When most people who first meet me find out I’m a teacher, they make a few assumptions about what my life must be like. One of the biggest assumptions people make, and probably the one that angers me the most, is that my job is pretty easy thanks to all the vacation time I get. I cannot even count the number of people who have dismissed my job as far easier than theirs simply because of all my “vacation time.” Heck, even some of my best friends used to make comments about it.
What most people don’t understand about teaching is that while we may technically get more days when we don’t have to go in to work, it is very much balanced out by all the hours we put in for our jobs on our own “free time.”
My fall break is a perfect example. While it is true that I just finished up 10 days where I did not have to drive into school and actively teach students, I spent 7 of those 10 days grading, answering student (and parent) questions via email, responding to a plethora of emails from administrators, guidance counselors and other teachers about things that will need to be done in the next grading period and planning materials to teach in the next grading period. While I did not spend a complete 8 hours each day on these activities, I averaged at least 3 hours of my “vacation time” each day on these activities.
I know that probably still seems like a pretty good deal, right? Only working 3 hours each day and from the comfort of my own home (or, as it turns out from my best friend’s house while on vacation with my kids) doesn’t seem like anything to complain about, right? Of course those 21 hours of work are in addition to the time I spent over the weekends also grading, answering emails and planning. Once again, I averaged about 3 hours on those weekend days as well. Since weekends should be completely my own, that’s an additional 18 hours that should, in fact, have belonged completely to me.
Now, I know what a lot of people will probably argue: I should have gotten all that grading done during the first grading period. I mean, that sounds completely logical, right? Except of course, that I was already putting in 50+ hour work weeks during those 10 weeks, so in order to get all the work I did over break done during the actual grading period, that would have meant working closer to 55-60 hours per week. Keep in mind, that those extra hours come with no additional pay.
And even if this sounds completely reasonable, it’s actually an impossibility. At the end of each grading period, we have to give final exams. Our last final goes until the end of the school day, so there is actually no way to end the grading period without taking work home. Even if I’d gotten everything else graded by putting in those 60 hour work weeks, I would still have finals to grade. And since I teach English, finals mean essay questions and 110 of those take a LOT of time to grade.
And of course, even if somehow I’d managed to get all of the grading done, I’d still have to respond to emails from students, parents, administrators and coworkers. And I’d still have to make sure my lessons were prepared for the next grading period. While I always have long-term goals established before the start of every year (for the entire year) and I even have pacing guides for every unit, the day to day details have to be worked out and those change depending on the ability levels of my students, the slight fluctuations in days per grading period, changes made due to school-wide testing, convocations, weather related incidents, holidays, sick days, etc. Planning and re-planning is a constant throughout the year.
So, just in case you happen to be one of those people who think teachers have it easy because we get a ton of “vacation time,” please take a few minutes and actually ask any teachers you might meet how much of their own time they devote to their jobs. Ask them how much of that extra “vacation time,” they get is actually dedicated to their students. Just because we may get to do that work in our jammies at midnight doesn’t mean we’re not working.