Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Marnia Lazreg

Subject Categories

Educational Sociology | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education | Sociology


Gift, Misrecognition, Professionalism, Unpaid Labor


Unpaid labor by educators is an important topic of social inquiry. With over half of all urban teachers leaving the profession within five years, it is of vital importance to examine the current U.S. educational system and take steps in minimizing the teacher burnout and attrition that is so costly to both students and the educational institutions. Most of the previous literature on unpaid labor focuses on domestic labor in the home rather than work performed by an employee above and beyond their ordinary contractual obligations - either by arriving early, staying late, or bringing work into the home. With over 7 million educators in the U.S., even small amounts of unpaid labor add up to very significant issues affecting the teachers, educational institutions, and the students. Education is among a class of occupations of human transformation where the work is, in principle, limitless. I am investigating a more effective method of measuring educators' unpaid labor. National survey-based quantitative methods of measuring educators' reported working hours have consistently underestimated the actual amount of unpaid labor being worked. I performed semi-structured interviews with a sample of primarily New York City educators to more accurately assess the actual amounts of labor that educators are performing unpaid. I also examined the motivations and justifications educators offered to explain the significant hours of labor worked unpaid each week. Using classical and neo-classical economic theory and Marxist political economic theory to frame the phenomenon of unpaid labor was not sufficient. The theoretical perspective of gift and gift giving proved more fruitful. Educators misrecognize employer-employee labor relationships as having elements of gift relationships and frequently discussed a sense of gratitude after having been hired to their teaching positions. Educators reciprocate this misrecognized gift of employment through their performance of unpaid labor to meet their professional obligations and administrations' expectations. The gratitude reported by educators fades over time, hastened by the structural deficiencies in the U.S. educational system. When faced with such systemic obstacles and administrative and parental performance expectations, educators frequently rationalized their unpaid labor by invoking a standard of professionalism. However, the rates of burnout and attrition among educators call into question the limits of professionalism as a practice rather than as pure ideology. Increasing occupational requirements, decreasing institutional support, and recent media accounts characterizing teachers as entitled bureaucrats that are coasting off an out-dated tenure system are poisoning the gift of an educational career. This poisoned gift de-motivates educators and contributes to increasing teacher attrition, especially among less-experienced teachers in urban school systems. With a more complete understanding of the explanations, motivations, and rationalizations of unpaid educational labor it is possible to better address educators' work conditions and overall educational policy to increase teacher retention and effectiveness.