August 21, 2011

There has been a lot of backlash against teachers this year.  Summer is one of the main issues.  The usual complaint is, “You get ALL SUMMER off, and yet you want a big salary too?”

Besides my usual rejoinder (“If you think it’s so awesome, why don’t you become a teacher?”), which usually just ends with a whimper, I can explain why summer is important and also why it’s not exactly a complete and utter vacation.

Lots of professionals I know get five weeks of paid vacation.  Their jobs may be stressful, but they are generally not answering phone calls or e-mails from anxious parents or students at 9 p.m.  They are not writing lesson plans at 10 p.m., spending weekends grading papers, or several times a year writing thoughtful narrative reports on their students.  Yes, there are other jobs that can be this consuming (I’m thinking of doctors on call, or nurses who work crazy shifts), but not many.  Most of my professional friends go home and don’t have to deal with their jobs in their off time aside from an occasional crisis.  The teachers I know work all day at school and then go home and work more.  (And unlike doctors and nurses, we mostly don’t get paid a lot for it.)

In the summer, teachers do a lot of work, too.  I spent a week this summer taking a class — a really useful, interesting, important class about how to teach children to self-monitor their own behavior.  It was from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily and also had some homework.  Add to that the week we spent at school reviewing last year and planning next year right after the students got out, and the two weeks before the students return that we’ll spend planning and preparing.  Add to that a few parent e-mails I received and responded to.  And the books I’ve read that I might consider using in my teaching, or at least recommending to my students.  And the books I’ve read that are part of my professional development.

None of this is meant as a complaint.  I’m happy I have flexibility of time during the summer that I don’t have during the school year.  (My job has many benefits, but flexible hours are not one of them.)  But it’s not the same as being completely free for ten weeks.

Honestly, I’d be happy to spread the vacation out throughout the year.  I’d prefer to have more time in the middle of spring, when it’s pleasant out but not hot, and a week in the fall, when it’s crisp but beautiful.  (I don’t need more time in the winter, thank you, but I know there are skiiers who would love more time then, too.)  In this part of the country, that’s unlikely — the East Coast tourist areas depend on summer traffic (Jersey Shore, Hamptons, Adirondacks, etc.) and aren’t likely to wish for students going to school during any part of the summer.  And a lot of school buildings aren’t adequately air-conditioned to run in the summer.  But I can see all sorts of advantages to having vacation in smaller chunks throughout the year.

And now I’m heading back to my school tomorrow to begin planning this year in earnest.  The students don’t start until after Labor Day.  See you in a few weeks.