The myth of summers off: why teachers never stop thinking about their students

13th July 2016 at 17:06
summer vacation, teachers, students
The summer vacation might be long, but is always busy with preparations for the new school year

Summertime for teachers is not as relaxed and worry-free as our non-teaching friends and family tend to think. Sure, we’re not at school, but it is not all vacation time. The school year might have only just finished, but teachers spend a significant amount of their time ‘off’ getting ready for the next one.

The majority of teachers provide at least some of their classroom supplies and resources at their own expense. Countless websites and social media pages highlight teachers’ amazing and economical creations that not only beautify their classrooms but engage their students academically.

This makes me think of one of the middle schools teachers I met while working on a project last year. She and her husband each take one of their own two young children to multiple office supply and drug stores to get the “best deals” as the summer winds down. 

This teacher spends the rest of her week prior to school sorting the materials and preparing the workstations in her classroom. There are few professions where people expend this amount of time, energy and money outside work to help them do their jobs better.

A significant number of teachers work a second job during the school year and many – some suggest more than half – of teachers will hold a second job during this summer as well, mostly for economic reasons. During the school year, their week far exceeds a standard 40-hour work week, yet teachers’ wages remain stagnant although many hold advanced degrees and pursue additional training.

As well as being busy, teachers are also concerned about summer learning loss amongst their students. Many teachers will spend the first month of school re-teaching knowledge and skills lost over the summer.

The majority also worry about their students’ well-being during the summer months when meals may not be readily available. Significant numbers report that students regularly come to school hungry. Not surprisingly, teachers are some of the strongest child anti-hunger advocates although their job descriptions do not include this responsibility.

While workers in many other professions wish for higher wages and better work-life balance, the unique work and schedules of teachers leave them playing “catchup” during their summers. Many squeeze in errands and housework not possible during the school year.

Summers are not spent just clearing out garages and closets, however. During the school year, a typical teacher engages in significant professional development, which is generally required and paid for by the school or school system. Many teachers will engage in additional self-selected, non-required professional learning and courses, and much of this non-required learning will take place during the summer.

The majority of this independent professional development is not paid for by schools or districts. Teachers often foot the bill to become better teachers. They often pay for their own re-certification or licensing renewal depending upon where they teach. Most other professions which require certification and licensing pay higher salaries.

While other professions may demand their workers spend unpaid time working, teachers are more likely than other professionals to do some of their work at home and more are likely to work on Sundays than other professionals. While many of us are enjoying uninterrupted vacation days and long weekends this August, lots of teachers will still spend their Sundays putting their lessons and classrooms together for the new school year.

I frequently hear stories of teachers who volunteer—sometimes with organizations, sometimes individually-- to keep books, food, physical fitness, creativity, and hope flowing in their students’ communities over the summer. 

Important and inspiring interactions take place in our nation’s classrooms. They do not happen without the commitment and hard work of our teachers—whether on duty or during unpaid time. Learning is a 24-hour, seven day a week endeavor. There are truly no summers off.

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