Hopefully, you’ve had at least one teacher who went the extra mile for you, for instance, by helping you before or after class. Perhaps you gave this teacher a gift or a handmade card at the end of the year to show your appreciation for their dedication and extra time. But can teachers actually earn overtime pay for these extra hours?
The short answer is “no.” Teachers are exempt from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938, teachers are designated as salaried employees. Classified among other highly trained professionals, they are exempt from requirements for overtime pay. With very few exceptions, teachers cannot receive overtime pay.
Teaching is one of the noblest professions in American society. Few duties are more important than cultivating young minds and imparting knowledge to others. Given the compensation and the work required, most teachers are motivated more by commitment and passion than the promise of financial rewards.
Teachers earn a salary. They do not receive hourly pay. As such, teachers don’t earn overtime pay for the extra time they spend on teaching.
Why don’t teachers receive overtime? They are considered exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The Fair Labor Standards Act
Originally drafted in 1932 and signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act represented a triumph for American workers. The FLSA is responsible for ending child labor and establishing a federal minimum wage (originally 25 cents, now $7.25 per hour) and maximum number of hours (originally 44, now 40) in a workweek. If you work more than 40 hours a week in an unsalaried (i.e. hourly) position, you earn overtime at 1.5 your base pay.
The National Education Association finds that teachers spend an average of 50 hours a week on instructional duties. The Washington Post finds the number to be somewhat higher at 53. That is A LOT of overtime! Moreover, the National Education Association also finds that 93% of teachers actually spend their own money on their students’ behalf. So given that teachers commonly work far more than 40 hours a week and often even buy their own supplies, they must be entitled to overtime, right?
Wrong. To quote the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fact Sheet #17S: Higher Education Institutions and Overtime Pay Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, “A teacher is exempt if his or her primary duty is teaching, tutoring, instructing, or lecturing to impart knowledge, and if he or she is performing that duty as an employee of an educational establishment.” This means that the FLSA requirements for time and half pay for hours over 40 per week do not apply to teachers.
Teachers receive a salary rather than pay by an hour. Teachers are considered among those “white collar” professions that are exempt from the stipulations of the FLSA. As such, teachers are almost never entitled to overtime.
The FLSA also exempts employees whose work requires “advanced knowledge … in a field of science or learning … acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor. As exempt employees, the FLSA requirements do not apply to them. As such, teachers are generally not entitled to overtime.
Teachers aren’t the only employees exempt from FLSA requirements. Administrators (making no less than $684 per week) who perform “office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations” and who make judgments about “matters of significance” are also exempt. Executives (also making no less than $684 per week) who manage an enterprise, department, or subdivision and direct the work, hiring, and firing of other employees are also exempt. Sales people are also exempt.
On the surface, this makes sense. Commissions might motivate salespeople to make more sales. The exemptions to the FLSA include those whose advanced knowledge typically leads to greater earning power. For instance, the average doctor earns $189,000 a year (Source: Forbes). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, engineers’ annual median wage is $91,010 (Source: MTU.edu.
Even if they work more than 40 hours a week, these professionals receive excellent compensation. Just imagine how much doctors would make if they received overtime for each hour they worked over 40, particularly given what long hours many do work!
However, the average salary for teachers is just $56,000, with the average starting salary of $36,000. In spite of these differences, teaching does require advanced knowledge acquired through specialized intellectual instruction. As such, teachers are exempt from the FLSA requirements for overtime pay.
Let’s investigate what this means for teachers, from the preschool to university level.
Preschool teachers are exempt from the requirements of the FLSA. They are not entitled to overtime pay. However, not all those who work in preschools may be exempt. For instance, a daycare worker in a preschool is entitled to overtime pay because they are not required to have the advanced degree. Not all those who work for schools are exempt.
Like other teachers, K-12 teachers are not entitled to overtime pay. It’s important to keep this in mind when negotiating salaries. While you might expect to teach six hours a day, this does not include time spent grading, preparing lessons, or meeting with students outside of classes. Keep in mind that you might need supplies, too. Your salary for the year, or for a set period of months, will be the amount that you are paid. You won’t receive overtime pay even if you coach a soccer team or supervise a podcasting club, so make sure that you are comfortable with your salary before committing.
What about principals? They too are among the “learned professionals” as are various other school administrators. As long as they make at least $684 per week, they are exempt.
The school custodian? They *are* entitled to overtime because they are non-exempt employees. They do not have an advanced knowledge earned by specialized intellectual training nor are they in an executive or administrative role.
Teachers at Universities and Colleges
Instructors at the university level almost never receive overtime pay. This includes assistant, associate, and full professors, as well as adjunct professors, lecturers, and even graduate student instructors.
Adjunct professors face the most extreme challenges. They often receive only a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per course. Their pay is determined by the amount of time they spend in the classroom, not the work that goes into preparing a syllabus, designing and grading assignments, and meeting with students outside of class. Moreover, they rarely receive benefits. An adjunct teaching an overload (four courses per semester) might make $20,000 a year, without benefits, or even less.
One difference for faculty at the college level is that they may teach an “overload.” An overload typically means one or (more rarely) two extra classes per semester. This isn’t overtime exactly, but they might be able to negotiate a higher salary per year or semester.
Coaches at higher education institutions occupy a gray area. They do, after all, teach athletes how to improve their performance. They might draw upon advanced knowledge acquired through specialized training. However, the Department of Labor distinguishes coaches who actually coach athletes from those whose focus is on recruiting students. The time coaches spend instructing athletes is not the only factor relevant in determining their non-exempt status. Those who focus on teaching (or coaching) players are exempt.
What about student workers? In short, those who work for the college or university in a non-educational capacity are not exempt (i.e. they can receive overtime and are entitled to minimum wage). However, those who serve as graduate instructors, research assistants, or student residential assistants are deemed to be working in such a capacity that they are considered exempt.
It is also worth pointing out that many others who work at universities may also be exempt. Accountants, counselors, financial aid officers, psychologists, athletic trainers, librarians, postdoctoral researchers, among others, all meet the requirements of the learned professional exemption. It is important to remember that the exemption is based on the duties associated with the position, not the title of the position.
There is one possible exception to the exempt status of teachers. Let’s say a college employs a professional electrician and that electrician teaches only one course per semester. Their primary duty is the maintenance of the building, not teaching. As such, they might be entitled to overtime pay. If you are a tradesperson interested in teaching, I’d recommend doing further research to answer this question.
Conclusion – Can Teachers Earn Overtime?
Simply put, pay and salary are major considerations for anyone entering the profession. Like other salaried professionals with advanced knowledge, teachers do not earn overtime. But just because teachers don’t earn overtime pay doesn’t mean that teachers don’t put in extra hours. If you work hard and dedicate yourself to your students, you can count on intangible rewards like knowing that you’re shaping young minds, positively impacting society, and helping the next generation avoid the mistakes of those previous. Just don’t count on overtime.
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