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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.

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Sarah's picture

The teachers are not paid for any of the vacation time that you mention. They are not contracted to work those hours.

Yes, they leave at 3:30 or 4, but in most districts they are there at 7 or 8... sometimes even 6:30. I am personally at school from 6:45 until 2:45. I leave at 2:45 so that I may pick up my own children. By leaving at 2:45, I will be spending time at home on school work.

Also, they are leaving, but where are they going? How big is the bag they are carrying? Are they coaching? Are they going to PD? Are they working on a curriculum team? Just because they are leaving doesn't mean that they are not done working.

Hefty pension? I pay 11% of my salary into that hefty pension. This would go down to 6.2% of my salary if I paid into Social security, I would save 4.8%. Plus, my district currently pays 2% into my pension. If I move to Social Security, they have to pay 6.2%. This is a difference of 4.2%. So, in essence, we save the taxpayers money by having a pension system. I also am unable to collect my husband's social security because I have a pension.

Sarah's picture

Teachers are not paid for vacations. They are only paid for the days that they work. It is a huge bonus to have summers off, but we are not paid for it.

Jenn's picture

Or perhaps change your hours to 7am - 6pm and join the real world. 9 to 5 is a factory worker's mentality.

Sarah's picture

I think that you mistake the word vacation. We are contract workers. We are contracted to work for 185, 190, 200, 170... days. Vacation is paid. If you mean time off, than yes we have more time away from our jobs. Please become a teacher, if you think it is so easy.

Sarah's picture

How can you say that they don't work hard, gain experience and sacrifice a lot of time. Yes, they have summers, but that doesn't mean that they don't work hard.

Laurie H's picture
Laurie H
High school math teacher from California

If we worked those hours and didn't make at least 150K we'd just be in a silly world. Most people do not work from 7am to 6pm. Get real.

Jenn's picture

You see that is just it, and I speak only to those teachers (not the level-headed ones who have responded calmly in this forum) who so obviously have their knickers in a knot - the very fact that you can't conceive of people in this world making under 150k and still working long hours SPEAKS VOLUMES about the insular society you've created for yourself, seemingly thought-wise and socially-speaking. You have dug yourselves so deep into a hole of self-pity that it seems you have no care to get yourselves out. The very fact that at least twice it has been mentioned that teachers are "human beings" too again SPEAKS VOLUME. Who indicated otherwise? Point out one statement or reference made that would depict a teacher as being less than a human being? Again, that is the problem - blatant over-sensitivity because your position is rightly being scrutinized by the people whose children you teach and who pay your salaries.

I sat with a group of friends the other day - a clinical psychologist, a human resourses person, a small business entrepreneur, and myself a writer - all who are highly educated, work long hours, make under 150k, and WHO DON'T GET THEIR SUMMERS OFF. One of them said "too bad to have so little time off in the summer". Another replied, "Oh, to be a teacher." Everyone there agreed. I just smiled.

Jenn's picture

P.S. Here is a small list for you of people in Canada who work at least 7-6 and don't make 150k:

1. Assistant Crown Attorneys (one we know personally - his crime scene photos hit the kitchen table before the kids are awake - and that same day he gets out of court at about 4 and heads back to his office to summarize).
2. His wife the Accountant.
3. Small Business Entrepreneurs
4. Plumbers
5. Truck Drivers
6. Executive Secretaries (and some not so executive)
7. Real Estate Agents
8. Graphic Artists
9. Bakers
10. Chefs
11. Day Care Workers/Early Childhood Educators

Is that enough for now?

Laurie H's picture
Laurie H
High school math teacher from California

Sorry, Jenn. I was wondering how you'd respond. You are clearly very entrenched in your own perspective with little room other points of view or opinions. My comment seems to have caused you to do some research. I should have mentioned that I live in a high income area in California where 150K won't get you a mortgage. Median home values here are 750K and cost of living is very high. That number was relative. I don't make what I used to make when i worked in the finance industry. However, I also don't have to work year round. So, again, I'm not complaining about my pay or my hours. I think I've just been trying to get you to understand that teaching isn't easy and there's an art and a passion to it. I agree that all teachers aren't great, but I don't think they deserve the amount of criticism and scrutiny that you are handing out. But, I give up, your mind is made up. I will put my energy into a more positive exercise.

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