A teacher’s take on a certain seasonal misunderstanding
“But hey, at least you get summers off, right?”
Here I am again, the designated teacher in my friend group, fielding questions from a friend’s-friend’s-girlfriend’s-brother who I somehow got stuck chatting with by the pool.
He is a nice enough guy, and I enjoy his company and our overall banter—but the mention of my summers off rings an all-too-familiar bell. It would be more bearable if this question happened only amongst my most outer-tier, tertiary, barely-considered-an-acquaintance-let-alone-a-friend friends.
It’s not their fault, after all. They don’t know better—those sweet, ignorant angels. But that’s the issue. I’ve gotten this same statement from close friends, family, and everything in between. I hear it non-stop!
And I know I’m not alone. I have teacher friends. If they are reading this now, they know EXACTLY what I’m speaking about. It comes in a variety of flavors, this statement:
“Summers must be nice, though!”
“Summer’s off! You’re so lucky!”
“Having two full months off! Almost makes me want to be a teacher.”
For the record, this last variation always comes from the least teacher-y person you’ve ever met.
On the surface, they are all seemingly harmless statements—almost more small talk than anything. As trivial as mentioning the heat or where someone might be vacationing next week. Just something to fill the conversational void.
The problem is context. It represents a massive misunderstanding and undervaluing of a profession—one that is rampant across America. See, these casual statements minimize the immense workload and underpaying of teachers nationwide.
Teachers are facing large class sizes, lower pay, behavior challenges, ramifications of the COVID-19 Pandemic, substitute shortages, and political pressures—all of which have been leading to a mass exodus from the profession…….but, hey, at least you guys get summers off, right? Am I right?
The subtext is clear: Stop complaining, stop acting like you have a difficult job—you get two months’ vacation every year. If anything, you should be grateful. Whether meant to or not, this is the sense given off during all these conversations.
If I’m sounding a bit over the top here, it’s just to drive home my point that so many people have been indoctrinated to feel this way, they don’t even realize how insensitive and dismissive they’re being about my career choice. For starters, summer break isn’t the Holy Grail people seem to think it is.
As a teacher, I am a 10 MONTH EMPLOYEE. My paycheck is stretched across twelve months, but I do not get paid for work I do not do over the summer months. My normal paycheck while I am working is smaller to compensate. Yes, I get summer off, but it’s not a choice.
Most teachers I know work summer jobs anyways, simply because the ability to take off a full two months isn’t feasible. Others end up taking on primary caretaking for their kids and sometimes for that of friends as well. Supplemental money is often needed to make ends meet. If given the choice, many teachers I know would opt to work year-round, and earn a greater income.
Of course, there are probably just as many others, though, who would hate to give up their summers off. Honestly, after all we go through over the course of a school year, I often look forward to the much-needed break this professional perk provides. But please, don’t act like it was my personal decision.
I got into teaching for many reasons—inspire a new generation of readers and writers, grow students’ confidence, coach kids to become better basketball players and human beings—all of which have made it a career I cherish. Summers off? OK that’s nice I guess but it’s not a reason to take a job this demanding, that requires many hours of unpaid overtime and often taps into personal finances, as well.
Don’t believe me? Try asking teachers why we do what we do. Listen to our stories. Learn how much effort and emotional investment we make, every day. How far above and beyond we’ll go for our students, and the many frustrations we encounter along the way. Go ahead, ask about our paychecks (spoiler alert: it’s even worse than you think!).
To be clear: I’m not fishing for thanks or trying to make anyone feel guilty. But can we please hit “pause” on this tired old cliché that minimizes a professional occupation and vital public service? The struggle is real! Being a teacher is so much more than two months of mandatory vacation every year. Thank you for understanding.
👋🫂❤️Happy Trails to Andrew! ❤️🫂👋
This is sadly one of Andrew’s last pieces for The Local — he’s heading north soon to a new life and new teaching opportunities in Montpelier, VT. Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your writing with us! Best wishes for big success. ~ Steve, Carolyn and everyone at The Local