I almost didn’t do it, but then I did.
I posted this on Facebook: “I love my job teaching middle school English. That does not mean that I was thrilled when I realized that school resumes in three weeks.”
I probably shouldn’t have posted it. Only teachers understand. One of my friends replied, “I have only three weeks of vacation all year. Let that give you some perspective.”
And yes, I admit that I have the best vacation package of any job. But I have worked other jobs, and let me tell you. It isn’t the same.
I end every school year physically and emotionally exhausted. In fact, much of the school year I am physically and emotionally exhausted. (Just ask my husband how many times I cry with frustration during the first quarter of the year.) There is never a day when I can just shut my door and not deal with people. (I could and did do this on occasion when I worked in a doctor’s office.) I have to be ON every single day. I deal with many young people with a huge variety of different needs. And these are not clients who have hired me and therefore want to get the most out of what I’m offering. Some of them even resent that they have to be there. I must not only educate them, but do it in an entertaining way.
If I’m sick, I can’t just call in and go back to bed. I have to make sub plans, which may mean going to school early to make copies I wasn’t planning to need, making sure things are in places where the substitute can find them, and doing everything I can to make sure that class runs smoothly in my absence. And when I return from being sick, it’s not like I just pick up where I left off; I have to figure out whether the substitute actually understood my instructions and did what I asked and that the students are where I intended them to be, and probably re-teach at least part of the lesson. So, to miss one day, I have to do at least two days of work. (The same is the case if I take a day off for professional development — which my employer does not pay for, by the way.)
Yes, I have a lot of vacation time. But much of that time I spend doing school work. Or at least thinking about school. This summer I have spent my “time off” writing a syllabus for each class, reading books for the new course I’m teaching, purchasing school supplies, putting up new bulletin boards, talking to the assistant principal about ideas I have, and developing my curriculum.
And sure, I’ve spent some time on Pinterest. When most people browse Pinterest, they are looking for craft ideas or recipes. You know, stuff to do in their free time. I’m looking for ways to make my teaching better — how to organize my classroom, direct Socratic seminars, and teach students to read informational texts above their reading level. And I can browse Pinterest only after I have all my planning and grading finished, which means that during the school year I spend almost no time on social media and can do those sorts of things only on my vacation. Which then turns my vacation into work time. Which, of course, I don’t get paid for.
Please do not read this as a complaint. I really, honestly, truly do love my job. And most of the time, it is worth all the time and effort I pour into it. But please also understand: I need the vacation time. As the school year inches closer, I must psych myself up again so I’m ready to face my nine- or eleven-hour work days, plus the four or five hours I spend working on the weekends.
So, I deleted the Facebook post. To try to say all this in a reply, I fear, would sound petulant, as if I’m asserting that “I work harder than you work.” And I know that isn’t true. I know that my friends sometimes take work home and sometimes keep long hours and sometimes have stress. But I have worked outside of education, and I know that it simply is not the same.
If there is anyone who has worked both in and out of education in the last five years and disagrees with me, I’d be happy to have a discussion.
But please don’t discount my profession because I have a lot of days when I don’t have to drive to work. Between your job and mine, there is a difference.