Education Opinion

Early Independence Day

By Susan Graham — July 01, 2009 3 min read
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“So, I guess you’re enjoying summer vacation! It must be nice to have three months off every summer, huh?” they say--They being just about everyone I know who is not a teacher.

“Well, I’m looking forward to it, but I’m not quite through yet. I’ll finish up July 2nd,” I reply.

“Oh, I didn’t know you taught summer school,” they respond.

“ I don’t, but I’m an eleven month employee and so I put in another two weeks at the end of the year and then before other teachers return in August. So actually, I have about five weeks off, not three months,”
I explain.

“But if you don’t have any kids, then what do you do?” they ask, genuinely perplexed.

Most people cannot fathom that teaching involves anything other than classroom presentation hours and homework grading. Like an iceberg, much of what we do is not visible. Highly effective teaching and efficient school operation take a lot of time -- time invested in responsibilities and tasks other than student contact hours. As I work with new teachers, it is always what surfaces as the unanticipated demand of teaching. As I work with teacher leaders, time rather than money is consistently identified as a barrier. In the discussion of teacher evaluation, principals identify time as a major barrier to more meaningful assessment processes. American teacher have more student contact time and less time for other responsibilities than our peers in other equally developed nations.

Asking, “But if you don’t have any kids, then what do you do?” is a sort of like asking “How are you doing today?” No one really wants you to tell them, but I’ll answer that question. You don’t have to read this if you don’t want to, so here’s what I’ve done in the last seven days:

• Three ovens, two refrigerators and four microwaves have been cleaned.
• Three full sets of kitchen cabinets are re-organized wiped down and straightened.
• The 36-page inventory has been completed and updated.
• The grade book is verified.
• The receipt books are balanced.
• 1,000 student competency records for all 7th and 8th graders enrolled in a CTE class last year are compiled.
• Fabric supplies for next year’s sixth grade projects have been purchased and prepared.
• Minor equipment repairs have been done and major repairs have been set up.
• Textbooks have been inventoried and scanned.
• The closets have been cleaned up.
• My office desk is close to being cleared.

Notice that those are all facilities and reporting tasks. I’ve also completed our school mentoring reports and summary, led the revision of the district Family and Consumer Science Strategic Plan, coached a novice FACS teacher, kept up with a National Board candidate in another state, and reviewed grant applications for the Virginia Education Association. These have not been on the clock because they are tasks for which I am paid a stipend, given professional development or recertification credit, or I just volunteered to do.

Sometime in the next month I have some curriculum projects that need work and presentations for summer conferences that need to be developed. The Technology Resource Teacher (who is also an 11-month) and I had hoped to start work on a web-delivered asynchronous staff development idea, but it looks like we’ll do that on the web asynchronously ourselves, since we ran out of time.

Tomorrow I go home, and while I won’t be through with school or teaching, I will be declaring professional Independence Day! I’ll drag along a bag full of articles and journals that have been stacking up on my desk, but I’ll read them on the porch. I’ll do some planning during lunch, but I won’t have to eat, go to the bathroom and return two phone calls inside a 20-minute time frame. I’ll communicate with colleagues, but I’ll probably be doing it on-line in the wee hours of the morning while wearing my PJs.

It’s summer time! I am fortunate that I work where my responsibilities beyond my face-to-face time with students are acknowledged and compensated. That’s one reason why I’m willing to invest even more hours of my own. But for the next five weeks I’m not going to work every day. Instead I’m going to lunch, to the movies, to museums, to shopping, to the theater, to the West Coast to see my kids. I’m going to control my own schedule. I’m going to take time to sleep, read, dig, clean, visit, travel, study, cook, plan, research, sew, write, paint and just sit.

Teaching requires intense intellectual work but makes physical demands that often compare to manual labor -- all the while performed on a schedule that resembles a high production industrial format. Although it feels like a marathon run from August to July, I love what I do and the challenge of keeping it all going at once.

But tomorrow? Well, tomorrow is my early Independence Day.

I’ll be on the porch.

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.