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‘I do not have 2-3 months off’: Teachers on summer break are working, a lot  1 Week ago

Source:   USA Today  

Allison Driessen is fed up. She’s used to hearing how lucky she is to have her summers off, granting her a supposedly relaxing break from working life.

Driessen, a science teacher who just finished her eighth year on the job, had the opposite experience. This summer marks her first summer “off” as a teacher. Before, she studied for her master's degree, taught summer school and even interned at a landscaping company.

“People think we are paid competitively, given that we have two to three months off,” said Driessen, who teaches in Rosemount, Minnesota. “I do not have two to three months off.”

Driessen’s story isn’t unique. Across the country, teachers often trade their summer vacation for other work opportunities to make ends meet. Recent data from the National Survey of Teachers and Principals showed nearly one in five teachers hold a second job during the school year – and teachers say they need to work during the summer, too.

In early June, a USA TODAY analysis detailed the struggle many American teachers face to afford housing. In response to that story, we heard from readers who didn’t take much issue with the findings. Teachers work only nine or 10 months a year, their argument went, which justifies the level of pay.

So we talked with educators nationwide about what teachers are up to over their summer months – and how you’ll often find them working a second job rather than lounging at the beach.

Every summer since he began teaching 14 years ago, Eric Fieldman has worked a summer job in addition to a second job during the school year. The Collingswood, New Jersey, special education teacher has refereed soccer games, worked in home instruction and tutored in past summers. This year, he’s working at a private special education school from July to August.

“I’m always keeping busy,” Fieldman said. “And it’s really a necessity to survive.”

Although he hears from people all the time that teachers are “done in June and then just sit around all summer,” Fieldman said he actually takes home less money in the summer months.

“Not only am I working the extra jobs in the summer, but we don’t get summer pay, as we are on a 10-month pay schedule,” Fieldman said. “So I have money taken out of my check every week to go toward the summer, to supplement it, because the summer jobs don’t pay the same as my regular job.”

This summer, some teachers set out to bust the myth of the summer break. Even Nicholas Ferroni, a Union, New Jersey, history teacher once named People magazine's Sexiest Teacher Alive, tweets about #NoSummersOff. He's sharing a different teacher's story each day with his 40,000 Twitter followers.

“Teachers are working multiple jobs, on top of having to pay for professional development, writing curriculum, going to conferences, workshops, presentations,” said Ferroni, who is something of a celebrity in teaching circles. “I was just trying to use my platform as an educator and influencer to expose all that.”

Middle school teacher Quinci Dacus spends her summers learning, whether by taking online classes to help incorporate technology into her lessons or attending in-person curriculum conferences. This summer, the Grandview, Missouri, math teacher went to a conference in Atlanta from nonprofit curriculum company Open Up Resources.

“I’m trying to get a better understanding of what I teach, so I can give the best lessons to my students and so they can achieve at the levels they need to achieve,” Dacus said. “To be a good teacher, you have to be always willing to learn more. ... It’s really not a break.”

Last year, math teacher Heather Bolur traveled to the Twitter Math Camp conference – a great experience, she said, that came with a cost.

"That was something I paid for out of pocket because I wanted to grow as an educator and I knew it was going to be very valuable for me in the math classroom," said Bolur, who teaches in Elmhurst, Illinois.

Michael Steele used to teach middle school math and science and now chairs the Department of Teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His summers are spent conducting many of the professional development courses for teachers.

To avoid teachers’ busy summers, Steele said, he wishes the United States would follow the lead of countries such as Germany and Japan, where educators spend more time during the school year collaborating with other teachers.

Milwaukee science teacher John Kish wishes he had more time to plan during the school year, too. He has spent his summers instructing elementary teachers in science, changing his curriculum to allow students more in-class practice and updating his lesson plans. 

“A lot of what I do over the summer is stuff I really wish I could’ve done over the school year, but there’s just never any time,” Kish said. “Summers are kind of busy, because during the school year, teachers are losing more and more planning time.”

He always spends time over the summer working on the school's curriculum.

“It’s something that ultimately impacts what I teach every single year, so I always sign up for the committee,” Kish said.

Even members of Steele's own family sometimes remark that it must be nice to have the entire summer off.

“It’s the notion that we are off, that we are not doing anything,” Steele said. “All of that work is completely invisible because we are not in front of the classroom teaching kids.”

Fieldman recounted common misconceptions he hears: “We don’t work a lot of hours. We’re done at 2 o'clock every day. We’re done in June, and we just sit around all summer.”

Even in his downtime, Kish said, he is working: “It’s reading research. It’s making videos. It’s coming up with ideas. It’s meeting up with other teachers to plan some things out.”

Mike Wojcio, a special education teacher in South Orange, New Jersey, got so tired of hearing about how teachers deserve their low salaries that he decided to do something about it.

One day, he was out with friends and heard the common refrain: Teachers work fewer hours, so the pay makes sense. He whipped out a notebook and started calculating teachers’ hours of work. For a teacher who works 210 days, as he does, the big difference was the salary.

One of his friends “makes four times what I make,” Wojcio said, “and doesn’t pay for his own supplies.”

Math teacher Bill Drake, for one, enjoys his summer break – and says he needs it. Albeit short, Drake said, the six weeks he enjoys between the last day of school in late June and the first day of his cross country team’s practice in early August are necessary to avoid burnout.

“It is very much a positive to have that downtime,” said Drake, who teaches in Arlington, Virginia. “It gives you a chance to recharge the battery and to start the new school year fresh.”

Even with all the planning and curriculum work, Kish said he appreciates the break from being in the classroom day-in, day-out.

“Summer is a chance to get all caught up,” Kish said. “I can sit back and read a piece of fiction and finally fix the front door.”

Bolur enjoys going to conferences over the summer, when everyone can attend. She usually has to miss a major math teacher conference in April because it does not fall during her spring break.

“It’s hard to find that time during the school year with all the other millions of things that are going on,” Bolur said. “So it’s nice when the conferences are over the summer.”

Even in Driessen’s first summer “off,” she finds herself back at school. There’s a newly installed rain garden to keep up with and National Honor Society students to advise.

Although she’s looked for other jobs a number of times, Driessen said she could never leave teaching.

“I love inspiring students, I love helping them discover more about themselves and the world around them,” Driessen said. “I know teaching is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

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