August's O, The Oprah Magazine gave some interesting statistics about Americans and vacations. The average polltaker on Oprah.com has 14 vacation days per year. 14!
As a teacher, I have the luxury of many more than 14 vacation days. Contractually, I work 183 days per year, 7 hours per day. That's what my contract says. My contract also gives me one hour of duty free lunch each day, although I do understand that many teachers in the country do not have that same privilege.
So what does that mean for me? Most non-teachers think it means I have a part-time job...that I work my 7 hours and go home, finished for the day, free to partake in hobbies, side jobs, fun. Most non-teachers think that three weeks of vacation per year, 2 months off in summer, and all those extra national holidays means that I have plenty of time for travel, visiting with family and friends, playing.
Why then, when my IGoogle countdown shows I have 25 days left of summer vacation, was I in school today working? And why, then, were most of the school staff with me? Why have I been talking all summer to my teacher friends online and finding that they all were in their classrooms, or in the library, or online doing work that would enhance their classroom next year? Why do I come to work an hour early each day, joining the majority of staff members? Why do so many of us work through that duty-free lunch, stay until dinner time, spend extra hours on district committees, taking education classes, meeting with students and parents?
When I first started teaching, I took a class with a teacher who laughingly told us all that every time she traveled, she searched for books and souvenirs that she could bring back to her classroom. She went sightseeing with her classroom in mind, taking pictures and choosing activities that would lend themselves to lessons. I remember thinking then that this teacher needs to get a life. How sad that she couldn't even enjoy her vacation.
Last week I went to Niagara Falls...the Canadian side. I was unplugged from the computer for four days (which was extremely difficult and is a whole other topic of conversation), with my husband and my daughter, away from all distractions. And, while thoroughly enjoying the time spent with my family touring the area, my mind kept wandering to my classroom. On the third day, I planned a trip to Welland Canal Lock 3 to watch a ship move through the lock system. I took video and many pictures and collected material from the museum. Afterall, I teach the Erie Canal and part of that unit is understanding the lock system.
So I realized that 22 years into my teaching career, I have become that teacher. And I understand that teachers need all those days off to regenerate, remove themselves from students for awhile and be with adults, having adult conversations. But mostly, teachers need the time to regroup, thinking about what they've been doing, revamping styles, replanning lessons, finding new material, thinking about their students' learning needs and preparing themselves to meet those needs head-on.
Teachers need all the extra hours before and after school to improve their teaching conditions (technology committees for better technology, staff development committees to design valuable staff development, etc.), rewrite lesson plans for this year's students, write new lessons to meet the new class' needs, meet with colleagues to plan new units, design field trips, create content for teaching curriculum.
This is not a part-time job, we do not have job free vacations, we do not shut down at the end of the day and turn on again the next morning. Teaching is very much a full time job, even without taking into account the emotional aspect of working with different children with different problems each day. And the longer I work in the field, and the more time I spend outside of my contractual school day on school, the more I take offense at those in this country who still believe teaching is an easy part-time job.
At least those of us in the field know better. Teaching is a challenging, always changing career that I relish. Even though I work long hours and use most of my vacation days on schoolwork, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I do love my job.