The Tempting Teacher’s Sabbatical

I heard from a friend of a friend that teachers in BC (and elsewhere in Canada) can choose to accept 80% of their salary and, in return, take one in five years off. They’re not guaranteed exactly the same job when they come back, but I gather they get a similar one. I searched the web and the BC Teacher’s Federation website (BCTF) in particular to confirm this, but couldn’t do so. Does anybody know if this is true? Various people on Twitter thought it did, but I’ve emailed the media contact at the BCTF to confirm.

It’s not that important, because I’m more interested in the abstract concept. If I were a teacher, it would seem pretty enticing. I know 20% is a significant salary reduction, but I imagine one could pick up work in the summer time to to reduce that to 10 – 15%.

If you make $55K a year, then that gets reduced to $44K. Given the nine weeks in the summer, one could, conservatively earn another $5000, bringing us back up to $49K, or a 13% reduction in salary. That seems well worth it for five years off over a 25 year career. Imagine the possibilities for travel, professional development, recuperation or just plain old leisure. You could, for example, write a novel every five years.

I see this model working best in highly ordered and predictable careers like policing, nursing and teaching, where seniority is a key determiner in advancement, and jobs are reasonably plug-and play. It’s also suited to careers where innovation is slow-moving (see also the academic’s sabbatical, though in those cases I gather that they’re expected to be producing academic work).

In a corporate setting, I’d imagine taking one in five years off would be pretty stigmatizing. In highly competitive fields, you might be labeled a slacker. I wonder if this is also the case among teachers, and what percentage of BC teachers take advantage of this job benefit? I’d also be curious to see if taking off one year in five has an impact on performance.


  1. Yes, it is true. As a teacher in Ontario I have know a number of teachers that have done this.

    They do have to apply through a process with the school board they work with, and if approved take the cut in pay to pay for the year off.

    Most teachers that I know of who have taken this usually are planning to complete or start a Graduate Degree, or researching various activities that they will offer the year they come back. One teacher actually traveled in Europe and then came back the following year and organized a trip for a collection of students based on his travels.

    Yes, I could agree that it would only work in certain fields and are usually veterans who are at the top of the pay grid anyway.

  2. The Times-Colonist does this (did this?) too to a similar extent. They take a percentage of your salary and then you can go on a one-year sabbatical. However, you have to get on a waiting list in order to take off the time (because, obviously, you can’t really afford to have all your reporters go at once).

    1. Interesting. I gather the Times-Colonist is unionized, isn’t it? In that sense, they’re a lot like the other professions I mentioned–work is highly structured and capacity is reasonably predictable. And I’m given to understand that reporters are–to some degree-movable parts who can be shifted into different beats as necessary.

  3. Interesting coincidence that teachers can take one year off in five (20%) and Google employees are given 20% of their time to work on whatever project they feel is most important. Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but from Mark’s comment it sounds like giving teachers the year off can benefit the school in a similar way to which Google does from employee innovation during “20% time.”

    The benefit to the school system might not be as direct or as large but the teachers aren’t being paid for this time, either.

  4. When I worked at a video game company before, every 8 years you could take a sabbatical. I know people there that did that, and it was never looked down on.

    I would really like to see this sort of thing more common in the workplace. It would do well from an HR perspective to attract employees long term, and would also allow those “lifer” employees to take a break and refresh themselves, instead of getting burnt out working for the same company for so long.

    1. Every eight years, eh? That’s an incredibly long time for a game developer to stay with one company. But I guess that’s the point, eh? To encourage employee loyalty.

      That said, how many companies, besides the really big ones, stay around for eight years before being bought up or folded? I’ve done work for three separate game studios over the years, and they were all acquired by somebody else. I wonder if such a progressive policy would survive the acquisition.

  5. Not only is it true for teachers but for anyone working for the provincial government in BC and no doubt elsewhere. We did it, but instead of traveling, which was our intention, we ended up building a house. A lot can happen in 5 years and you need to seize opportunities when they present themselves.

  6. My sister-in-law did it at BC Ferries, pre-privatization. I think it was a 5-year deal. Interestingly, they went on strike during her leave, and she didn’t have to take part in any of the picketing, and she still collected her regular (albeit 20% reduced) cheque.

  7. When I worked in France 10 years ago, a the year sabbatical was an “aquis social” (roughly “worker’s right”) even in the private sector. At least it existed in the collective bargaining accords that applied to the software company I worked at (the metallurgical unions held sway over the HW & SW industry, and somehow the accords they negociated applied to my non-union company–don’t ask me how that works, I was a freshout at the time and didn’t understand, and it’s probably changed since then). I’m sure there were similar provisions in other industries and public sector.

    [Darren: I’m not getting a scroll bar on this comment box on my iPhone, so it’s impossible for me to finish this comment.]

    There was no pay withholding, so it amounted to the right to take one year leave of absence without pay (and I’m not sure about “couverture sociale”–health ins. et al.) every seventh year. You were supposed to be guaranteed an equivalent post to the one you left. there was also something about having to work 4 of the previous 6 years at the same company. I wasn’t around long enough to know anyone who took that year, but I got the impression it was doable. As others have suggested in their cases, I think it was a bit of a career breaker,

  8. [continuation:] but France was a bit more tolerant of careerless drones. Also, I’m sure you could position youself to do career enhancing activities during the year off, like anywhere.

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