On my whiteboard in my classroom, there was a countdown until the end of the school year. I would joke with my students every day that teachers look forward to summer vacation as much as students do. Of course, I didn’t go into the fact that this is not necessarily because we’re looking forward to kicking back with a good book by the pool, but because summers off afford us more time to work our second, and sometimes third, jobs that we’ve been struggling to keep during the school year.
When the recession started, teaching was seen as a relatively stable job. That’s because it takes time for the economy to trickle down into schools — years, at least. It also means that schools are years behind any improvement in the economy, as well. Furthermore, once the financial strain hits school districts and contract negotiations start, these contracts are generally signed for three- or four-year periods during which time salary and benefits are not negotiable, even if the financial situation of the district improves.
The problem with teacher pay goes back well before that, though, according to the recent documentary “American Teacher.” In the mid-19th Century, there was a huge push to get women into the teaching field. Essentially, this was to save money, because at the time, women could be paid less. To this day, teaching is seen as “women’s work,” and, therefore, as second income for a family already making a decent living.
The truth of the matter is that many people choose teaching as a career because it is a wonderful one. You get to make a real and tangible difference in the lives of young people while making money and earning benefits. However, teachers’ salaries don’t always add up to what it takes to make ends meet in today’s society, and many teachers are either forced into second or third jobs, or decide to leave the profession entirely in favor of making more money.
Although I’ve tried to take summers off, I have never had a summer during which I was not doing some kind of work for extra money. When I first started teaching, I had moved away from my family and was living completely on my own. While I could make ends meet during the school year, I wasn’t saving anything at all, so if I had lost my job, I would have been in serious financial trouble. During those summers, since my school didn’t offer summer school, I decided to pack up my stuff and move back in with my mom so I could teach summer school closer to home. Since I moved back to the area for good, I have held many summer school jobs and, more recently, I’ve started writing during the summer to make extra money. My husband and mother are teachers, too, and both have also taken extra jobs every summer.
It’s not that we can’t make ends meet with our salary. We all teach in an area of the country where we are well compensated for our time. However, when there are always extra things that come up that cost us, if we don’t have those extra jobs, we cannot afford the extras. Furthermore, when you are as active as we are during the school year, it is a bit of a shock to your system to go from being so busy to having nothing at all to do. Part of the reason I take summer jobs is to keep myself occupied and keep my brain working during the summer.
Many people argue that teacher pay is so low because we only work nine months out of the year. This may be true, but, according to “American Teacher” and my personal experience, teachers do not work 40-hour work weeks. We’re in school that long, and then we bring home papers to grade and we plan lessons outside of that work week, making our work weeks easily 60-80 hours long. Since we’re not paid hourly, we make what we make no matter how much work we do outside of school. Also, there are plenty of teachers who would love year-round schooling — myself included — but it would cost already cash-strapped districts too much money to support being in school for the entire year.
The bottom line is that teaching is a profession and a career choice for many people, and there is nothing more important than teaching the youth of our country. It is sad that so many teachers have to take on extra work to make ends meet, and sad that, as a country, we cannot monetarily show teachers how important their work is.
Photo Credit: Ben+Sam