I love what I do. Being an educator is interesting, creative, and rewarding. And it is also hard work. That’s why it is offensive as we head back to school to hear people say “must have been nice to have the summer off to do nothing.” Surely most do not intend to offend. I get that. But comments such as that are indicative of the low status educators hold in the U.S. and are a dramatic misunderstanding of what educators “do” in the summer.
K-12 teachers do not simply do nothing all summer. Rather, they spend time thinking about their upcoming year, creating new lesson plans and projects, going to school to make sure their classrooms are visually appealing and stimulating, and more. Many use this time for continued education so that they can remain credentialed. Further, many K-12 teachers incur not unsubstantial costs to ready their classrooms. A study published in the New York Times in May 2018 found that 94 percent of K-12 teachers spend their own money on their classroom, with the average amount at $479. Meanwhile, a growing percentage of teachers cannot even afford to live where they teach, owing to low salaries and a lack of affordable housing. I know a lot of educators and none of them spend the summer loafing. Many work extra jobs just to survive.
In higher education, the summer can be a really busy time. We are required to publish in academic journals, write other scholarly pieces, and present at academic conferences. There is little time to do this during the academic year, so most college professors use their summer, if they are actually off, to write and prepare presentations. As an example, I have completed writing and editing three full-length books, written two book chapters, and prepared for two presentations I will give this fall.
Many academics actually have no summer off. Those who piece together work as adjuncts often teach all summer, and because in some places professors’ salaries are low as well, they must teach summer courses to make a decent wage.
I do not mean this to be a woe-is-me diatribe. Again, I love my work. But perhaps people can think a little more before they comment about our so-called luxurious life. Or even better, simply ask what we did with the time. I’m certain every educator you know will share the work they did when they were supposedly “off.”
Laura Finley, Ph.D.