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The Myth of Having Summers Off

| Heather Wolpert-G...

"So, you're a teacher, huh?" says the umpteenth Joe Know-It-All. I know the tone, and I know what's coming next: "Must be nice having summers off," he sneers. I don't know what mythical job this guy thinks I have, but I have never had a summer off.

And I'm not sure who these teachers are who are supposedly lying around all summer sipping 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, I have seen some of the busiest summer months of my life.

This is for many reasons:

  • I work summer school. Hey, who doesn't need the moolah? And it's not just about the hours I spend with students; it's also 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 have for only a month or so.
  • I attend or lead department and curriculum meetings scheduled during July and August.
  • I develop and improve the curriculum that may, or may not, have worked over the school year. Summer is the only chunk of time to reflect and tweak those lessons.
  • 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 packed full of high-energy, tightly paced, overscheduled days.
  • I learn the new technology or new curriculum programs I've been given. Once again, summer is the only time to learn them. Case in point: my interactive whiteboard. I received mine in the fall, right at the start of school. I have been learning it as I go, but what with that little full-time gig I have that's called teaching, I have had time to explore only the tip of the iceberg. Summer will, hopefully, be my chance to revisit the training modules, explore the online assistance, create better flip charts, and further integrate the board.
  • I train new teachers.
  • I explore my own professional development. After all, those units also bump me along on the pay scale. And currently, my only option to get a raise is by spending my own money first, right?
  • I lick my wounds. It's true. By the end of the year, teachers are limping toward "vacation." And do the math: If you teach summer school, you have only the weekend between the end of school and the beginning of summer school to take a breath. By the end of summer school, you have only three weeks or so until the start of the new school year. And those weeks are filled moving your students' desks from the pile in the middle of the room, putting up your bulletin boards, shoving shelves back into place, and planning, prepping, preparing, and scabbing over.

Back to my pal Joe Know-It-All: I really should've asked him whether he wanted to spend his year doing what I do. I spend my days, my hours, and my minutes existing at the pace of a middle school student. 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 still seek out the New York Times to use as a primary resource to refer to in upcoming years. You pick up props and realia to supplement your lesson plans. You attend conferences or seminars to learn new strategies in order to fill in gaps that might exist in your current curriculum units.

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

Civilians don't realize the toll teaching takes on a person -- on their energy and on their appearance, even. You ever see the pictures of a president before his term began and after his term ended? Well, teaching is kind of 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, and 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 summer camp, giving them a break from parenting, we intend to do what we always do: be teachers.

How are you spending these summer days preparing for the next school year? We'd love to hear from you!

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12ZRuM8UtDA Video has been removed from the other link, so maybe try this one.

A Video every teacher, principal, trustee should watch.....

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This brilliant student hits the nail on the head...though sadly I bet it changed nothing for the lady sitting at the head of the room. Hope I can get the right youtube link here. If I lose you, it's called High School Student Wrecks Teacher. My 14 year old was shown it by a school mate and passed it on How pleased I am they recognized the importance of the message. http://youtu.be/xsoLIpRmQTw

Jenn!

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Jenn!

Get yourself a teaching certificate. You seem to know what's wrong. - We need you:) Come in and set the example!!! We can learn from you!

Jenn - "Dear School

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Jenn -

"Dear School Administrator,

For the past 13 years I have observed and interacted with and sought out ... "

Complaints all legit in my eyes:) Just don't paint us with one one brush!!!

At least I tried to make you see the light.

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To Jeff and all disgruntled teachers near and far who are like-minded,

You just don't seem to get it so I really do give up :)

I would like to end on a pleasant note - so here's to all you amazing teachers out there and here's to your summers and Christmas breaks and Spring breaks off. Cheers!

The Teacher’s Oath

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:• I will respect the hard-won gains of those educators in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

• I will apply, for the benefit of my students, all strategies known to be effective, avoiding busy-work in favor of work with real meaning to the students and their families.

• I will remember that there is art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the textbook reading or the multiple choice test.

• I will work with my colleagues to inspire one another to achieve excellence. I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed to help my students.

• If it is given me to enhance a life through teaching, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to cast a shadow over a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.

• I will remember that I do not teach a lesson plan, or a reading deficiency, but a human being, whose skills may affect the person’s future family and economic stability. My efforts will aim to teach the whole child, and help that child develop in mind and spirit.

• If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of teaching those who seek my help.

High school physics teacher in Lynn, Mass.

Yes, my analogy was based on

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Yes, my analogy was based on the US healthcare system, but my understanding of the Canadian system is that your doctor does the utmost of what's available given the realities of funding, availability, etc., and if you want anything beyond what's available, you have to go elsewhere. (Some wealthy Canadians do go to the US to pay for treatments that are above and beyond what's considered medically necessary.)

Jenn writes:
"And yes like any good employer I do demand the utmost for the salary I pay."

In my school, the salary you pay includes seven hours of face time each school day, plus one additional hour per week availability for extra help, plus two additional hours per month for meetings. It also includes whatever time is necessary outside of the school day to prepare lessons, tests, homework assignments, grade papers, etc. A good rule of thumb is that it takes a minimum of half an hour of prep time per hour of instruction. I happen to spend double that because I provide pre-written class notes on my website for every class, but that's above and beyond what's required. (Of course, if a teacher has three sections of the same class, the prep for that class only needs to happen once.) It takes about twice as long to create and edit a homework assignment or test (including trying all of the problems and thinking through the different ways students might approach them) as it takes for the students to complete it. It takes about 3-5 minutes per student to grade a homework assignment or a test, and maybe twice that for an essay if the teacher is efficient. On an average school day, the typical mediocre "who cares?" teacher you're describing probably needs to spend eight to ten hours on school-related work. I think that's pretty a pretty fair return on the salary you're paying.

Also, remember that teachers are blue-collar union laborers, not white-collar professionals. It's much more apropos to compare teachers with plumbers than with doctors, so your comment of "As I expect a doctor to come with [list of requirements] above and beyond what I would expect of my plumber (according to his oath), so do I expect the teacher teaching my child to have the same." is inappropriate. Perhaps the problem is that your expectations align with your misinformed impression of what you think the teaching profession is "supposed to be" instead of aligning with the profession as it actually exists.

Jenn writes:
"As a parent it is my absolute right to have high expectations of my child's teacher while she is in his classroom, five days a week, ten months of the year. Tell me Jeff, do you really want to look back on this generation of children and say 'Yup, we taught them the basics, that's all we were paid to do'?"

I do much more than that for my own students, and I have no intention of looking back and saying "that's all we were paid to do". I also have no intention of looking back and saying, "If only people like Jenn had realistic expectations of what's possible and worked with teachers instead of just maligning them every chance she got, maybe a higher level of collaboration between parents and teachers would have been possible. Oh well. I tried, but it didn't work."

No, I don't intend to do that. Instead, I'm trying to help you see a point of view that you're steadfastly refusing to consider, in the hopes of turning you from an adversary into an ally. Clearly, it's not working, but just as I wouldn't give up on your daughters' education, I'm not about to give up on yours either.

Apples to apples not apples to oranges.

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Jeff,

You got the doctor analogy wrong or perhaps it's because we have a different medical system here in Canada (perhaps we have a different education system too). Comparing a doctor providing additional testing would be the same as expecting a teacher to have a specialized software program to get the job done. What do you think doctors or teachers were expected to do when there was none of that in days gone by - as I said they would be required to provide the most optimal outcome within their means. So, again, you've missed the point. As I expect a doctor to come with current medical knowledge to my annual physical, a receptive attitude, an updated understanding of the latest pharmaceuticals, and an implicit joy in his calling, dedication to his work, a continual honing of his skills to his patient's benefit, and integrity and ethics above and beyond what I would expect of my plumber (according to his oath), so do I expect the teacher teaching my child to have the same. Those qualities are all within the person and have nothing to do with any above and beyond. And yes like any good employer I do demand the utmost for the salary I pay. As a parent it is my absolute right to have high expectations of my child's teacher while she is in his classroom, five days a week, ten months of the year. Tell me Jeff, do you really want to look back on this generation of children and say "Yup, we taught them the basics, that's all we were paid to do"?

High school physics teacher in Lynn, Mass.

You said: "If you think

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You said:
"If you think teachers are only responsible for teaching the absolute basics - that belief in and of itself is the major root of the problem in the education system. That you would advertise that theory here is bizarre. I wouldn't want a doctor treating me to provide merely the basics, but superior care that would provide not just a satisfactory outcome but the most optimal one possible."

Your doctor will provide the "most optimal[sic] one possible" only to the extent that your health insurance will cover it. For example, a cancer patient who wanted a promising experimental treatment that was not yet covered by insurance would have to pay for it out of pocket. Similarly, our educational system will educate students only to the extent of the classes they can provide as taught by the teachers in the school. If you want something beyond that, you have to pay for it out of pocket. Sure, you *want* the best care possible from your doctor and the best education possible for your daughter. Everyone wants those things. But just because you want something doesn't necessarily make it practical.

You also said:
"As for your comment on my daugher's dubious giftedness (although its really not central to the argument) n Otis Lenon test, a non-verbal Naglieri test, and a half day of one on one psychological testing would confirm my daughter's ability. But I never needed test scores to figure that one out....you see, Jeff, that was one of my points, if teachers would only go the extra mile.....but that one - as you've articulated - is lost on you but hopefully not too many others in your profession. All the best. I hope you have a basically good summer."

Actually, I don't think it's lost on me. I do go the extra mile for my students. Most of the teachers I work with do the same, to the extent that they're capable (given the limits of other commitments outside of work time, and the ability and willingness of students to actually show up after school to take advantage of that extra mile). I'm required to stay after school at least one day a week for one hour, to ensure that students can meet with me for extra help. I typically make myself available to students for two to three hours after school three to four days per week. If they have a question after that, they can send me email--I check my email most evenings and respond to students when they ask. Even though I teach physics, I help my students (and other teachers' students when they come by) with chemistry, math, English, and their college essays. I work with students on more advanced topics if they have the time and inclination. I also advise the school's science team. So your claim that this is "lost" on me is inaccurate.

However, just because I do go the extra mile, and I think it's a good thing when other teachers go the extra mile because the benefit to students is tremendous, that does not mean I think it's OK for a parent to demand that a teacher go the extra mile. You have every right to demand that I provide the educational services that I am contracted to provide. You have every right to ask that I go beyond what I'm paid for out of charity. And if you ask, I will usually do so if there's a way. However, you do not have the right to demand that I go beyond what I'm paid to do, any more than I would have a right to go into your workplace and demand that you provide services above and beyond what your job requires or your company guarantees. Does a fat person have a right to demand larger portions at a restaurant? Would you have the right to demand that the plumber you've hired to fix a leak in your kitchen also fixes a leak in your bathroom for no additional cost (or only the cost of materials)? Would you have the right to demand that your mechanic replaces your battery for free when you need a new alternator?

I get that you want teachers to go the extra mile. I'm happy that you're an involved parent who advocates for your daughter. But, as I tell my students when they behave similarly, "It's a bad idea to annoy the person who is in a position to decide whether or not to go out of his/her way to give you what you want."

A couple of quotes I thought I would share...:)

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The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate "apparently ordinary" people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people. ~K. Patricia Cross

There are three good reasons to be a teacher - June, July, and August. ~Author Unknown

Excuses, excuses

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Jeff,

If you think teachers are only responsible for teaching the absolute basics - that belief in and of itself is the major root of the problem in the education system. That you would advertise that theory here is bizarre. I wouldn't want a doctor treating me to provide merely the basics, but superior care that would provide not just a satisfactory outcome but the most optimal one possible.

As for your comment on my daugher's dubious giftedness (although its really not central to the argument) n Otis Lenon test, a non-verbal Naglieri test, and a half day of one on one psychological testing would confirm my daughter's ability. But I never needed test scores to figure that one out....you see, Jeff, that was one of my points, if teachers would only go the extra mile.....but that one - as you've articulated - is lost on you but hopefully not too many others in your profession. All the best. I hope you have a basically good summer.

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