That has to be the most frequent statement told to teachers when John Q. Public wants to know why they pay so much if teachers their have summers off. Believe me, no teacher worth their pay spends the summer goofing around! If you pressed further, the person telling you this most likely thinks that teachers have weekends off, and only work a quarter of a day, too.
First of all, a teacher’s work does not only happen during the six or seven hours you are standing in front of a classroom. Teachers who are lucky enough to have a preparation period every day have this time to mark papers, run off lesson activities and assessments, research activities, plan lesson specifics, consult with the counselor or a colleague, meet with a parent, make phone calls to parents, and do something as mundane as use the rest room. Teachers do not get a break to use the restroom during class time. Lunch and prep times are the only periods available. Since there is no way a teacher can get all of the fore-mentioned things finished in one 30-45 minute time frame, she must take home the paperwork that has not been completed.
Most states have continuing education requirements wherein every teacher has to spend a certain amount of hours in undergraduate or masters level classes or seminars designed to improve their teaching. Many teachers elect to take one college course per year during the summer so they can spend the time learning the information. Courses taken during the school year always seem to have real life intrude upon them and you can never give them the attention they deserve. So summertime is the best time to take the required continuing education courses. Any new programs initiated by the school district regarding curricula have to be introduced to the teachers so they can implement the new ideas well. Most of the time these programs are rolled out in a week’s worth of classes during the summer.
As the doors to the school are closing in June, most teachers are reflecting on the triumphs and tribulations of the past year. Depending on how tumultuous a year it was, it could take up to three weeks to wrap up the year in your mind so you can get on with some relaxation during your vacation. Teachers just can’t turn off their minds and go into rest and relax mode. Some of those beginning weeks of vacation are also spent decorating your class for next year or taking down from the end just ending. Many schools require that everything be taken down from bulletin boards and walls, and all bookshelves be cleared before you are relieved of your school responsibilities. For obvious reasons, bookshelves cannot be cleared while school is in session. Therefore, these things are done after the children’s voices fade away on the last day of school.
Vacation is usually ten weeks long. Two weeks on either end to clear your class and then put it back again, leaves you with eight weeks left to relax. Eight weeks is a little more than the time it takes to complete a summer course. If you do take a class, then you end up with only two weeks vacation, technically. If you do not take a class, school is still never far from your mind. A teacher’s mind is rarely “off.” Even when a teacher is on vacation, he keeps a lookout for books, equipment and activities that he can share with his class. He is always evaluating how a summer experience can be used to help his students acquire background knowledge for reading and social studies. Teachers in high poverty schools are claiming all the back-to-school bargains they can so their students can begin the year well equipped. Teachers spend hundreds of dollars on supplies that the school does not provide in order to be able to provide the best instruction for their pupils who might not be able to buy those little extras such as notebooks, paper, pencils and crayons. Some teachers may stock up on bookbags for a needy student or two.
One summer, my colleague and I had to roll out the new Math curriculum we had helped to write. We worked 6 hours a day in addition to our classroom duties from January to July 1st. Then we spent two weeks teaching professional development for the Math series we were introducing. After that, we spent three weeks rolling out the new curriculum to the teachers in our region. This brought us into the second week of August. Each of us took two weeks off and then went back into the school to ready our classrooms for the new school year. That school year ended up being the hardest year to teach because we had not gotten enough rest and relaxation over the summer. We were both pretty burnt out by the time the following June rolled around. It truly was not worth being busy all summer, as we couldn’t give our best to the students that year.
Do you still think teachers have too much vacation? Let us examine the hours teachers put in versus the worker who has a forty-hour workweek, with two weeks vacation. That worker works approximately 2,000 hours a year, 40 hours x 50 working weeks. A teacher performs teaching activities about 6 hours a day, including his 30-45 minute preparation period where he prepares materials to teach various subjects, communicates with parents and staff about students, grades tests and writing. That makes 30 hours a week performing teaching duties x 40 weeks of school = 1200.
The preparation period is not sufficient to perform all the necessary tasks in a teacher’s day. So he takes paperwork home to work on. It is not enough just to grade a test and slap a mark on it. These days, teachers are expected to comment on both what the student did well and what they need to work on. Twenty-five tests can take 10 minutes apiece to grade = 4+ hours at home. Tests are not graded every night, but two or three nights a week (12 hours total) would be common for an elementary school teacher who has to teach all subjects. If you are grading a writing assignment you should figure on 20-30 minutes on each essay. Reading through them all once, separating into piles to compare easily, using the rubric as you read again to more closely examine the writing quality, making notes on the sides about content, style, grammatical and spelling conventions and so on. Thirty minutes x 25 papers= 11 hours. So far that makes 23 additional hours per week performing grading tasks x 40 weeks of school = 920 hours + 1200 in-class hours = 2120 hours already in only 40 weeks!
Then there is the matter of researching activities, standards and lesson planning on the weekends, which, if you are doing it right, takes a good six hours a week minimum. That makes 6 x 40 weeks = 240 hours + 2120 hours of teaching activities = 2360 hours, at 40 hours weekly yields 59 work weeks in a year. Here are only 52 weeks in a year! Even though we are not physically in school, we are working as though we have no vacation time and there is plenty of overtime, which we do not get paid for.
The next time you hear someone chide a teacher for only working 40 weeks a year, please help them understand why we need all the time we get.