Low pay, mental toll: Examining the ramifications of office hours on teachers

“The days I’ve saved for tutoring, I usually finish at about 4:45 p.m. or 5 p.m. and then I either have to drive an hour home or I have to take BART, which takes an hour as well.


“The days I’ve saved for tutoring, I usually finish at about 4:45 p.m. or 5 p.m. and then I either have to drive an hour home or I have to take BART, which takes an hour as well. It’s exhausting,” said Ann Sperske, a history teacher in Academic Choice (AC). “And it’s exhausting because I don’t get a chance to just do nothing.”

Many teachers at Berkeley High School stay after school to provide extra support to students who need it. Despite the fact that the tutoring system is time consuming for teachers, it helps students who don’t receive the help during the regular six period day. The amount of time that teachers stay after school depends on the number of students who are seeking help.

Some teachers get paid if they’re signed up for the BHS Development Group (BHSDG)’s official tutoring hours, but don’t receive compensation if they’re not officially signed up for the hours. 

“I have signed up for the tutorial for Thursdays,” said Fatemeh Mizbani, a chemistry teacher. “I should be getting paid for an hour but it’s very little.” This year, Mizbani   has consistently hosted four or more tutoring days per week to support her students. 

According to Matthew Laurel, Academic Support Coordinator, teachers get paid $47.50 for one hour of tutoring from the BHSDG. 

While students are receiving one-on-one support, teachers remain active and engaged, which limits their time to take a break and focus on their brain and body. 

“When I’m tutoring or helping students, I have to be actively still engaged with instruction or planning or activities and keeping kids whether we’re doing test prep or testing so there’s no quiet,” said Sperske. “There’s no stop.”

Maia Wachtel, an English teacher in the Universal Ninth Grade, has office hours various days at lunch and after school. She stays after school for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on her students’ needs. Wachtel mentioned that since she makes office hours by appointment, there isn’t a usual schedule. 

“I have formal office hours. Or formal tutoring (that’s funded by the BHSDG) after school every Wednesday. But then I have more informal office hours pretty much every day at lunch,” said Erin Smith, a BHS biology and integrated science teacher. 

Many teachers hold office hours, despite getting paid very little and the added mental toll of extending an already strenuous workday. 

“Chemistry is hard. Students really need tutorial and one on one support. The kids who can afford (the cost of private tutoring) have tutors outside. So I want to make sure that kids who can not afford private tutors can have access to tutoring,” said Mizbani.

According to Sperske, she holds office hours because students who make the effort every day to come see her to get help deserve her attention.

“So in other words, there are also students who come to see me in tutoring who are also extending their day. And they’re doing it because they care about learning the material or they have questions about the material,” said Sperske. Sperske also said, “They need help. They need to retake a test or need to make up a test. So I feel like it’s my job. It’s like we have a deal. Almost like an unspoken agreement.” 

Sperske mentioned that if students are willing to put in the effort for that extra time outside of school, she’s willing to put in the effort. “So that’s why I do it. I just don’t do it all the time because I physically can’t. Sometimes I just have obligations that I have to get home to. I usually do it because it’s what the students need,” said Sperske. 

Additionally, for students and teachers alike, it can be challenging to be at school for a six period day. 

“I know that students all benefit from one on one attention and endeavor and time, that process and material with their teacher,” Smith said. “At the same time, sometimes I’m so tired at the end of the day, I feel like it is hard to get to help everyone that might need help. Because I’m a little bit burnt out. That said, I’ve also had students that can really benefit from personalized attention and tutoring after school,” she continued.

For Smith, it’s important to offer office hours because she  wants students to feel like they aren’t going through their struggles alone. “My hope is that it doesn’t just help students understand the material,” said Smith, “but also makes them feel more comfortable coming to me when they have an issue or asking questions or making the class feel like a warm place if they’re getting to come in and get that extra help.”

To combat the exhaustion of office hours, teachers set boundaries by not working on weekends and dedicating time outside of school to hobbies and personal interests. 

“I have tried really hard to set boundaries in my own life this year. I, for example, do not work on the weekends… I set that rule with myself and it’s been very helpful to me. So I basically do all my free time and enjoy my hobbies on the weekends,” said Smith. 

Smith makes sure  that if students are coming on a day other than Wednesday, or during lunchtime, they’ll need to set an appointment so that she’s not waiting around for students to come. “And it helps me kind of prioritize better because I (can notice) that two students want to come and meet with me (about) their work,” said Smith, “They’re kind of having the same misconception or the same struggle, I might ask them to come on the same day instead of individually.”

Wachtel echoed this sentiment, adding that, “I do my very best not to bring work home and to create times when my teacher brain is on and when I can focus on myself as a person outside of this job.”

In response to the lack of compensation and mental toll of office hours, teachers are suggesting flex period time that allows students to be tutored during the day.