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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

My Summer Off

When people hear I’m a teacher, I don’t often feel a lot of respect. Yesterday, I wrote about how I believe teachers deserve respect for their intelligence as well as their hearts.

Today, I want to talk about another one of my pet peeves:

I’m not gonna lie. I’m very excited to be on summer break.

For me, summer break means actually getting to see my husband every day. (He works second shift.) That’s similar to a lot of teachers- summer break means more family time.

Summer also means a chance to relax. During the school year, despite what the contract says, I work long hours and often bring work home. (Yes, I realize some teachers don’t do this- but many, many teachers do.) By the summer, I am exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally-and I need time to refresh.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. We are far from the only job where people feel stressed and could use a break- and I’m not about to tell you that we work harder than any other profession out there, because I know there are plenty of other hardworking people out there- but that doesn’t diminish what we do.

Summers “off” are a luxury, and I get that. But every job has its perks and its drawbacks, and teachers do work hard.

We earn this perk, and others- but they come with the drawbacks of the job. Among them:
  • Low pay relative to our education level
  • Requirement to stay current with little to no compensation for classes, advanced degrees, training, and other professional development
  • A lack of respect as professionals
  • Very little flexibility in our time off
  • The need to write sub plans when we are sick or need to be gone
  • Not being able to always leave work at work, and rarely being able to finish everything that needs to be done within contract hours
  • The emotional strain of worrying about students & not always being able to help
  • The need to follow the ever-changing whims of our politicians (or sneak around them to do what is actually best for our students)
In recent years, a lack of job stability, an increase in workload due to widespread budget cuts, a loss of autonomy and trust in our professional knowledge, the pressure and stress of significant change due to new standards and tests, and the risk of losing pay over statistically unreliable test scores have become prevalent concerns, too.

We chose this job despite the drawbacks. And non-teachers did not choose this job despite its perks. If you are jealous of a summer off… are they worth those drawbacks to you?

And summers off? Here are just a few of the things I do for my job during my summer “break” (and I know I’m not the only one):
  • Continuing professional development
    In order to renew my license, this is necessary. Every great once in awhile, I’m able to get a grant or a reimbursement from my district… but this year alone I’ve already spent over $500 to attend professional development this spring and summer, and I’m spending at least 5 days at PD this summer along with reading a couple of professional books. (One is not required by my district, but it was given to us and recommended.)
  • Organizing and prepping my classroom
    My school year started with one paid day before students arrived- and half of it was spent in meetings. For me, a teacher new to the classroom, that meant less than 4 hours to move my teaching supplies in, unpack them, organize them, and get them ready to use with students- not to mention putting even basic d├ęcor up in the classroom to make a welcoming environment. Yeeeah- I spent DAYS there before school started. I just didn’t get paid for it. Even now that I’m not a newbie, I have to pack up my classroom at the end of the year and unpack it in the fall- plus organize anything that my ten-year-olds didn’t keep in perfect shape all year. (Hint: That’s a lot of things.)
  • Organizing and prepping the curriculum
    Getting a room ready isn’t enough. Once students arrive, I need to dive right in to building a classroom community and teaching procedures. Most schools also have an open house or back-to-school night just before or just after the beginning of the year, and it’s good to have information to give parents about the course and what you’re doing. Of course, to even be able to do that, you must spend significant time planning out your year by looking at the standards, studying the provided resources, and finding resources to supplement them if they’re not perfect (which, let’s face it, they never are). Even if you’ve taught it before, there are always things to tweak and improve… and of course, every few years, something changes that you need to relearn.
  • Buying classroom supplies
    I have been so lucky to work in districts where basic supplies are provided. I know teachers who get one box of copy paper for the year, and when it’s gone, they have to provide their own. (It doesn’t go as far as you think.) Even with the basics provided, I have bought thousands of dollars in books, science supplies, organizational bins, and so much more for my room. I spend part of my summer in dollar stores, Target’s Dollar Spot, and every single store that sells school supplies trying to find the best deals on the things my students will use. And sometimes, going back again because there’s a limit per transaction.
  • Meeting with other teachersI’ll be going to a couple of unofficial, unmandated, unpaid meetings with my team- because we know that being on the same page is important enough to meet outside of paid time. We’ll be helping make fair class groupings for next year (which benefits the kids and teachers) as well as planning our discipline, homework, etc. so we are ready to share with parents that first week.
All of these are things I do on my own time, and in many cases with my own money- because I have to in order to do my job well.

Please know- I'm not complaining about the amount of work. I chose this profession.

I continue to choose this profession, year after year, because I love it and I think it's worthwhile.

All that I want is for the general public to know two things…

I don’t get paid for the summer “off.”
Even though my paychecks continue, I am only paid for the 185 days of the school year as per my contract (exact number varies slightly per school).

I DO work over the summer.It’s just on my own schedule, and typically unpaid (or I pay for it myself). Many teachers also work another job during the summer to make ends meet.

As teachers, I think it’s important for us to get the word out about what we do during the summer. With so much negative media about teachers, I’d love to drum up some buzz on social media straight from the horse's mouth that shows we ARE hard-working professionals.

This summer, when you go in to school, read a professional book, go to PD, shop for your classroom, or anything else work-related on your “summer off,” please post on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with the hashtag #teachersummerwork.

Help us get the word out about how much we really do. It’s not that you can’t also post about when you cherish moments with your kids or when you kick back on the beach and enjoy a cool beverage (like many other professionals do on the vacation time they’ve earned)- but if even it’s just YOUR Facebook friends that see the work you’re doing, you may help to change the public perception of “lazy” teachers who get their summer 100% “off.”

Let's show them how hard we work for the kids, even when we're on summer "break."

Are you in?

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  1. You hit the nail on the head again, Jenny! I'll be working this summer at our ESY program. I know a common question in my family is "Can't you just take that week off?" It drives me nuts to have to continually explain why I can't take off to Aruba in the middle of October.


    1. The vacation stuff is crazy to me, too! We definitely get vacation time, but unfortunately friends and family don't always plan their vacations, weddings, etc. within our alotted time off, which makes it really tricky. Even my husband was a little surprised that I only had 3 personal days a year where I get to choose the dates!

  2. I'm in! I wrote a post about this last summer, but yours is much more eloquent and well-written! Every time I create a resource, read a professional book. receive a phone call or text from another teacher, or any of the other numerous things I do on my "off" hours - I will try to share with your hashtag! Thank you for starting this. I hope it turns into a huge movement! =)

  3. Oh so true! I would love to be able to take time off during other parts of the year, but it is so hard. I don't think people realize that. I spend much of my summer at the doctor's office, so I don't have to make sub plans during the school year. I will definitely be joining in this summer! Thanks for getting this started!

    Reading Toward the Stars

  4. So true! I'll be coming back in September from being off on mat leave all year, so I will be spending the summer getting my classroom all ready after someone else has been in it all year! Lots of redecorating and organizing I'm sure! Great post!

    First Grade Garden

  5. Absolutely 100% agree and shared on my FB page. Thanks for another awesome post, Jenny!

  6. What an eloquent nailed it! There are so many things we are required to do as teachers but the time we are contracted for doesn't even begin to cover it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and encouraging us all to get the word out there.
    On the Trail of Learning


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