Music education always & always looking forward.

The Summer Vacation Myth

"Aren't you lucky?!  You get to hang out all summer and still get paid!!"

For the explicit purposes of clarification, I have to address this question/statement, as it is so often posited to teachers.  

Yes, the summers "off" are pretty great.  My summers "off" have enabled me to get my graduate degree from a fabulous program while still collecting paychecks from my job.  I have had the opportunity to travel and have some fun -- some of that as a part of getting my graduate degree.  The summertime made my maternity leave last year a simple process.  

However.  Please note that teachers DO NOT get paid for work they did not do.  Different districts handle it differently, but for the most part, school districts spread out teachers' paychecks, based on the 10 months they've worked, over 12 months.  For me, last summer I could not have taken leave even if I tried, because I was not going to miss out on money that I'd already earned.  

Graduate degrees aside (and let me tell you -- although we referred to ourselves as the "Adult Summer Music Camp", I certainly put in my work, in my theory classes and in my experimental research class as well, among others), many teachers engage in serious side hustle over the summer.  Any teachers who you see traveling over the summer?  Yeah -- they've been coaching, tutoring, teaching private lessons, designing curriculum, whatever it takes, all year long to be able to pull off European vacations or jaunts across Asia.  Or they go on said trips as a part of educational tours/their own post-graduate schooling.  (That's what I did!)  No one does any of that mess on a teacher's salary alone.

And for music teachers?  The summer is a melee of camps, lessons, some trips, and more than anything, planning planning planning for the year ahead.  What did I do on my first duty free day this summer?  I spent three hours at school, working with a small, committed group of my students.  I invited them for "Bonus Band" sessions, essentially some time outside of school to enhance their skills, review fundamentals, work with small groups and with older mentor students, and promised pizza at the end of the week.  I then counted the most recent fundraising deposit I'd made and not to mention, I brought my one-year-old with me for the morning.  Time off, indeed.

I'll probably be in at least once a week to get my library in order, get folders and things ready for the fall, and to ensure that inventory is completed.  I am the only person at my school who has the sort of inventory I do who is also responsible for teaching full time.  And my inventory is constantly used (and misused) by teenagers who cannot possibly hold any blunt object for more than a few minutes.  If your school is anything like mine, 75%-80% of students rent from the school, so ensuring these instruments are in good working condition is an incredibly time-consuming process.

Have you ever come back from some time off work to find that your desk had been moved, your goals had shifted abruptly, and you had to figure out how to do more with less in your workplace?  It's rough.

For as glorious as our summers may be as teachers, this is exactly what we face EVERY FALL when we come back.  The state and federal legislation has moved our goalposts over the summer, changing what it is we have to accomplish for the year and giving us less to work with in order to accomplish it.  (I work at a fabulous school, though, and we continue to surpass expectations.)  Sometimes, your classroom has been moved without your knowledge.  For me, all of that inventory for which I'm responsible prevents that from happening, but it happens to many teachers. 

But this is what happens.  Every single year when you come back from your teasingly calm summer vacation.

And then you have a week -- if you're lucky -- to get yourself together and prepare for the onslaught of children.  And in many states, your job, your salary, and your professional reputation are at stake once children walk into your room.  What they do results in how you are perceived and often, how much you are paid. 

"Well, don't managers get bonuses when their employees perform well?!  Shouldn't teaching be the same!?"

The difference is that children are not your employees.  They are not your teammates.  Popular culture has portrayed you as the enemy from before the moment they step into your classroom.  (My mother taught for a little while in the 1970s, in a poor rural school district in upstate New York -- right after Welcome Back, Kotter premiered.  Suffice to say, the show did not help her students engage in good habits.  Similarly, I went into a rage upon my first viewing of Girl Meets World on the Disney Channel, seeing the way they depicted classroom management.)  These kids are in your room only because they are legally required to be there.

And your livelihood depends on how well they follow directions and gain knowledge.  Sure, you're prepared and trained, sometimes adequately and sometimes less than, but as mentioned, the rules change annually, if not more often.  And you have one week in August (or September, or if you're in Georgia, July) to nail everything down and adjust to those changes before you hit the ground running.

So your summer will often consist of planning.  Planning is not so bad, and sometimes planning and attending conferences can fill you with warm, fuzzy feelings and rose-tinted visions of how the next year is going to go.  By October, those fuzzy feelings usually turn into noisy static that in no way resembled how you thought your year would progress.  And you have to trudge on, already defeated, until June (or May, again, in Georgia).  

There are a lot of reasons to be a teacher.  I personally don't believe that it is a career that anyone should take lightly and/or underprepare for.  If you love it, and you find that you're good at it, then it is something you should pursue.  Lord knows we need great teachers in the world today, especially considering that federal and state legislations have played no small part in enacting teacher shortages in many states.

But if you're getting into the game for the purpose of enjoying long, leisurely summers off, you're barking up the wrong tree.    


Winding Waters in 5/4 Time: Asymmetrical Simple Meter in Nick Drake's "River Man"

Mournful Massive Minor Intervals: Minor Seventh in Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U"