Alex Tabarrock, also known as “that other guy who blogs at Marginal Revolution”, notes the alarmingly high rate of teacher absences in US public schools:

On a typical school day, 5-6% of teachers are absent, i.e. equivalent to an absence once every 20 days!

Bearing in mind that the typical school year is 180 days, add absences to all the school holidays, teacher workdays, staff development days (btw, ever seen a Walmart shutdown for a staff development day?), and other non-teaching days (e.g. in Fairfax, Mondays are half-days) and the number of days of true teachng greatly diminishes.

Teachers probably do get sick more often than other workers but teacher absence rates are three times higher than for managers and professional employees in the private sector. Moreover, are you surprised to learn that teacher absences are most frequent on Mondays and Fridays or that teacher absences are of a duration just short of that requiring medical certification of illness?

That’s moral hazard for you! As someone who was a student in an American public school until a few years ago, this isn’t at all surprising. I remember how frustrating it was to waste entire blocks of class time with a substitute teacher while watching pointless movies or doing busywork. Teaching is an especially bad profession for high employee absence rates because (1) a large number of people are directly affected, since it’s almost impossible for class time to be productive for students if the teacher is gone; and (2) a wasted school day really is gone forever, since there’s no way to make up instruction time by working a little later the next few days like you can in a lot of other jobs. If teachers are missing about 1 day out of 20, that means that the average teacher accumulates about 9 absences during a typical 180 day school year. The parents of student who is absent that often are likely to get a concerned call from the principal. We should be holding our teachers to a higher standard.