, or

(ii) on a form approved by the board containing information and, when

required, using reporting symbols ordered or approved by the minister;

(b) at least 2 informal reports

I included all of the duties in their entirety since these are all the things teachers are responsible for outside of the actual preparation, delivery, and assessment of lessons. This is the stuff we do that isn’t actually teaching.

I have, however, highlighted two sections that were a bit of a light bulb moment for me – an “A-ha!” discovery that made it clear why we don’t just contract ourselves to an eight-hour day and potentially silence some criticisms.

To explain this, I need to refer to the Collective Agreement (which is the actual employment contract that is currently being re-negotiated). Specifically, we need to look at the section regarding the School/Instructional Day, which states:


*a. The term “school day” means a period commencing fifteen (15) minutes before classes are first convened in the morning and ending fifteen (15) minutes after classes are last dismissed in the afternoon, AND

*b. No employee will be required to perform supervision duties beyond the school day except where an emergency necessitates supervision to ensure the safety of students.

It’s in this section that the “volunteer” hours argument meets the “teachers are lazy” argument and often explodes, so let’s take a look at it more closely.

Teachers are required to be at work fifteen minutes before and after the bell meaning that, technically, all but a half-hour the planning and marking that they do is “volunteer” – even though it’s required in their job description. So, again, why not just extend the hours of work and put an end to that argument? Well, aside from the fact that there would still be overtime “volunteer” hours for many of us if we were on an eight-hour day, it’s the second clause that’s the clincher.

Currently, teachers are not required to supervise students for more than fifteen minutes on either side of the day. This means that they have time to do the planning and marking that’s required for their jobs because their time cannot be appropriated unless it’s an emergency.

Contrast this to the duties of a teacher according to the regulations that I highlighted above. Specifically these duties:

(b) providing such assistance as the board or principal considers necessary for the  supervision of students on school premises and at school functions, whenever and wherever held;

(d) assisting to provide programs to promote students’ intellectual development, human and social development and career development;

If the hours of work were lengthened, it means that teachers could be required to run clubs, coach, chaperone, tutor etc. for the duration of their contracted day – that they wouldn’t have a choice in the matter. Basically, it means that creating innovative lessons and the like would get backburnered in favour of whatever other assistance administration decides is required at the school.

If the school day – that is, the hours that teachers are contracted to actually be at school – is lengthened, there’s no guarantee that the non-teaching duties laid out in the regulations wouldn’t be made to fill that time, thereby extending teachers’ days even further by pushing when they could get to the planning and marking that are required to fulfill the first responsibility in the School Act: teaching.

Now, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. If you extended my contracted day and stipulated that the additional time was for lesson preparation and paperwork (grade entry, parental contact etc.), I’d be all for it. Currently, there is literally no way to complete all the duties of a teacher within the instructional day. And I wouldn’t be opposed to a contract that acknowledged the work that we do beyond delivering lessons and assessing learning.

Because we do a lot of things aside from teaching. And they happen earlier and later than fifteen minutes before the bell. But I don’t volunteer my time to do these things. I do my job. And, like many jobs, my tasks can’t be finished in the hours laid out in my contract. But like when I worked in the private sector, I don’t volunteer my time to finish my work. I work overtime. Because teaching – as much as I love it – is still my job. It’s not a volunteer position.

So, even though I’ve been invited to volunteer my time this summer, I can’t go set up my classroom – even if I wanted to cross a picket line. I can’t move all of my supplies in and re-arrange the desks. I can’t put up my posters and make it welcoming. I can’t air out the room and make it hospitable. Because these things are overtime work.

And I’m pretty sure that I’m not allowed to work overtime when I’m locked out and not allowed to work at all.

4 thoughts on “I don’t volunteer; I work overtime.

  1. Regan Ross

    Well said Ashley … and thanks for the extra efforts to dig up, review, and share your thoughts on those clauses in the School Act.

  2. Stephanie Hunger, Germany

    Hi, Ashley!
    I´m writing to you from Germany, and found your blog on Facebook through a befriended teacher from Canada, Michelle. She´s posting a lot of stuff around her job, and for me its always very interesting to hear, how teachers are treated in other (western) countries, how they see their job / work life and how they fight for their rights.
    I´m a social worker in Germany, working part-time helping teenagers with problems to find an education after school. What you wrote in your blog above matches pretty much, how teachers, social workers and Kindergarten-teachers are treated in Germany (esp. when you work for charitable employers): we are expected to work over-hours, preparing and (in my job-case: documenting) after the regular hours, and be there “helping out in an emergency” (which happens pretty much on a daily basis). And still I love my job, trying my best to be good in it and balancing life and work, so I don´t get burned out.
    I believe, the only way to change things and get the proper recognition from society, politics and employers is to get together and fight for our rights.
    So thank you for your dedication and commitment! I´m sure there are a lot of teachers who highly appreciate your words!
    Keep fighting! Stephanie

  3. Ashley D. MacKenzie Post author

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and support. I often wonder who my international readers are and what they make of all my thoughts about what’s going on in our corner of the world, so your comment is much appreciated.

  4. Jen

    Hi Ashley,

    I am a friend of Danica J. and found your post through her on facebook. Looking next door from Alberta, we teachers are standing by you in solidarity!

    I thought you might find interesting what is in our contract (our former one was actual collective bargaining – our most recent, a legislated settlement when the province got bored talking with us). Our layout for hours worked is much more concrete. It doesn’t still mean that teachers don’t work overtime (and the amount of times I’ve had people tell me that teachers need to ‘work smarter, not harder’ makes my blood boil! especially because when it comes to me, I just do less assessment, formative and summative, which might not be so good if anyone actually looked into it!), but it does give a better starting point. You can find more information at http://www.teachers.ab.ca This description comes from a handbook given to beginning teachers:

    “Teachers on a contract of employment
    weighted at 1.0 FTE (full-time equivalent) are not to be assigned
    duties in excess of thirty (30) hours per week,
    averaged over the school year. A maximum of
    one thousand four hundred and thirty (1430)
    minutes per week, averaged over the school
    year, shall be devoted to the instruction of
    students. The remainder of assignable hours
    shall be devoted to non-instructional duties
    such as marking, lesson preparation, student
    interviews, supervision and other related
    professional duties as the principal may deem
    necessary for the proper and orderly
    functioning of the school.

    In practical terms, this means that teachers can
    be expected to perform up to up to 1200 hours
    of assigned duties per year, of which a
    maximum of 905.67 hours may be devoted to
    classroom instruction. (These amounts are
    prorated for teachers on part time contracts of
    employment.) There are many other duties that
    can be assigned by principals; call the Local
    office if you have a question or concern about
    assigned or instructional time.”

    To be fair, some administrative teams are working hard to reduce things like mandatory staff meetings and replace them with productive team-planning time. Still, there are things that won’t get done during this time, and extracurricular is still ‘volunteer’ time. (How many managers are asked by their employer to volunteer to coach? Hmm…)