I was trapped in the chair at the dentist’s office, with the flattering spittle blocking glasses on and a glorified grown-up bib strapped to my chest having my teeth cleaned. The hygienist and I were having an extremely convenient conversation about my job while both of her hands were somehow inside my mouth along with three metal stabbing tools, when she threw out the comment that I hear all the time.
“Well at least in your job you get your summers off.”
Because my mouth was full, I was already drooling down my chin, and it was only 7am, I didn’t reply. She’s lucky I didn’t bite her fingers.
There are a lot of reasons that statement irritates me. Having the summers off is awesome, I’m not going to lie. However, before you make teachers out to be the luckiest professionals in the country, hear me out. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. We shouldn’t feel guilty about our time off. We’ve earned it in ways that most people don’t think of.
1. Teachers don’t have the highest salaries (even though we are all college educated and many have master’s degrees and specializations), and because of this, a lot of teachers actually work a second job during the summer to supplement their income. We don’t get PAID during the summer; our paychecks are stretched out over a twelve month period, but we are in fact ten month employees. So yes, we may be “off”, but it’s not a paid vacation.
2. We knew going into teaching that it wasn’t a “9-5” job and most teachers do what it takes to get the job done, regardless of how long it takes. Whether they stay late at school, come in early, or take work home, it is impossible to get everything done during the school day. At a minimum, if teachers work 2 extra hours a day outside of school hours, five days a week it adds up to equal 8 hour days for the entire summer. Most teachers in my school work at least ten hour days in the building and take work home. I can’t just show up each day and say, “Hey kids, let’s blow off all this learning stuff and just have us a good time!” We are accountable for covering specific curriculum and assessments that are given on a county and state level and insure that teachers are in fact, teaching. It requires an incredible amount of planning and it is obvious when it’s not done. So, essentially, teachers are working enough during the school year to compensate for the hours that they are not working during the summer.
3. Teachers don’t have opportunities for raises and promotions like other professions. We can work our hearts out, and our chances for advancement without continuing our education are very few and far between. You don’t become “master teacher” when you do a bang-up job. In fact, you are often given even more responsibilities and more challenging students when you’ve proven that you’re incredibly good at what you do. All with…that’s right, no raise. Yes, we all do it for the children…(violins playing in the background). But everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done. When you’re a working adult, that generally means some sort of monetary reward. Or a really good cookie.
Regardless of how hard we work, we will never earn a bonus. It doesn’t matter if our students scores are through the roof and every parent in your classroom writes an epic letter on your behalf; your salary will be exactly where it was before.
Having summers off doesn’t fix these problems; but the thought of that extended break softens the blow when you realize that we will likely work our entire careers without advancement, bonuses or more than a standardized percentage salary increase. I will never leave room 42, except for my summer break.
4. Most counties require inservices and classes to continue your licensure, and summer is when a lot of teachers complete this coursework. Not to mention the fact that many teachers are simultaneously working towards advanced degrees to make themselves even stronger in their field. Having time during the summer to do these things helps teachers to balance their workload for just a few months, because during the school year many teachers are simultaneously full time teachers and part time students. That’s a huge stressor. Stressed out teachers = stressed out kids.
5. Have you ever been on Pinterest? Teachers spend a good deal of time over the summer planning the next school year. It takes hours and hours of thought and reflection on the previous year, not to mention research and creativity to continually become a better teacher and have the organized yet adorable classroom that parents and students expect. Summer is when this happens, people. We are not wizards. It doesn’t magically happen during teacher work week in August.
6. Teachers dig into their own pockets for classroom supplies and books. Often. Although many schools (like my own) have a parent population that generously donates supplies, there are always things that we have to buy ourselves. If you have an elementary age child, look at their classroom library the next time you’re in your child’s classroom. Are there books? Yes? Lots of them, probably? Teachers buy those. Out of our own money. When I taught in a city school I bought 100% of my own supplies and a lot of the supplies for my students who couldn’t afford them as well. It’s necessary to have certain things in a classroom to learn, so we just bite the bullet and buy them ourselves. Again, having summers off doesn’t change this, but its one more reason that teachers are deserving of a guilt-free break.
7. When we are sick, or our kids are sick, it doesn’t matter. Even if we take the day off, we still have to write sub plans and find a substitute. There is no rolling over in bed and calling in sick when you wake up feeling like death is a better option. I’ve sat in the bathroom rubbing my daughter’s back while she was vomiting and simultaneously written sub plans on my laptop. There is no “ducking out” for a few minutes to run a quick errand on our lunch break. We can’t go out to lunch during the day, we have to get a substitute to make a doctor’s appointment or go to the dentist. We have to be there, all the time, or find a stand-in. Sick days are just as much work as regular days by the time it’s all said and done.
8. Teachers deserve to have guilt-free summers off because they are a perk of our job just like travel and an expense account are perks of other jobs. Summers, snow days and holiday breaks instead of company cars and raises. Every job has its perks and besides hugs and sticky handprints on everything we own, these are ours.
9. Finally, you are ready to send your children back to school in August after having them home for two and a half months. Think of how exhausted we are having them from September to June. Teachers love their students, but it is an emotionally draining job, and requires a mental break. Teaching is like running a race every single day for 6 hours. Even if you prepare for the race, even if you are in fantastic shape, you’re still going to need a break eventually. Don’t deny it—it’s the same reason you’re excited to put them back on the bus at the end of summer. Kids are hard work. The best kind of work, but hard work nonetheless!
So the next time you are talking to a teacher and you’re tempted to say, “Well, at least you have your summers off,” think about what I’ve said and raise a glass to them instead. Say, “Here’s to a great summer. You deserve it.”
* Note from the author: This was written as a tongue in cheek post from one eye-rolling educator to other eye-rolling educators who love their jobs but get tired of other people respecting them less because they have summers off. Written with sarcasm and humor in mind. Meant to be read with those things in mind as well. Yup, that’s why it’s in the humor section….