All jobs/careers have their pros and cons, but I always feel like my perception of what those are in teaching are the opposite of what everyone else seems to think they are. Maybe I’ll need some sort of educator protection program for saying so, but I really hate summers.
Just once, I’d like to hear someone go up to a construction worker, or someone in a field where extended periods of not working are common to the profession, and declare with envy how lucky those people are to be able to sleep late and spend their days any way they wish. Then, when the guy explains that he’d really rather be working because his family has grown accustomed to eating, and that after a while it’s actually depressing to have no job to go to week after week, he can be berated for knowing what he was getting himself into when he entered into that line of work.
I’m actually lucky on that count, as my district offers year-round-pay, meaning large chunks of money are held from my paychecks throughout the school year so that it can be returned to me during the summer. With interest rates what they are today, it’s smarter than attempting to bank it myself, knowing Murphy’s Law would kick in to cause some calamity that required the use of those funds.
To be fair, there are teachers I know who do get to enjoy their summers because their financial situations are better than mine, travelling the world, making home improvements, playing with the kids or grandkids. However, I know an awful lot of teachers in my boat too, including many who teach summer school or get part-time jobs to supplement their income. This summer, I’ve been listing as many new products on Teacherspayteachers as humanly possible, with moderate success that I hope will build over the years. Still, it’s not just about the money.
Before anyone rushes in with the inevitable response that I need to get a life, picturing some miserable creature unable to get out of bed, lonely for company or in desperate need of a hobby, it’s not like that at all. There was some sadness this summer, finding our much beloved dog had passed away in his sleep one night, just months after my mother-in-law left us; but there were many joys too. My daughter graduated, earning a high school diploma and Associates degree simultaneously thanks to an accelerated program. There was a party to celebrate, and another for my partner’s 50th birthday, complete with a fun murder mystery theme. There were many gatherings of friends and family, swimming in the pool, glorious sunsets, and even a quick vacation to a nearby but luxurious locale. Drawers were cleaned, cabinets organized, and minor household repairs triumphantly accomplished. The lesson plans for next year are written in their entirety, the drama club script is half-done, and I added over 70 new items to Teacherspayteachers.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy life, but that teaching is my favorite thing to do. To be clear, I don’t think every teacher should feel that way. My entire decade-long teaching career has been different from most teachers in that I have always had select positions. I’ve been the math, writing, and science specials, entertaining kids in thirty-minute intervals as they learned through play and engaging lessons and activities. Even now that I’m a “regular” classroom teacher, I have the honor of teaching gifted and high achieving kids.
Everyone has her niche, but I’m still in awe of teachers in traditional classrooms, and especially in positions working with children who struggle to learn. Imagine scooping up those two or three kids from each classroom who learn rapidly, are eager to learn, and think school is a happy wonderland, and forming a new class from those students. It’s heavenly. It’s invigorating. There are still usually one or two kids in my class who have behavioral issues or real concerns, but even those still tend to respond well over time, making jumping out of bed each morning to go to school a true delight. Not having to wake up early is a luxury, but when it drags on for months, feels more like unemployment to me than a break.
We have science on the fact that even the smart teacher-pleasing kids lose an awful lot over the long breaks, but not as much on what it does to teachers who’ve gotten out of the routine for so long. It’s especially daunting for those who have had to change schools, classrooms, grade levels—and for all of us every time some “new” way of teaching is instituted, whether it’s pedagogy, technology, or a text series.
Restarting the school year annually is like a scene from a zombie movie, with staff dragging through the hallways trying to reacclimate to our routines. It can take months to get all systems running smoothly again. Rooms need to be organized and decorated all over again after having packed up for the summer, primarily to make floors shiny with wax that takes herculean effort and months to accomplish, but just days to return to a scuffed state.
Then, there are the dreams. Enough teachers report on these for me to know that it’s not solely a personal phenomenon. The theme is almost universal: we are not prepared. It’s not a realistic assessment, but nightmares based on fear. In mine, I live in my classroom, and in my robe have the realization of children outside my door waiting to enter, with me completely unaware that it’s the first day of school. Or, try as I might, obstacles prevent me from getting to school.
So, as the long summer is winding down, I am appreciative of having been able to attend to myriad personal issues, but am counting down the days until the children return. They’re cute. They’re little. All of my tired old jokes are new to them. The concepts that made last year’s class gasp in amazement will have the same effect again. We will form a new family, and I will race to shove as much information into their brains as humanly possible knowing that the year will race by. Only ten more days now. I can hold out. Just ten more days.