If You Want the Perk, Do the Work

I am now in my second week of summer vacation and only one adult has expressed to me her jealousy over my two months off. This probably has less to do with what I hope is growing appreciation for teachers and their work in the wake of walk-outs and other public awareness of our conditions, and more to do with the fact that I have rarely left the house and avoid conversation on those occasions when I do.

The comment came during one of the last days of school. I’d organized a breakfast for my class and a couple of parents asked if I needed help. Never one to turn down such an offer, I had three diligent assistants, each of whom had been in the room previously and attended class field trips.

“Looking forward to your summer off?” one of them asked me. Not so much a question as a kind of conspiratorial wink shared between adults who spend time with kids. A nicer way of saying, “Bet you’re sick of this, huh?”

I was.

But having done this a number of years now, I also knew how summer would likely play out. I’d be lazy for a week and truly enjoy having nothing to do. Then I’d grow restless. I’d start projects around the house. I’d spend money frivolously. I’d plan a vacation as an excuse to leave the house. All things better left unsaid. No one working summers wants to hear you’re planning to do a lot of nothing with yours.

“Got big plans?” she asked, by which she meant was I going to be traveling anywhere interesting.

“Not this year,” I told her, proud to avoid contributing to the idea that teachers spend their summers jet-setting around the world spending taxpayers’ money. “We’re just going to relax.”

“That must be nice.”

She didn’t say it in a mean way. Did not mean to imply that I had it easy. But like referees, teachers’ ears are finely tuned to any suggestion that we are making the wrong call. When it comes to summer, we teachers are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Spend our summers posting pictures to Facebook of all the fabulous places we visit and our non-teacher friends confirm their suspicions that teachers, for all their whining, have it pretty damn good. After all, we can afford vacations just like other middle-class people! Spend the summer doing nothing and people will wrinkle their noses at our lack of productivity. In a country where work is closely tied to identity, many can’t imagine being idle for any length of time. You’ve got two months off and you’re going to do what? Just sit around? Read? Hang out with your family? Go to the beach? Really, that’s it?

Whatever we do with our summers, those who have to work them are right to be jealous. They say “it must be nice” because it is.

It is very nice. It is, without a doubt, the best perk of the job. Public pensions are wonderful but hard to get excited about in your first decade of teaching. As incentives, they work about as well as a promised year-end pizza party for good behavior, which is to say not at all. The medical insurance is fine, too, although, having always been a teacher, I don’t honestly know how good I have it, only that people who aren’t teachers claim that I do. And high job security is also supposed to be a perk, but it’s not one any decent teacher truly values. People who claim job security is a perk must assume the teacher they’re talking to sucks. Most people who are good at their jobs don’t worry about getting fired from them.

So, yes, summer vacation is a perk and one no teacher should apologize for. Like our comparatively low pay, the day to day challenges of the job, the incessant meddling of politicians, and the public scapegoating, we knew about it going in.

We knew the perks, just as those in other fields knew theirs.

Investment bankers don’t all become investment bankers because they love banking (or whatever it is those people do all day). Not all lawyers love the law. Not every doctor dreamed of savings people’s lives. A great number of them just wanted to make a lot of money and they knew that to get the perk, they had to do the work.

And different people value different perks. A lot of them value money over time, or rather, they believe making a lot of money will provide them with other perks they value. Which would be fine, if these values were treated equally.

But when’s the last time someone said to these non-teachers:

“Must be nice working for a company that offers a 401(k) match.”

“Must be nice to take a vacation in October, when the prices are lower, you can avoid throngs of ungrateful, whiny kids and their short-tempered parents, and the weather is measurably different from the place you are escaping.”

“Must be nice getting an hour-long lunch break.”

I’m guessing not many. If non-teachers want to know why teachers are sick of having their perks pointed out to them, they might consider the perks of their own job and then imagine that every time they took advantage of them someone said, “Well, that must be nice.”

I have a friend who is a physician’s assistant. His Facebook page consists of him not working. There he is in Prague. Now he’s in Maui. Next month, he’s on a Florida beach on a random Tuesday. Here is what I never allow myself to think when viewing his photos:

It must be nice.

Because what I’m not seeing is more important than what he has chosen to share with the world. What I’m not seeing is the sacrifice. I’m not seeing the years of schooling or the unpaid internship. I’m not seeing the 14-hour days when he started out. I’m not seeing the years of dedication. I’m not seeing the unheralded hours he still puts in, and even if I could, I wouldn’t understand it. He’s doing the work, and he’s enjoying the perks.

Good for him.

So the next time someone tells you it must be nice to have your summers off, tell them that it is. And gently remind them that you knew it would be all along and that they could join you.  An enthusiastic, “You should become a teacher!” is usually enough. Most people immediately recoil and claim they could do no such thing. Which is exactly the point. Because while I would like the new cars and exotic vacations that my wealthier friends enjoy, I also know that I have never wanted their jobs. Just as I have no desire to argue the law in a courtroom or examine elderly patients’ mysterious growths, I am equally convinced that most people who wish they had their summers off have no stomach for the work that would allow them to.

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Like me, most of you are likely enjoying your summer break. It’s not too early to start thinking about next year. If you ended the previous year exhausted and don’t want to make the same mistakes again next year, allow me to recommend three resources:

My book, Exhausted, explains what makes teachers so tired and what they can do about it.

My book, Leave School At School, details the strategies you can employ to work less while still being effective. It’s about optimizing your teaching practice and focusing on what’s essential.

Angela Watson’s 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club is a proven year-long course that thousands of teachers have used to cut hours from their workweek and regain their personal lives.

If you’d like more articles like the one above, subscribe to Teacher Habits and receive them in your email inbox. Thanks for reading!

Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary if You’re Working for Free

Huffington Post publishes the writing of thousands of bloggers and they don’t pay them a dime. Why not? Because they don’t have to. When people are willing to work for free, they give up the right to complain about their pay.

And yet in almost any discussion about teacher workloads and salaries, teachers do exactly that. On the one hand, teachers will do everything they can to convince you that they work really, really hard. It’s not uncommon to read a laundry list of extra responsibilities submitted as proof of the teacher’s dedication and of how unappreciated her efforts are. On the other hand, they say they should be paid more.

A few days ago, The Educator’s Room Facebook page shared a post a teacher had written that outlined the pensions of a Texas educator and a Texas legislator. Needless to say, the teacher didn’t compare favorably. As usual, two points were made:

Texas teachers are paid poorly, and their pensions will be relatively paltry as a result.

Texas teachers work a lot harder than those bums in the legislature.

Both of which are true.

But the writer couldn’t help herself. She had to prove just how selfless and hard-working teachers are:

They are expected to work for free during the summer by attending professional development and preparing for the next school year. Their average workday during the school year is 12 hours and most devote weekend time to planning and grading.
In addition, most districts arrange to pay teachers for a ten-month contract over 12 months. This creates a common misconception that teachers have paid vacation over the summer. Actually, the teachers are providing an interest-free loan to the districts and are paid back during the summer. Teachers are contractors who work from year to year, contract to contract, but are only able to write off $250 of their business expenses like classroom supplies, tissues & hand sanitizer, and snacks for hungry kids. The average teacher spends $500 and many spend $1000+ on their classroom annually – and as budgets are cut, teachers take up the slack.

Some good points, to be sure. But what struck me, as it always does, is the contradiction between whining about low pay and bragging about working for free.

Because that’s usually what it is. Teachers who talk about working 12-hour days and going in on weekends and spending thousands of their own dollars aren’t actually complaining about it. They’re proud of it. They believe it’s proof of their dedication. It makes them feel superior to those who aren’t as selfless.

But these same people also feel like they’re getting the shaft. They ought to be paid more! Society doesn’t appreciate teachers! Their districts don’t respect the work they do! Look how much they’re working!

Whether or not you’re paid by the hour or earn a salary, you are involved in a transaction. You give your time and effort in return for compensation. In reality, all jobs are paid hourly.  Someone who earns $100,000 but works 80-hour weeks may have twice the money, but they only have half the time of someone who gets paid $50,000 for 40-hour weeks.

Teachers, then, have a really simple way of maximizing their hourly pay:

Work fewer hours.

Let’s consider two teachers:

Teacher A, we’ll call her Mrs. Balance, gets to work an hour before the kids and leaves about 15 minutes after they do. She doesn’t volunteer for extra responsibilities and says no to additional paid work because her time is more valuable than what the district offers for an hourly stipend. She works a 40-hour week and makes $40,000 per year.

Rate of pay: $40,000 / 1600 hours (40 hours x 40 weeks) = $25/hour

Teacher B, let’s call him Mr. Burnout-in-Progress, also arrives an hour before the kids, but he stays three hours after. When he gets home, he works another hour checking papers. On weekends, he puts in four hours every Sunday to get ready for the week. He’s on a few committees and does some paid advisory work. He also works over breaks and throughout the summer. Mr. Burnout-in-Progress averages about 55 hours per week, and he works about 46 weeks per year.  The extra duties earn him more than Mrs. Balance. He makes $50,000.

Hourly rate of pay: $50,000 / 2530 (55 hours x 46 weeks) = $19.76

Both teachers have reason to complain about their salaries. Mrs. Balance makes just $40,000, and Mr. Burnout-in-Progress, when he thinks about how much he works, feels like his district is getting a steal by paying him 50k.

And he’s right. His district is taking advantage of him. And the reason his district is taking advantage of him is the same reason Huffpo doesn’t pay its bloggers: He has allowed them to.

If you’re going to work for free, then why in the world would a school district ever pay you?

With the end of summer closing in, many teachers will be heading into their classrooms to donate some work. They’ll spend hours decorating their rooms for open houses and preparing plans for the first week of school. They’ll give and give and give some more. And their employers will be the happy recipients of their labor.

If this suits you — if you don’t mind working for free, if unpaid work makes you feel more dedicated, if showing up on a Saturday and being the only teacher in the building gives you a sense of pride no amount of money can match — then go for it.

But realize that nothing is going to change if you do.

So don’t complain about your pay.

You’re the one choosing to work for free.

 

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A reasonable question to ask after reading this is, “Well, what am I supposed to do, just not get my room ready for the year?”

I’ll address that in my next post.

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It Must Be Nice

It’s midsummer, which means that if you’re a teacher you’ve likely heard some version of “It must be nice” from some of your non-teacher acquaintances.

It must be nice to spend the whole summer doing stuff with your kids.
It must be nice to take all those vacations.
It must be nice to spend a random Tuesday at the beach.
It must be nice to visit a bar on a Wednesday night.
It must be nice to have all that time off.

summer

It reminds me of a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago. We were visiting friends in Wisconsin. He’s a lawyer with a private practice who has done very well. She’s a stay-at-home mom with four kids to watch, entertain, feed, and shuttle from place to place. Because he makes a lot of money, they sometimes hear, “It must be nice” from friends and family members. And it pisses them off. As it should.

Everyone can see the spoils of their success: the nice house, the cars, the kids’ private school educations, the boat.

But what’s unacknowledged or possibly forgotten are the sacrifices made at every step. No one ever said to them:

It must be nice to live in a cramped apartment with a newborn.
It must be nice to take the bus to law school and back because you only have one crappy car.
It must be nice to miss large parts of your son’s infancy because you have to study.
It must be nice to get up and go into the office at four in the morning and not get home until eight at night.
It must be nice to be home with four kids all day and have to do everything yourself while your spouse is at work.
It must be nice to have everyone assume that your success is the result of anything other than sacrifice and hard work.

“It must be nice” is code for “I’m jealous of.” When we look at other people and say “It must be nice,” what we’re really saying is, “I’d like to have that, but I don’t want to make the choices you made and endure the sacrifices you did to have it.”

That’s why it’s insulting.

When you tell someone, “It must be nice” you are ignoring what the person gave up to have those things.

Successful lawyers give up time away from their families.

Teachers give things up, too. Most of us chose this profession knowing full well the trade-offs. We knew our college roommates who went into business or medicine or law would likely make more money than us. They would be able to buy nicer things. They’d go on better vacations. They would be more respected by society.

Teachers chose time. We knew that going into teaching meant less money, but it also meant we’d have more time to do things other than our jobs. We knew we’d have more days to do what we wanted than our college roommates would. We traded one value for another. We traded the chance to earn more money for the opportunity to have more time. Many people choose the opposite, which is fine.

What’s not fine is for either group to wish they had what the other has, knowing they had the chance to make the same choice.

So the next time someone says, “It must be nice”, smile at them and say:

“It is.”

Then cheerfully remind them of their ability to choose:

“You should go back to school and become a teacher!”

And watch most of them backpedal as they suddenly picture themselves spending nine months in a classroom instead of three on a beach.

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Related Articles:

Teachers, Stop Saying You Work During the Summer

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Evaluation

The Best Way to Thank Your Child’s Teacher

 

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Teachers, Stop Saying You Work All Summer

I know, I know. Some of you actually work. Some of you really do plan lessons, attend conferences, renovate your classrooms, teach summer school, or even work a part-time job. Some of you do all of the above.

But most of you don’t.

 I’ve been teaching seventeen years now. I know a LOT of teachers. Most of my friends are teachers. Hardly any of them work much in the summer. One teaches summer school for three days a week for about six weeks. Most of us do some planning for next year (“vaguely thinking about” would be more accurate). We might read a teaching book or two this summer (might I recommend Happy Teacher?). Almost all of us will, at some point before the year starts, head into our classrooms a few times to get everything in order. But most of us aren’t doing much work. Don’t believe me? Check out the Facebook pages of the teachers you know.

So can we please stop pretending? Can we stop lying?

Stop Being Defensive

I was on Facebook earlier today when I came across a video a friend had shared. You’ve probably seen it or one like it. It was about how teachers get no respect and how there’s a shortage in teacher prep programs. It listed some of the reasons teachers feel disrespected.

The first comment under the video trotted out the very tired, “Teachers have three months off” argument. Evidently, the commenter missed the part about teachers quitting and young people avoiding the profession. That would seem to argue that those three months off aren’t the incentive people think they are. The commenter was beset, of course, by teachers claiming, as they always do, that no, actually, we work those three months!  That’s not a vacation! We take classes and plan lessons and work other jobs because of our shitty pay. Reading them, you would think that most teachers are busting their asses all summer. We aren’t. I sure as hell am not.

And I won’t apologize to anyone for that.

Teachers Don’t Waste Time

I work hard during the school year. I work harder than a lot of people. I may not work the same number of hours as someone in another profession, but the hours I do work are not wasted. I’ve never participated in a Cyber Monday. I’m there the Monday after the Super Bowl, without a hangover, doing the same job I do every day. A 2014 survey from Salary.com found that 89% of workers admitted to wasting time at work. 31% waste 30 minutes a day. Another 31% waste an hour. 16% waste TWO HOURS each day. How are they wasting time? Well, Bitly found that traffic on Twitter peaks between 9 am and 3 pm, Monday through Thursday, and that Facebook spikes between 1 pm and 3 pm midweek. Those are curious times, aren’t they? It’s almost like people in cubicles are not really working that much. Usage drops off at 4 pm, when all those hard working business people go home.

Teachers don’t get to waste time. We don’t have the luxury of buying crap online while students are watching our every move. We can’t check Facebook six times a day to see how many people liked our cat photo from last night. We’re not getting into Twitter arguments at 2 pm. In fact, if you’re a teacher who tweets you know that educator chats always occur at night. #edchat runs from 7-8 pm on Tuesdays. #edtechchat from 8-9 pm on Mondays. #tlap is scheduled at Monday at 9 pm. When do Twitter chats for marketing professionals take place? #ContentChat is Monday at 3 pm. #BufferChat is at noon on Wednesdays. #BizHeroes is at 2 pm on Tuesdays. Must be nice to have tweeting considered “work.” If teachers waste time at school, it simply means we have more work to take home. Other professionals might work more hours than teachers, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing more work.

Stop Apologizing

Teachers, let’s just be honest: Summer vacation is perk. No one else apologizes for their work perks. Why should we?

I’ll start feeling bad for enjoying my three months off when business people start feeling bad about their hour-long leisurely lunches at restaurants (that some write off as business expenses), their corporate junkets to Aspen, free tickets to sporting events, paid air travel and hotel stays that allow them to see the country on their company’s dime, high salaries, the ability to take a week off in October to vacation during non-peak times, workdays that permit (even encourage) dicking off on social media, paid water cooler conversations about last night’s episode of “The Bachelor,” and lots of other perks I don’t get as a teacher.

 But since that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, I’ll just enjoy my three months off.
 Every glorious, sun-filled, relaxing day of it.