Ideas and Opinions about
Teaching, Learning, and
the Educational System
Ideas and Opinions about
Teaching, Learning, and
the Educational System
Okay teachers, how many times have you heard this?
“You teachers are so lucky. You never have to work weekends. You get all summer off. You get spring break, fall break, and two weeks off at Christmas. You never have to work on holidays, and if the weather is bad, you don’t have to go to work then either. And to top it off, you get paid during the summer for not working at all! Amazing!”
I’ve endured this good-natured ribbing for many years –from high school and college friends, from the guy who services my car, and the cashier at the grocery store. From the family doctor and from the men who delivered my washing machine. From the tree trimmer, the convenience store clerk, and the attorney. Seems like everybody has an opinion about teacher work schedules and teacher pay. Typically, that opinion is “you’ve got it easy.”
I’m not sure why they feel a need to express this. I mean, one of my friends is a truck driver, and I’ve never said to him, “Man, you get to sit all day long.” I don’t cajole my friend the accountant, who gets to work in his office all day and solve problems uninterrupted. Another friend is an attorney, and I don’t bring to his attention the fact that he can wear a nice suit every day without worrying about snagging his jacket on a 30-year old desk, or having a kindergartener sneeze on his trousers.
I guess I’d have to ask them to know for sure, but I don’t and I won’t. Whatever the reason, they feel a need to point-out the benefits of my chosen career, based on the unlikely assumption that I don’t realize that I made a great career choice over 30 years ago.
And what’s the teacher’s natural reaction to the accusation of a great schedule and undeserved pay? We get defensive. I’ll admit, that was my reaction several years ago. But lately I’ve taken a new approach, and in this TeacherScope blog post I’ll share my response with you.
First, I’ll respond to the claim that teachers get paid during the summer for not working. This statement is particularly irksome because it implies that somehow I’m scamming all taxpayers by collecting a salary for work I never performed.
Of course, teachers know this isn’t true, but based on conversations I’ve had with reasonably intelligent people, I’m not sure the public gets it. So – here’s what I tell them…
Teachers sign a one-year contract. The school district agrees to pay each teacher a certain amount of money – based on college degree and years of experience – to complete a task. That task is teaching school for a certain number of days, with the schedule prescribed by the district.
The general public needs to understand that teachers get paid on a yearly basis – not by the hour, by the day, by the week or by the month. Then why do we collect money during the summer months when school is not in session? Simple. We agree to take that yearly salary in 12 monthly payments.
When I explain the concept of teacher pay to people, I use an analogy that most people can relate to: sports. A professional baseball player is a good example. Each player on the baseball team signs a contract to play that year. The season includes games (school days) and practices (teacher workdays, workshops, etc.) For the baseball player, the first practice of the season is in February, and the last game is in October. Baseball players get November, December, and January off. During that time they rest, spend time with their families, work on their skills and prepare for next season. If the team wants them to play next season, they offer a new contract. If not, the player needs to find a new team that can use his skills. And at that point, I lighten the mood by reminding my friend that we don’t quite make a professional athlete’s salary, but I remain hopeful!
I also share that good teachers are continuously building their content knowledge and improving their teaching skills. Those tasks usually take place during the summer, off the clock. I also gently remind them that I don’t set the work schedule – the school district does. So I really don’t have any control over the number of days I work each year.
Which brings us to the next point: a teacher’s schedule.
And the schedule is marvelous! It’s time for us teachers to stop apologizing for one of the most attractive aspects of our jobs.
Sure, I work on my lesson plans on the weekends. But it’s nothing like the plumber, the doctor, and the electric company lineman who are on-call for emergencies. I’ve never received a phone call from my principal at night because a student needed an emergency proofread of an essay. And I’ve never taught on the graveyard shift. We’ve never had school on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day.
Sure, I take classes and workshops over the summer. Sometimes. But it’s not like I’m standing on my feet for 8 hours running a cash register at Wal-mart. And if I take enough college classes I get a new degree – and a pay raise.
Yes, we work a lot at school after hours. Often that work is optional work with supplemental pay. Yes, teachers across the country stay after school – for no additional pay – to help their students. But in 34 years I’ve never had my principal come into my classroom and tell me I had to work a double shift because another teacher was sick.
I need to accept the fact: compared to many jobs, my teaching job has a great schedule. I’m not going to make excuses for it, or explain it away. A teacher’s schedule is sweet. Oh, it’s work alright – sometimes exhausting and often challenging. But the schedule is predictable.
When discussing our schedules with our friends and acquaintances, we should certainly mention the flip-side of that predictable schedule – its rigidity. In other words, we have very little flexibility within that schedule.
If we have to be absent for any reason – say it with me friends – they have school anyway! I have to find a sub and create assignments that will keep the children busy when I’m not there. And any teacher can tell you that constructing good sub plans is one of the most difficult teacher tasks.
Can we arrive at work an hour late to take our child to an orthodontist appointment? Can we extend our lunch an extra hour to take care of business at the bank? Can we leave work early to spend time with a family member from out of town? Nope, nope, and nope. (Yes, we have a couple of “personal” days – but see the above paragraph about sub plans!)
During the summer we take our vacations, we catch-up on home repair and maintenance, and we schedule those doctor and dentists appointments we’ve delayed for several months. We pursue our hobbies, work on our side-jobs, and catch-up on our professional reading. We spend quality-time and quantity-time with our families because, quite frankly, during the past ten months we’ve spent more time with your kids than our own.
And most importantly, we rest. We rejuvenate. We reflect on the successes and difficulties of the previous year, and begin thinking about next year – the best school year ever! That’s what our students deserve. Smart parents want their child to have a healthy, well-rested teacher as the marathon school year begins.
As I write this blog post, we’re about two weeks from the start of a new school year – my 35th as a teacher. And I’m sure I’ll hear the half-joking comments about how lucky I was to have the whole summer off while still drawing a paycheck – just as I have since I began this journey as a 22-year old university graduate. I’ve had years to perfect my friendly responses, and perhaps I’ve given you some new ideas for those conversations. But remember, never apologize for your good fortune.
We’ve got the best job in the world!
Keith Kyker (M.Ed)
is a career educator with 35 years of teaching experience. He has worked with every age group from Pre-K to college. Keith's experience includes stints at suburban mega-high schools, neighborhood elementary and middle schools, and a tiny K-12 school in a Yupik village on the Bering Sea.
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Important note: the ideas and opinions expressed on this blog are the those of the author, Keith Kyker, and in no way reflect the opinions, policies, or practices of any of Keith's current or former employing school districts.
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