Sometimes you just have to write…



photo courtesy of my friend and colleague Yvonne ten Brugge. Believe me, you don't want to see the state of MY desk!

photo courtesy of my friend and colleague Yvonne ten Brugge. Believe me, you don’t want to see the state of MY desk!

If I hear one more person say “But you teachers get such nice long vacations!” I think I’ll scream!

Yes, we get long vacations: I have five weeks this summer at one of my jobs, six at the other. And that’s not counting two weeks at Christmas, and a week each in October, February and May.

But I’ve been doing a bit of arithmetic. I work almost every weekend during the school year. As much as possible I try to limit it to just one day, either Saturday or Sunday, not both. If it’s a particularly busy time of the year, though, I may work both days.

I’m not a particularly efficient worker: I take breaks between tasks to peruse Facebook or respond to tweets. Or my mind just wanders.

Let’s assume I work only one day each weekend, and only 30 of the approximately 38 weeks in the school year. And let’s assume that I only actually put in four hours on that day: a low guess, and it doesn’t count all the hours I put in during the one-week vacations and in the evenings all week, but let’s just see where this estimate takes us. It comes to a total of 120 hours of work per year.

I only work, at least on paper, 80 percent of full-time equivalent: 40 percent at each job. Let’s assume that full time means 40 hours a week. In that case, I work 32 hours a week.

At that rate, I am working unpaid for 3.75 weeks over the course of the year! And that’s certainly an underestimation: it’s not counting the time I put in evenings almost every day, for a few days during most of the one-week vacations, and most summers.

I do prep work or mark papers most weekday evenings. If we assume just one hour an evening for four evenings a week for just 30 weeks, that comes to an additional 120 hours, so that doubles the free weeks I put in to seven and a half weeks of unpaid work! (I should add, of course, that part of my pay is for the time I spend preparing and grading and attending meetings. It’s hard to figure out how much of this evening or vacation work falls under that part of my pay and how much is additional and unpaid.)

In any case, the word “vacation” really only fully applies to the students we teach. We, the teachers, work at least part of every vacation.

To illustrate, here’s a list of what I have on my plate right now:

Job #1: I teach at an international secondary school offering the International Baccalaureate Diploma. That school is already on vacation.

  • The Theory of Knowledge curriculum has been changed, starting in the new school year. I have to change my whole year plan to accommodate it. Granted, I’m changing more than I strictly have to, but that’s what parents want, isn’t it? Teaching that renews, that isn’t stale?
  • The English curriculum I taught last year went well enough – I’m quite pleased with my students’ exam results – but I can certainly see room for improvement. So that curriculum needs to be reorganized as well. Again, if I kept cranking through the same curriculum year after year, no one would be happy. I’d be boring and bored. The students would be uninspired, and so would I.

Job #2: I teach at a college of applied sciences up in Leeuwarden, in the English department, training future English teachers. That school is in its last week: a test week for resits.

  • I’ve got tests to grade. Not as many as two weeks ago, but a lot failed that round and took the resits.
  • Independent study projects are coming into my in-box steadily. Students have all year to do these, but, not surprisingly, they put them off. Officially they’re past the due date and I could make them wait until September, but I don’t want that big pile of reading waiting for me at the end of vacation either. So I do them as they come in.
  • Some of my American Studies lessons are being switched to first year, which means much larger classes, which means I need to rethink the testing to avoid being completely overwhelmed at the end of the first quarter. Multiple choice questions are notoriously hard to write well.
  • I also have to develop different study guidelines for that class, to fit the changed testing.
  • For a study I’m planning to start next year, I need to do the literature review, i.e. reading scholarly articles on other people’s research before I set up my own.

What I really want to do this summer:

  • Nothing (in a sunny place)
  • Read
  • Travel
  • Finish rewriting my book and send queries out to lots of agents.

I’m not writing all this because I want you, dear reader, to feel sorry for me. Don’t! I chose to be a teacher, and I could stop if I wanted to (Boy, that sounds like I’m an addict!). Or I could do less preparation, plan less, put less energy into it. I choose to put the time in and, most of the time, I like what I do.

But in order to continue to like it, and to continue to do a decent job at it, I need my vacation every summer. I sometimes think that my sanity is a little too dependent on that few weeks of freedom. Every year, as the summer approaches, I find myself questioning why I ever got into teaching. After a few weeks free in the summer, I always find my enthusiasm back. So I think I speak for every teacher here: we need “such nice long vacations”!

4 comments on “Vacation?

  1. Jayne Hodges
    July 9, 2013

    Teaching is no tougher than working for a corporation and you don’t get the satisfaction for molding children’s futures. In industry, you have piles of projects and paperwork to go thru to answer, write reports, follow thru from beginning to end. On vacation you have to check emails, voice mail and things that just can’t wait til you get back to the office. Weekends are filled with working on the company provided laptop to stay one step ahead so you don’t have to stay til 6 or 7 pm at night..you have to stay and finish things up that simply cannot be done outside the office. You cannot finish in mid June and catch your breath because the work is never done in industry. You may get a breather for a week after the end of hectic calendar year only to have it start immediately after the holidays. There is no such thing as a sick day when a substitute takes over your responsibilities for the day. Being sick or getting a few days off means many extra hours put in before and after those precious few days off because business goes on with or without you. Industry is no less dedicated than an educator. You get quarterly evaluations that take prep to ensure that something isn’t missed that could save your job. Everyday you are competing for your job. Teachers expect extra benefits and major pay increases when non educators are taking pay cuts and increases in sharing the cost of benefits and the ever increasing deductibles. So I don’t want to hear any more groaning from teachers…teaching is a nice life with many days off and good pay and more perks than anyone else in the working world. I have known and worked with them as well as knowing and working in industry over the years. It’s a shame you teachers don’t appreciate what you have. Stop complaining.

  2. Laura
    July 9, 2013

    I disagree with the reply about industry. Depending on the state you work, the kind of remuneration you get as a teacher does not compare to what you can get in “industry”. Of course, depending on the industry, if I was getting paid just $40K a year, I don’t think I would be checking work emails and catching up on work on my off time. And who told you we do not stay in our classrooms during the week until 5-6pm? Many of us do, so we do not have to do it at 11pm that night! Not to mention the fact that you actually have to come in early the next morning around 7:30am-8:00am to get ready for the day. I also wish I could go out for lunch during the week and actually enjoy a sit down meal for more than 20 minutes. Yes, 20 min lunches my friends, that’s if they do not call you to the office because little Johnny decided to be adventurous during lunch! If I actually had to work during the summer and winter breaks, I probably would be bringing back an extra $15K-20K, but we do not so we have to either save up throughout the year or get seasonal jobs to cover the void. Did I tell you that the “potential” bonuses we could get for “performance” in our field is pennies compared to the bonuses offered in the “industries”? how about chances for going up the ladder? Not many. So, yes, teaching definitely requires a special calling, one that many desk job people might not understand or actually have.

  3. Diana
    July 10, 2013

    I too would like to disagree with the “industry” argument. I have been on both sides of this argument. I worked in the “outside world” prior to becoming a teacher. There are similarities to industry, but the expectation of unpaid work is much higher in education.
    Our sick days require preparation just as was stated by Jayne H. – there is no assumption that a substitute will teach or even do what you ask them to, most would prefer to watch a movie. If what you want the students to do is completed, then you have to grade it – do my work – because the sub will not grade the work for you. You have to put in the “8 hours” you missed because school goes on whether you are there or not. In addition, you have to discipline the students who misbehaved, because frankly none of them are adults and do not do what is expected of them when there is a substitute teacher. Most American students do not respect teachers or adults and their parents do not either. Most people think that teaching is easy, because, “After all I made it through school when I was a student and I watched teachers….”
    I would also like to add to what Ms. Heller said about rejuvenation. It takes me a long time to forget the amount of effort I expend during the school year. As I teach longer, I realize how draining it is. I no longer recommend teaching to anyone – I actively discourage people from becoming teachers. Maybe when truly no one wants to be a teacher, people outside of education will get it.

  4. Rachel Heller
    July 10, 2013

    I seem to have hit a nerve! Thanks for your extensive comments!

    Jayne, in my defense, I have to say that I never claimed to do MORE work than anyone else does. I claimed that we teachers do more work than the people who make such comments think. That’s all! How much a teacher does or doesn’t work doesn’t have any bearing on how much anyone else does or doesn’t work.

    Diana, that’s too bad that you don’t recommend teaching anymore, though I understand your feeling of being drained by it. As I get older I feel more and more drained too, yet I’d still recommend it as a challenging and rewarding and very varied profession. I’m just not sure I’d recommend it for an entire career.


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This entry was posted on July 9, 2013 by in Being a Teacher and tagged , .
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