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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"So you're a teacher, huh?" says the umpteenth Joe know-it-all. I know the tone, and I know what's coming. "Must be nice having summer's off," he sneers.

I don't know what mythical job this guy thinks I have, but I have never had a summer off.

I don't know who these teachers are who are supposedly laying around all summer sippin' sangrias without a thought of prepping for the year before them. But I'm not one of them.

In fact, is there really a "them?"

Bottom line is that every year since entering teaching, and you should know that I am a second career teacher, having come from The World Beyond, I have seen some of the busiest summer months of my life. This is for many reasons:

1. I generally have to work summer school because let's face it, who doesn't need the moo-la? And that's not just about the hours I spend with students, but the hours I need to spend prepping for them. I develop the lesson plans and set up my learning environment for a whole new slew of students that I'll only have for a month or so.

2. I attend or head Department and curriculum meetings that are scheduled during July and August. This summer, I'm working on developing the 8th grade ELA performance tasks for my district. But I'm not the only one. There are teachers all over my district, at every grade level, developing these assessments this year.

3. I develop and improve the curriculum that may or may not have worked over the school year, and summer's the only chunk of time to reflect and tweak those lessons.

4. I build a library of new lessons because, let's face it, I sure as heck don't have a lot of time to do that during a year that is packed full of high-energy, tightly paced, over-scheduled days. I go through my feeds and readers and pull resources to use. I create files to access during the school year. I develop Project Based Learning units to save myself much-needed time during the actual school year.

5. I learn the new technology or new curriculum programs I've been given. Once again, summer's the only time to learn them. So whether I'm being asked to pilot teaching with a class set of iPads (like last summer) or, having now passed those to another teacher, a class set of Chromebooks like this upcoming year, I need to spend my summer educating myself on the tools with which I will be teaching and guiding my students.

6. I write, I blog, I comment. In other words, I maintain my online relationships so that collaboration is easier throughout the school year. After all, not all answers will come from your own staff. You have to develop and maintain a VLC (virtual learning community) as well as a PLC. Resources come from everywhere.

7. I continue my own professional development. I take classes or attend webinars. I join Twitter conversations or Google Hangouts. It's a 24-7-365 education conference out there!

8. I heal and recharge my batteries for the next round of middle schoolers to come through my door. It's true. By the end of the year, teachers are limping towards vacation. And do the math: by the end of summer school, the mythical 2 months you are accused of having off really only amounts to 3 weeks or so until the start of the new year. And those weeks are filled moving your own student desks from the pile in the middle of the room, putting up your bulletin boards, shoving shelves back into place, planning, prepping, preparing, and scabbing over.

Teachers as Yearlong Learners

Back to my Joe Know-it-all: I really should've asked if he wanted to spend his year doing what I do. I spend my days, my minutes, and my hours existing at the pace of a middle schooler. Frankly, I deserve some time off after that. But the fact is, not only do I not get it, I don't know how I would ever function with it.

After all, thinking like a teacher never ends. And when you love teaching, you can't just turn it off at the end of June.

You still continue to search for books in every store to replenish your classroom library. When a big news story comes out, you immediately try to seek out that last copy of the New York Times to use as a primary document to refer to in upcoming years. You pick up props and realia to supplement your lesson plans.

The fact is, we need the breaks we get in order to do the job that we do 10 months of the year. And the other 2 months are spent doing other parts of the job.

Civilians don't realize the toll that teaching takes on a person, on their energy, their appearance even. You ever see the pictures of a president before their term began and after their term ended? Well, teaching's kinda like that. Adult humans aren't built to spend their days with hundreds of children each day. It takes a lot out of an adult to have their antennae up so high, so often, so consistently.

And yet we have troops of people willing to return to the classroom year after year, with no summer break, just for the honor of calling themselves teachers.

The least those civilians can do is acknowledge that while their children are at camp, giving them a break from parenting, we intend to do what we always do...be teachers.

Hope you are having a great summer.

Originally Published April 13, 2014

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Comments (193)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

TaughtThemNot's picture

@Pooja Patel

What I wrote is not slander. As I said, I'm very grateful for the many teachers in my life, and without them, I would not have sought out the profession in any form myself. But if teachers truly are year-round learners, then listening to dissent thoughtfully seems like the prudent, professional thing to do here.

The fact that you know people who "double dip" by completing freelance work while on the clock for a salaried job is irrelevant to this conversation. You seem to be insinuating that because some professionals outside schools do something unethical, that U.S. schools should foster an environment that encourages teachers to seek alternate forms of income. Somehow I doubt that's what you, I or anyone here truly believes.

The fact is the potential to do freelance work during the summer without other full-time obligations is a pretty unique benefit to teaching in U.S. schools. If the public should consider the "need" for teachers to work summers, it would be logical to conclude that their salaries, then, should be based on 75 to 80 percent of comparable professionals' salaries, if, as the author contends, they're expected to work separate jobs in the summer. I'm confident most of us--myself included--wouldn't support that.

And indeed, I am jealous of having summers off. But that doesn't seem like it should be anyone's motivation for becoming an educator. Your last sentences where you suggest that I sought part-time teaching because I'm unfit to do it full-time, however, is rather ironic considering the quality of your communication--arguably the most important virtue of educating.

Pooja Patel's picture

We will have to disagree. This article talks about the myths of vacation. Your points from previous post, and what they insinuate, are insulting to educators and are not true. If you truly supported teachers you would not give a compliment, as you cut them down. But, the mistake was mine, in this case. I should know better than comment on some posts with facts. Just as an FYI: you brought up free lance and such. Have a nice day.

simone_p's picture

If it makes people feel better, they don't have to think of it as a paid summer off. Instead, think of it as a 10 and 1/2 month job whose payments are spread out over a year-long period (except where teachers don't get a paycheck in the summer--we don't always, you know). And let's be honest--we basically get a 10 and 1/2 month salary. When I calculate my part-time salary based on the 43 weeks a year for which I'm contracted, it comes out to about $24 an hour--on par with similar jobs requiring a Master's degree.

So, noone's getting overpaid here--our salaries are exactly right for the amount of time we're contracted. We are grossly underpaid, however, when one calculates the amount of work we do outside the classroom and beyond the school day (10-20 hours a week based on research).

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JudyB's picture

I have been teaching for 15 years. It is my second career. After the first year I swore two things to myself. One, I will never teach summer school again. I need that summer break to recharge and learn new things. I typically have some sort of PD and usually start setting up my classroom in early August, but still make time to escapes somewhere with my husband. Second, take as little home as possible. Teachers are horrible at balancing their life/work and as a result we burn out faster than most people in other careers. The next time some yokel makes a comment about "Must be nice ...", just smile and ask if he or she would like to come spend a day with you. Oh, and he or she must show up by 7:30 a.m., bring their own lunch, be ready for maybe one break during the day, deal with 30 curious and active kids, and be prepared to leave at about 6 or 7 p.m. I haven't had a single person take me up on my offer yet.

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Monorail_Lime's picture

Summers off?

I am unemployed during the summer. I could choose to be employed during that time by working summer school, but I choose not to do so.

After 15 years I know that I need that time to prepare for next year (as detailed in the article) and reacquaint myself with my children who do without me thirteen hours a day during the school year, as well as half-days on Saturdays.

I will become employed again at some point during the next few weeks...

Teaching is a year-round "job" that is compensated seasonally.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center
Facilitator 2014

Hi Heather!

You are so right to point this out! Here I am about to start the new school year in a week, and I am thinking back about where this summer went. Summer off? Hum...

1) I spent a week at Google Boot Camp to learn how to use Google Apps for Education more deeply. I created new websites for all my classes, and set up templates for my students to have their own so they have digital portfolios of their projects (I have had websites for years, but my district is moving us all to Google, so I needed to do so as well). In addition to the 40 hours at bootcamp, I spent at least that amount on each site, x 3.

2) I taught a technology workshop for World Language teachers for three days. It took me more than that to prep the workshops.

3) I went to the PBL World Conference for a week.

4) I taught a full week seminar on PBL for WL in Santa Barbara - yes a great place, and I stayed over an extra day so I could see it! And of course, I prepared the course, so that took a couple weeks worth of time.

5) I had the pleasure of attending a 3 day summit at Edutopia! A highlight of the summer, but lots of work as well. Good work, good times, good people.

6) I have read 5 books for my own professional development in addition to the ones I read for the above list of things I did.

7) I planned 3 PBL units for my classes so we can start the year right. Figure 12 hours plus for each unit.

And I slept, worked in the yard, and spent time with my family.

Summer off? Not me! But it was all good work, and I will be better prepared to give to my wonderful students meaningful things to learn this year because of the time invested. So, thank you to my school district for providing me with a few weeks out of the classroom to do this good work!

August 13th, first day of school, I am ready to roll!

Cheers,
Don

Alicia Woody's picture

Where are there teachers getting three months of paid vacation time? I would love to teach there! All kidding aside, in reality full-time teachers do not get paid during the summer. Each of their previous paychecks were reduced so they could get pay in the summer. Essentially, we loan the district our money interest free during the school year and receive it in the summer.

I appreciate your thoughts on teaching being one of the only jobs where the employees have to work at home after work hours. I would also like to add that since working at home is a almost required part of the job, that teachers do receive miserable salaries. I make $30k a year. A career high is in the range you are talking about in my state. So, considering that teachers (conservatively) work 60 hours a week for 180 days we work about 1542 hours a year (not including summers). So, I make $19/hr before taxes. At the height of my career I will make $38/hr. I often work more hours so my wages are actually lower than that.

I would like to reiterate that teachers are not paid in the summer; that they are receiving money they already earned. I spent hundreds of hours this summer preparing to teach the completely new curriculum I was handed this year due to the Common Core Standards. This further reduces my $19/hr. I know other teachers around the country have done the same. I did not demand to be paid for that time and chose to do it myself. I do enjoy a few days a week to relax and actually spend time with my family. We are practically strangers for 10 months a year.

LloydXmas's picture

Woah, woah, woah... sounds like somebody needs a summer vacation! From reading the posts on here it seems like it's getting a bit heated (pun intended). Is it so wrong to be happy to have summers off? I think not. I love having my summers off. To be quite honest, I probably wouldn't be a teacher if I didn't have summers off. It would be way too hard. After I graduated from university, I bartended in a coastal California town for a few years, then 'got serious' and became a paralegal for 3 years. I made more money at both jobs.
After leaving law school because of the parasitic, narrow minded, money grubbing culture that I was surrounded by- not to mention the obsession with comparing oneself to others- I went to Vietnam to teach ESL. Long story short... I have taught overseas and in public schools in California for about 7 years now and refuse to apologize for having summers off. I don't get paid enough to feel bad about it. I was in Paris in August and the entire city was shut down because everyone- waiters and janitors and bus drivers, the whole of the city it seemed- was gone for a month of vacation. There weren't any "sorry" signs on the windows.
I enjoy my summers off and I have a much better life because I enjoy them. No one should apologize for this. My brother works special ed in San Francisco and, with his rent, lives month to month. The man is close to sainthood. The least he can get is a couple months to recuperate.
As for this grammar debate on this post, if you are that serious about the nuances of grammar- don't teach! No kid is going to be inspired to write if you come back to them with their grammar mistakes. If you are interested in a thesis, a plot, developing character, getting kids to fall in love with the writing process- then teach. If you are interested in where a comma goes, get a job as an editor at a newspaper.
Have a great summer everyone.

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Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center
Facilitator 2014

@LloydXmas - thanks for your comment. It makes me reflect more about what I wrote and I realize I need to clarify that I did not mean to sound negative! I meant to say that though I am out of the classroom for the summer, I am not just laying around doing nothing. I use that time to do the many things I listed. Personally, I have had a great time this summer doing all those things I cannot do during the school year. I love going to the conferences, teaching workshops, working with other teachers, and building my curriculum for the new year. If I didn't have that time away from the classroom, my work would suffer and my lessons would be much less rich in content. So, you make an excellent point.

And, you are also right that we are paid what we are paid - i.e., for the months we are in class, not for the time away. There is a need for a good discussion about what education should be worth in our society, and what we are truly willing to pay to get the world class education we seem to expect to get. Hopefully, that debate will surface sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, the original post was intended to help people understand that most teachers, though they are out of the classroom over the summer, are using that time for many good and professional purposes. It seems that there are a great number of people who think we use that time to do little to nothing as if it were vacation. Sure, we do take some vacation time, or at least we should, but we also are working on job-related tasks, The public needs to know that, so the myth about summers off is dispelled.

Wishing everyone a health, happy, productive last few days "off" and a great new school year!

Cheers,

Don

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Rashida Outlaw's picture

Hi Alicia,

If you want paid summer vacations, try teaching overseas. Most international schools pay your salary during the summer.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center
Facilitator 2014

@LloydXmas - thanks for your comment. It makes me reflect more about what I wrote and I realize I need to clarify that I did not mean to sound negative! I meant to say that though I am out of the classroom for the summer, I am not just laying around doing nothing. I use that time to do the many things I listed. Personally, I have had a great time this summer doing all those things I cannot do during the school year. I love going to the conferences, teaching workshops, working with other teachers, and building my curriculum for the new year. If I didn't have that time away from the classroom, my work would suffer and my lessons would be much less rich in content. So, you make an excellent point.

And, you are also right that we are paid what we are paid - i.e., for the months we are in class, not for the time away. There is a need for a good discussion about what education should be worth in our society, and what we are truly willing to pay to get the world class education we seem to expect to get. Hopefully, that debate will surface sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, the original post was intended to help people understand that most teachers, though they are out of the classroom over the summer, are using that time for many good and professional purposes. It seems that there are a great number of people who think we use that time to do little to nothing as if it were vacation. Sure, we do take some vacation time, or at least we should, but we also are working on job-related tasks, The public needs to know that, so the myth about summers off is dispelled.

Wishing everyone a health, happy, productive last few days "off" and a great new school year!

Cheers,

Don

(1)
LloydXmas's picture

Woah, woah, woah... sounds like somebody needs a summer vacation! From reading the posts on here it seems like it's getting a bit heated (pun intended). Is it so wrong to be happy to have summers off? I think not. I love having my summers off. To be quite honest, I probably wouldn't be a teacher if I didn't have summers off. It would be way too hard. After I graduated from university, I bartended in a coastal California town for a few years, then 'got serious' and became a paralegal for 3 years. I made more money at both jobs.
After leaving law school because of the parasitic, narrow minded, money grubbing culture that I was surrounded by- not to mention the obsession with comparing oneself to others- I went to Vietnam to teach ESL. Long story short... I have taught overseas and in public schools in California for about 7 years now and refuse to apologize for having summers off. I don't get paid enough to feel bad about it. I was in Paris in August and the entire city was shut down because everyone- waiters and janitors and bus drivers, the whole of the city it seemed- was gone for a month of vacation. There weren't any "sorry" signs on the windows.
I enjoy my summers off and I have a much better life because I enjoy them. No one should apologize for this. My brother works special ed in San Francisco and, with his rent, lives month to month. The man is close to sainthood. The least he can get is a couple months to recuperate.
As for this grammar debate on this post, if you are that serious about the nuances of grammar- don't teach! No kid is going to be inspired to write if you come back to them with their grammar mistakes. If you are interested in a thesis, a plot, developing character, getting kids to fall in love with the writing process- then teach. If you are interested in where a comma goes, get a job as an editor at a newspaper.
Have a great summer everyone.

(1)
JudyB's picture

I have been teaching for 15 years. It is my second career. After the first year I swore two things to myself. One, I will never teach summer school again. I need that summer break to recharge and learn new things. I typically have some sort of PD and usually start setting up my classroom in early August, but still make time to escapes somewhere with my husband. Second, take as little home as possible. Teachers are horrible at balancing their life/work and as a result we burn out faster than most people in other careers. The next time some yokel makes a comment about "Must be nice ...", just smile and ask if he or she would like to come spend a day with you. Oh, and he or she must show up by 7:30 a.m., bring their own lunch, be ready for maybe one break during the day, deal with 30 curious and active kids, and be prepared to leave at about 6 or 7 p.m. I haven't had a single person take me up on my offer yet.

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Mike H's picture

I'm in my 10th year of teaching and have become one of those teachers that takes the summer off. About four years ago, I made it a plan for each summer to go somewhere different, to experience new cultures, food, drink, and points of interest. This is my way of taking care of myself before each school year. I teach journalism and drama. I'm the adviser for the yearbook and newspaper. I am the director of an arts academy on my high school campus, and I oversee the performing arts auditorium and direct three shows per year. I don't leave campus till after 6 and sometimes I'm working with students on Saturdays. I am an English teacher so my classes adhere to ELA standards in addition to performing arts standards. By May, I'm exhausted and that month long vacation I have planned, is what keeps me going. I also travel to see my parents for a month.

However, I do come back for a week to go to a non-paid, week long journalism workshop with my students. But if I don't make the time to take care of myself, nourish my soul, fire up my spirit, I wouldn't be able to make it through the school year. So when people say, "It must be nice having summers off." I reply "It is, and Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc."

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TaughtThemNot's picture

I've heard this argument before, but in all due respect to friends of mine who are full-time educators, I still think it's a flaw in our education system that teachers have three months of paid vacation time built in to their contracts.

I've worked as a teacher--just part time--and it is indeed EXHAUSTING. I think most people overlook that. It's also one of the few jobs that truly requires you to take your work home with you. It's emotionally training, challenging, and doing it right isn't easy. But the fact that teachers are "lifelong learners" or that they attend seminars doesn't change that. Journalists or doctors or engineers who are good at their job no doubt attend seminars voluntarily or read books to better themselves in the field without being directly paid for it. It's troubling, too, to hear dear friend of mine who are teachers complain about their "miserable" salaries of $50K or $60K a year, while I have just as much experience but work in a much less lucrative field that requires just as much education and consistently make a mere fraction of those amounts, all the while working from about 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on average, frequently including weekends and holidays. This is reality these days, folks. With that in mind, naturally it's also hard to sympathize with the sentiment that "we work ... because who doesn't need extra money?" Tons of professionals do freelance work in addition to their other job. But they're not doing it while still receiving a paycheck from their full-time employer unless they allotted personal days to their freelance work just for that purpose.

It was such a relief to meet a young educator who went out of his way to acknowledge that having summer off has been one of the sweetest benefits of his young career--receiving a paycheck while he drove cross country. I do not resent him for it. In fact, I envy him. At times I just wish more educators would own up to the reality that while his or her job may not be perfect for innumerable reasons, having 90 days + personal days to do what you want is a really, really nice benefit of the profession.

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simone_p's picture

If it makes people feel better, they don't have to think of it as a paid summer off. Instead, think of it as a 10 and 1/2 month job whose payments are spread out over a year-long period (except where teachers don't get a paycheck in the summer--we don't always, you know). And let's be honest--we basically get a 10 and 1/2 month salary. When I calculate my part-time salary based on the 43 weeks a year for which I'm contracted, it comes out to about $24 an hour--on par with similar jobs requiring a Master's degree.

So, noone's getting overpaid here--our salaries are exactly right for the amount of time we're contracted. We are grossly underpaid, however, when one calculates the amount of work we do outside the classroom and beyond the school day (10-20 hours a week based on research).

(2)

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