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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard


Updated: Oct 6, 2023

IT’S NOT A PAID HIATUS Every job under the sun has its plusses and minuses. One of the perks of teaching is the school calendar. As teachers, we get holidays, a winter break, and a spring break, not to mention a two-month summer vacation. Teachers need these breaks because our workdays are pretty intense and busy, and as all teachers know, the workday often starts before the homeroom bell and extends after dismissal and often spills over to the weekend. So I say YES, absolutely YES, to multiple vacations. But I do not want anyone to think I spent all that free time basking on beaches or touring the world. Here are the vacation confessions of one teacher.

Confession #1: I have used parts of vacation time to catch up on grading and planning. It’s not a popular idea, but sometimes I just needed to get caught up with work stuff in a time and place where no one would be adding to my workload. Once or twice I even took sick days to work in silence.

Confession #2: I used my winter and spring breaks to catch up on housework, visit people that I didn’t normally see during the school year, and just have some downtime with my own kids. I loved being able to stay up late and not set the alarm clock.

Confession #3: “It must be nice to have the summer off.” This sentence is always delivered dripping with sarcasm, and I always heard it with resentment. Let’s get this straight. Teachers are not paid during the summer. I don’t know too many people who would be thrilled to get laid off from their jobs for two months of every year. We are 10-month employees and are not eligible for unemployment. Many teachers need to teach summer school or work at other jobs during these months. Some have a summer savings plan which means they take less money from each paycheck during the school year so they get a paycheck in the summer. This is not a complaint about unpaid summers. I signed up for this when I became a teacher. Summer vacation is a wonderful time to relax and reset. I spent each and every summer hanging out with my kids, not having to live by a schedule, and maybe going away for a week or two. My complaint is with people who imply that teachers are getting something for nothing. Summer vacation is awesome, but it’s not a paid hiatus.

Confession #4: Part of my summer involved working unpaid. Whenever we got a new program to teach, I acquainted myself with it during the summer. No, I never got paid for the time it took to wade through the new science book. Every year teachers set up their classrooms on their own unpaid time, very often using their own money. Here’s my to-do list to get the classroom ready for the first day of school: · arrange the desks (30 minutes) · clean the room (1 hour) · take the supplies out of the closets and arrange them on shelves (2–4 hours) · open and put away new supplies and books (1–3 hours) · design and put up bulletin boards (2–4 hours) · sharpen pencils (30 minutes) · make name tags for desks (30 minutes) · plan lessons for the first two weeks of school (2–3 hours) · make copies of all worksheets and letters needed for the first two weeks of school (1–2 hours) · go shopping (2 hours)

Before the school year begins, teachers spend 12 ½- 20 hours getting the classroom ready. Added to the time spent previewing new materials, that’s a considerable chunk of unpaid worktime.

Wait a second! Go shopping? What does shopping have to do with teaching? Here’s a typical shopping list for the beginning of the year for me:

· paper towels and Windex (school paper towels are non-absorbent, and the shelves, counters, and desks need to be cleaned) · bulletin board cut-outs and borders · desk name tags · pencils · little gifts for prizes and birthdays · stickers · containers for supplies · notebooks and folders for students who don’t have their own · whiteboard markers · posters

This is not to say that the school bought nothing. There were some years that I was able to order much of this. There were other years that we weren’t allowed to order supplies. Oddly, there were years we were allowed to order, but the supplies didn’t get delivered to the classrooms before we needed them. I always, for example, had a class supply of crayons. If the crayons came, I just kept the extras in the closet. If they didn’t come, I was covered. Hoarding is the way of the teacher.

Teachers do a good amount of unpaid work and pay for many of their supplies. Does that happen anywhere else?

Confession #5: Even though I should have been paid, I loved setting up my classroom, and I didn’t mind reading new materials. I LOVED having the summer and the other vacation times. I took the bad, and I took the good with thanks and a clear conscience. Viva the school calendar!

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