If one more person says it, I’ll scream

Originally this blog was going to be about adjusting to real life again and not being a stay at home mom. As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been taking a class in order to renew my license and have had to leave my son with various babysitters all week, which while good practice for the fall, has made me a bit of a nervous wreck. However, I got a comment on yesterday’s blog and rather than comment back, since I think my comments would be longer than many of my posts, I thought I’d address some of the issues it brings up. This entry is not meant to be a rebuttal to my good friend, who I know did not mean any of her comments as a criticism of me, but rather to clear up some general misconceptions many non-teachers I know seem to have about the profession I’ve chosen.

 For years I have been fighting with friends about my job. Anytime I complain about my job and how stressed out I get, someone inevitably tells me that I don’t get to complain because I get my summers off. This is probably the one comment that pisses me off the most. Yes, I get about 9 1/2 weeks of “vacation” each summer. I’m sure for many people who have been working in an office job for nine years (this will be my tenth year teaching), it really seems unequal when compared to their 3-4 weeks of vacation. However, unlike my friends who have office jobs, I have never put in a 40 hour work week. An easy work week for me, is a minimum of 50 hours, 40 of which are spent at school, the other 10 are spent at home grading. With extra-curriculars and all my grading, my normal work week adds up to closer to 60 hours a week. When I used to do drama, it was not uncommon to average 70 hours a week during a play. So while many of my friends are working about 1880 hours each year*, on average, even with my nearly 10 weeks of summer vacation, I put in about 2200*, which is 8.5 weeks more work every year.

In addition to never working a 40 hour week, I can probably count the number of times I have worked a 5 day week on one hand. During the school year, my work week almost always includes both Saturday and Sunday, often times five to six hours of straight work on one or both days.

As an added bonus, when I my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family, I had to save all of my sick days to cover my maternity leave. Teachers do not get any sort of paid maternity leave. If we want to take the time off, we have to use our sick days or go unpaid. In the past two years, I have taken exactly 1/2 a sick day and this was actually for an OB appointment that required me to be at the doctor’s office for two hours and have blood work done. I had to take a half day. With all of that, I got six weeks paid maternity leave. My sister-in-law, who has been at her job for less than a year and a half, gets 8 weeks paid maternity leave. My sister, who had been at her company for 7 months, got four weeks paid. Plus, when she was put on bed rest for the month before her son was born, her short term disability kicked in and she was paid the entire time. If that had happened to me, it would have come out of my sick time and I would have gotten only two weeks paid maternity leave. Neither of these two ladies had to spend one of their sick days.

Which, all brings me to my summer “vacation.” By the time I actually get it, I have worked the equivalent of eight and a half weeks more than most of my non-teacher friends. Until last summer, my summers were always spent teaching summer school. Which meant that I actually only got six weeks of “vacation.” One summer because I had to take a class for re-certification, I taught one session of summer school from 8-noon, the second session from 12:30-3:30 and then had class from 4-6:30 pm. I did this every day for a month. On top of the actual hours I put in, I had homework to do for my class and to grade for my students. But, I did get that six week “vacation” afterwards. Last year I didn’t get teach because for the first time in nine years I had a real vacation planned. This year I didn’t teach because I have a new baby. I don’t know what future summers will bring.

I’m probably a little selfish for wanting my summers to actually be a break from the educational world, but I do. I keep up with the world of literature by reading constantly. Despite my teaching load, I usually manage to get at least a good 30-40 books read each year, most in the summer. I am in no ways shirking my responsibility to provide my students with a quality education. Each year I attend lectures and workshops in order to update my teaching methods and improve my management skills. I present at conferences. I am a life-long learner and love to learn new things. What I have a problem with, however, is having to take a required number of classes in a restricted amount of time in order to keep my job. Not because I’m lazy, or don’t want to learn, but because I am already intrinsically motivated to learn and generally learn way more outside these required classes than I ever do inside them. Then again, I may be the exception to the rule. I know within my department I am the norm, but I’m sure a great many teachers in the world haven’t picked up a book just to learn something new for themselves since their last required class.

This entry is already long and probably more than a little ranty, so I won’t even delve into what I should/shouldn’t be teaching kids or their need to understand literary analysis as high school sophomores. I’ll save that for another blog. Right now I have two sets of lesson plans to completely revamp (for classes I’ve already taught, because I’m always improving them) and I have to work on my AP syllabus for approval from the College Board. Even on my summer “vacation,” work prevails.

*This figure takes into account 3 weeks vacation and holidays. The figure I came up with for the hours I work is 38 weeks–the averaging teaching year–at a little less than 60 hours a week. My figure may actually be a little lower or a little higher depending on the year.

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13 Comments

Filed under life as a teacher, motherhood, my friends, pet peeves, ramblings, what makes me me

13 responses to “If one more person says it, I’ll scream

  1. agracefuldisaster

    You are seriously, SERIOUSLY underpaid.

  2. Hey, Shannon!
    I can empathize. When I worked in social services and lived with Julie, my main client, a lot of people would comment on how “great” it was that my job was so “easy” and I could do laundry and go grocery shopping for myself while I was on the clock. I’ll save the details for my own journal entry some other time, but suffice to say, nothing was “easy” about working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including all holidays if her mom couldn’t or wouldn’t take her, only 55.5 hours per week of which were paid. There were zero paid vacation or sick days, the company stopped reimbursing me for mileage, I got no health insurance, and was told if I wanted to take a vacation, I could just bring Julie along. Not to mention the screaming, hair pulling, crying, head banging, seizures, kicking, punching and biting during the first few years I was with her.

  3. beetqueen

    Yeah Courtney, you totally win. I have absolute respect for someone who can do a job like yours. The trade off of getting to do some grocery shopping while working hardly outweighs the fact that you are at the absolute mercy of someone who is not stable or in control of themselves. Nor does it make up for the lack of a social life.

    I think that’s one of the things that pisses me off so much, I want my vacation to actually be that. I want to make up for all the times during the year I had to turn down friends or ignore my husband so I could get work done to spend it with everyone I love and miss during the school year. Society has very unrealistic expectations for many public servants (esp. teachers) that they would never inflict on themselves. And if anyone else tried to, they would throw HUGE fits.

  4. As one of the people who has complained about your complaining, allow me to respond:
    1) Many people, including me my first three years in the office, do not work 40 hours. I too worked between 50 and 60 hours weeks. Not only by first year when I helped the Indy buildout but also when I lived in New York for six months and worked from 8AM until 8PM nearly every day, without a lunch. During which time I not only had to manage a staff and do paperwork, but also, build shelving, unpack crates, and clean up after our contractors were gone.
    2) And I, like most entry-level personnel got 2, not 3 or 4 weeks of vacation a year.
    3) Furthermore, after all was said and one, I got the immense satisfaction of knowing that my company had built one more office wherein they would continue the work they had done in the old office, albeit more comfortably, while you get the satisfaction of knowing you were teaching kids. It is hard to deny that you chose a noble profession.
    4) Which brings me to my next point: you chose the profession, knowing full well that you would have annoying kids who wrote lousy papers that you would have to grade after you left after the final bell each day. You also knew that you would have to take continuing education courses.
    It’s not that it isn’t hard, it’s that you chose the life and I wonder why you even _want_ to complain to people about it. It just seems strange. I like the phrase “quiet dignity.”
    5) And, as far as _why_ it’s required: you know that I like you and I know that you like to read and learn and discuss things. You may or not may be the norm. All I know is that if one teacher fails to learn knew things about the world around them they potentially harm hundreds…if not thousands…of students during their tenure.
    6) And furthermore, let’s be even more bitterly honest about it. K-12 teachers simply aren’t experts in their field once they get that BA.They are educated teachers, but not necessarily teachers of _enlgish_ or _history_ etc. I wasn’t an expert in literature after my BA and I took almost double the number of credits required for a BA in English which means a substantial number more than what is considered acceptable for an accredited English teacher. Many teachers make it to the classroom with just a few classes more knowledge than the students they’re teaching. Some of those classes are in the methodology of their subject and not even really in the subject themselves.
    7) Psychologists, therapists, counselors, nurses, doctors, lawyers, pretty much every “profession” in the world has to take CE courses. Maybe all of them are complaining about it too. But as a person that is or might be invested in those professionals’ abilities, I’m happy for it.

  5. Eee

    Promise me you will never write another blog with so many ironic quote marks again.

  6. beetqueen

    1) Many people may work more than their 40 hours, but after 9 years, I’m still doing it. Whereas after working with you, eee, Kit, Jen and Richard at Wiley I saw again and again how you left after your 40 (or in some cases 35 or 37.5) hours every week. In fact, I watched multiple people at that company come in at 8:29 and turn their computers off at 4:29. The stairs and parking lot were a madhouse by 4:32. When you were setting up your mailroom, I know it took a lot of extra time but when you did get to eat (and drink), it was on the companie’s dime. Including paying for friend’s meals when they came to visit.

    2) I, am not in an entry level position–I’ve been doing this for nine years now (this is my 10th). I was comparing my current job with someone who’d been working as long. I know Wiley, for instance gives three weeks before you hit nine years.

    3) I’ve never said my job isn’t satisfying…it is at times, but it usually takes an awful lot of frustration for those satisfying moments. You complained a lot when settting up that mailroom, even though it satisfied you in the end.

    4) Already mentioned in my blog that I chose it and knew I chose it.

    5) Keeping up is important and most teachers I know do this because they enjoy their subjects. Then again, I’m not friends with everyone at my school, just people I have things in common with.

    6) As for the experts issue, you are right, we aren’t experts. People with PhD’s aren’t always experts in their entire field. My father-in-law, who is a well-respected doctor can’t answer many medical questions outside his field of medicine. He can give you guesses and ideas, but not any sort of definite. It is absolutely ludicrous to believe that teachers come with just a few more classes than their students in any given subject. Even my minor required 15 classes, which is not comparable to the education my students have at 16. As for those methods classes, they not only teach people how to teach, but more specifically how to teach their subject, so they cover the subject material as well. That’s not to say that many education classes didn’t feel redundant to me, but all of my journalism and English methods classes were very valuable.

    7) I know other professions have to continue their education in some way, but it’s very different in many cases than what is expected for a teacher. And let’s face it, almost all of the professions you listed also make a heck of a lot more money than teachers. Not to mention that their required CE often is paid for by their companies (or at least reimbursed like Wiley) or is done through lectures and workshops that are sometimes paid for all or in part by people wanting them to buy the latest technology or product.

    In the end, I realize I chose teaching, but like all the rest of my friends, I complain about it at times and to have my complaints dismissed (as they often were/are) simply because I get my summers off, as if that should somehow make up for everything else, is ridiculous. Not to mention that I get so sick and tired of people who have not been in a classroom since they were students themselves think they know my job and how easy it must be. And, they feel it is not only ok, but almost required to tell me how to do my job better or to insult me by telling me how easy my job is. I seriously doubt most of those people would say the same to their doctors or lawyers.

  7. Your father-in-law the doctor had (has) to take CE classes too.

    I’ve not said that you shouldn’t be complaining about your job _because_ you get summers off. I say you shouldn’t complain about your job so much because it’s not who you are. You love your job. You love your students. You love making a positive difference. You even worked in the same office as me once and I asked you after you returned to teaching if teaching was better. You said “yes.”

    Whether you feel that your summers off is one of the reasons it’s better is rather beside the point.

    Also, 3 months in a row off is better than two weeks spread over 12 months off. People take long weekends as a general rule, not lazy Wednesdays for the same reason.

    Also 15 hours = five classes. I stand by my “few more classes” comment. And furthermore I stand by my point which is that teachers _should_ be taking CE classes, just like any other profession who theory and practice changes over time or who just might need to know more stuff.

  8. beetqueen

    Not 15 hours…15 classes, that’s 45 hours and a big difference. Not to mention that those are 15 college classes, plus 13 years of K-12 education, as opposed to the 10 years of K-9 education my high school students come to me with. There is a huge academic difference, especially considering that is my minor, not my major. That also doesn’t take into account all the general studies and education classes which taught me a great deal about writing for different subject areas, reading a variety of material, analysis, etc. A college education, even a BA puts any teacher miles ahead of about 99% of their students.

    I agree that 2 1/2 months off in a row (we get out the last day of May and start August 13th), is better than the 2-3 weeks off over the course of the year. However, as I’ve already pointed out, I have to work on my break. I’m not talking about taking classes. Usually people aren’t expected to work on their vacations. I have already had to go to school twice (and will have to go in more and more as the summer progresses), have put in hours on my lesson plans and syllabi and this month have to get started on our August edition of the school newspaper as well as train the new editors how to use the programs.

    I’m just saying it’s not the vacation many people make it out to be. I do love my job, it is true, but I also get sick of people treating the fact that I have more time than they do in the summer as a means to degrade what I do. Many people do just that.

  9. I didn’t say that your entire college education didn’t make you more educated than your students. (Your experience after the fact is specific to your situation and not really a part of the more general discussion). I said that teachers can teach a subject in which they only have a few more classes than their students (Again, if you took more than the state requires that is specific to you and not really pertinent to this conversation).

    And I would re-check your numbers…your specialization in English may have taken you 45 hours, but a _minor_ did not. I went to the same university as you during the same years and a minor at Ball State typically demanded 15 or 18 hours of classes. I happen to have 3 such minors, one of which is in the English Department. Most majors were between 48 and 60. I happen to have one of those too…in English. And I still say, even with those credentials I should be forced to take CE classes, in English, if I were teaching English.

    Taking classes doesn’t just teach us new materials (or refresh old material) it also helps keep the material pertinent. I happen to be working with some high school teachers right now at my current job and the first thing we did (they teach history) was allow them to sit in on a lecture from a college professor on the subject they will be working on. The idea being, and they agreed, they hadn’t been to a college classroom for some time and it was helpful for them to see and hear how that subject was taught at the college level _today_ so they could better prepare their students for their own higher education.

    So you may not like CE classes and _you_ may not need them. But you knew you’d have to take them when you chose your profession. They are necessary because of the importance of your job. And, while it may suck that a government official is telling you to take CE classes, they do provide a lot of leeway in providing you your choice of class. It could be government-run classes in government run classrooms. Lest I forget to mention, you are a government employee, a burden you may not have been aware the full ramifications of…I grant you that….

    And I also will say that the fact that you are required to pay for the classes you are required to take totally blows. But, at least you get to choose what you will take…at least to some degree. Therapists have to take therapists-centered classes…and they all suck.

    I’m not saying that you don’t have some valid points in there. It’s just…It’s sort of like complaining about the snow when you live in Alaska. You knew there would be bad winters when you bought the house in Nome…if you want the sun go find it. You’re in your chosen field because you …er….chose it….if you don’t like it…get out. But, of course, it isn’t about that. As I said earlier today, you love teaching. But you also love complaining and sometimes this secondary love leads you to complain about stuff that just doesn’t resonate true. I’m just trying to whittle the conversation down to the parts that actually matter, the parts that actually deserve your scorn.

    The fact that the government can’t take the time to review every teacher’s CV and make individual determinations on whether or not they’re keeping up hardly seems to qualify.

    The fact that most professions (which I separate from “careers” by the use of a professional school) have to take CE courses and that teaching isn’t an exception doesn’t seem to qualify.

    The fact that you, like millions of others, work long hours on top of your family life hardly seems to qualify.

    The fact that you have to pay for your required classes does and the fact that you get almost no respect for your job (in terms of pay or respect from parents) does. So, if it makes any difference, I respect you and your job.

    I’ve been very long-winded on your blog today…er…blame my current job.

  10. Susie

    Tammy the Teacher may choose to teach just like Sally the Shoemaker chooses to make shoes. They both chose their jobs and may like them for various reasons and may not like them for various other reasons. A friend should sympathize and support their frusterated worker friend to help them feel a little better (at least let them vent a little after a tough day). However, if Tammy had a rough day of working 13+ hours and having all kinds of pains throughout the day Sally is likely to dismiss Tammys comments, as if they aren’t real. Why??? Because so many friends of teachers are envious of their jobs. If they think teaching is so “easy” then they should have decided to do it. For the education required to do the job, in NYS at least a Masters, Teachers get paid far below what they should. Throughout the school year Teachers have tons of pressure on them from administration to raise scores, to parents complaining about their students grades, to students who have varying needs in the same class, etc. Every day of every week is different for a Teacher and they must do a lot of planning for this especially when some Teachers teach 6 different classes in one day. Some Teachers have 300+ students to grade work for. When Teachers are sick they even have to have had plans made out-they can’t just “call in”. Often since the Teacher cares so much about their job they even worry while home sick about whether their plans are executed properly by the sub. Teachers only have a given number of days to get students to learn the material.
    Teachers still get satisfaction out of their jobs because they like helping others learn. They take pride in their students (most of the time). It is possible that a Teacher would definately like their job better than other jobs (they found a good fit). Just like its highly possible someone in the business world would like their job much better than being a Teacher. Comparative to other countries who hold high respect for Teachers, the US is very degrading to Teachers (not just looking at the students, but also the parents, and even, the Teachers own friends). No wonder Teachers get “burnt out” so easily here.

  11. a fellow teacher

    As a fellow English teacher, I’d like to thank you for your post. I didn’t in any way see it as complaining about our profession but as a healthy venting of the frustration that arises each time society seems to devalue teachers. No one questions the amount of time and work financial analysts and stock brokers put into their jobs. Many people claim teachers have a noble profession, yet write us off with glib comments about vacation time. I don’t think anyone can truly understand the demands of a job without having that job, so I’d simply like to see fewer assumptions and more support for this “noble profession” of which we are a part.

    I was particularly struck by the comment that teachers know what they’re getting into and how that was equated to complaining about the snow when you live in Alaska. I agree that at any time I am free to seek another job. On the flip side, anyone infatuated with the idea of summers off can also become a teacher. (Many of my colleagues were formally part of the business world and quite openly acknowledge that they find teaching more demanding in many ways.) However, if teachers stop voicing their concerns and calling for change, we won’t make any progress as a society. I chose to be a teacher, and I love what I do. It challenges and frustrates and enriches my life in ways I don’t believe another job could for me. It is because I am so passionately committed to children and to education that I will keep voicing my concerns about education and the ways our society views the teaching profession. I believe “quiet dignity” can easily be confused with martyrdom and will certainly not fuel reform.

  12. beetqueen

    The problem is that too many people get out of the teaching profession because it is such hard work. A little extra vacation time is often not worth the amount of work we have to put in during the year. Above and beyond my teaching job my kids expect me to come to their games, plays and concerts, and I do want to go because I care. I have to attend school board meetings because I want to see improvements in my work environment. I have to attend teacher’s meetings both for the school and within my department. Right now I am working with another teacher to completely revamp our curriculum and course offerings. This is a HUGE undertaking for which I’m getting paid not one extra cent. Why am I doing it? Because I want my students to have the benefit of choice in their education. I want to prepare them for college. And, I’ll be honest, I want to teach material I am passionate about with the hope that my passion will rub off on them. Even if it’s not for literature, they’ll see it is possible to love your job and want to give it your all.

    These are the reasons it truly angers me when people dismiss my efforts simply because I get the summers off.

  13. Susie and fellow teacher…in your haste to respond to my arguments you failed to read them so I will repeat them for you below.

    Like it or not, summers off is awesome. Just fess up about that. It’s a lot easier than denying the obvious. Is it so awesome that erases away all the other stresses and heartaches of teaching. Probably not. That’s for you to decide on your own. I guarantee you that when and if you get to that point in your life where you’re considering changing careers and you sit down to write that list of pros and cons “summers off ” winds up in the pros column.

    But my argument had very little to do with that. It was focused on beetqueen’s larger argument and that was on whether or not she should have to take Continuing Education courses. She should. So should every other teacher. I would tell you I’m sorry, but I’m not. Your job is too important to leave to chance. I went to college too and I met your co-graduates. Many of them, despite their Intro to Composition class are graduating with mediocre writing abilities. I hesitate to think what they know about the subjects they are teaching. BQ is right, many teachers are incredibly smart. I would like to think that the is structured in such a way that the really lazy ones are flushed out. But you know as well as I do that many school suffer from teacher shortages not surpluses. That means the system starts to pay for lower quality. CE courses are not the perfect solution to the problem of undereducated or lazy teachers, but it’s something. Every other profession has to do it and I see no strong argument that teachers should be different.

    Susie, here in the midwest we don’t require a masters to be able to teach k-12. As a matter of fact the way our standards are written a teacher can get qualified to teach a subject in which he or she has less college credits than his or her undereducated peers with majors in that subject.

    Again, it sucks that BQ has to pay for her own CE courses. I definitely think the govt should be handling that. Or at the very least they should adequately compensate for the inevitable masters that most career teachers will earn.

    Just because somebody doesn’t agree with part of an argument doesn’t mean they disagree with all of it. Are teachers underrespected and underpaid? Yes. Is there job hard, possibly–maybe likely leading to early burnout? Yeah. I never disagreed with those things.

    What I do disagree with is teaching is harder than other professional jobs. Teachers can say that those of us not in the profession can’t understand what they go through, an argument to which I reply, you don’t really know what it’s like to be a financial advisor, doctor, counselor, or whatever else.

    Or…if you do…you’ve somehow managed to find your ways into teaching…either because it’s easier or more rewarding than whatever you were doing before. I happen to know BQ worked temporarily in a cubicle farm and she hated and said more than once that she would rather be teaching…and she is. Which is exactly what I’m talking about. Teaching is hard…but she loves it.

    Teachers are real sensitive to the “summers off” comments. I suspect that has more to do with how often that phrase comes out of the mouths of their non-teaching friends. But every person that utters it isn’t disrespecting you by doing it. I use to work in a mailroom; I got a lot of “stamp licking” comments. That’s disrespectful.

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