Enjoy the Last Days of Summer, Teachers!

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Last year, when my oldest son was in kindergarten, he told me that he knew where his teacher lived. I said, “Oh yeah, did she say something about her house?” And he replied, “No, but I know that the school is her house. She lives there with the rest of the teachers.”

Yep, that’s a common misconception.

I, too, used to think that my teachers lived at school. Of course, I wasn’t that far off. I went to a Catholic elementary school and the nuns really did live together just a few doors down from the school building. Eventually, though, I realized that the non-nun teachers actually had their own children and their own homes and their own lives away from the classroom. But it’s hard to blame a kid for believing that his teacher – who is there every single day before the bell rings in the morning and who is still there every single day when you step on the bus to go home – lives, breathes, sleeps and eats at school.

Now, as an adult, I’ve been hearing another common misconception. As the nation’s economic downturn lingers, folks have been accusing public school teachers – yes, teachers – of being overpaid, over-pensioned drains on society who have the audacity to take two whole months off during the summer. The nerve of those teachers!

I’ve heard grumpy old-timers say this, I’ve heard self-righteous businessmen say this, and I’ve heard harebrained politicians say this. I’ve read it in countless letters to the editor in the local newspaper. And to all of this, I say a great big: HA! I’ll say it again: HA!

First of all, let’s take a look at the actual pay scales before we get carried away on the overpaid, over-pensioned bit. In some districts, pay is reasonable, but classroom teachers are no oil magnates. Don’t worry, teachers won’t be the ones bankrupting America by retiring en masse to their mansions on remote islands accessible only by private helicopter.

In fact, no teacher I know entered the profession for the money. English teachers could surely make more cash working in corporate communications. Social studies teachers could pull down more scratch as lawyers. Math teachers could make mad money in banking. And science teachers could easily make more as, well, oil magnates.

There’s a larger point here, too. Shouldn’t we, as a society, want to pay our teachers a decent wage? Don’t we know that respectable salaries will attract more highly qualified teachers? Every single political candidate names “education” as a top priority – they all spout statistics about America’s declining rank in key educational areas such as math and science – yet many do not prioritize education once they are in office.

As for the summer off … please. There is a reason why grumpy old-timers, self-righteous businessmen, and harebrained politicians are the people who complain about teachers getting the summer off – they never had to teach or raise kids on a daily basis! You will never, ever catch a full-time caregiver badmouthing teachers. Moms (and dads) know better.

As a former stay-at-home dad, I can attest: being responsible for kids is a challenge. I thought keeping two bickering boys in line was a test. Try adding another 20 kids (or more) to the mix. Oh yeah, and one is intensely shy; one is obnoxiously loud; one has ADHD; one is allergic to everything; and the rest are more interested in watching the cardinal that just perched in the tree outside of the classroom window than in learning about subject-verb agreement. Try managing that crew.

Beyond the classroom time, there’s parent-teacher conferences and parent phone calls; advisement of extracurricular activities; monitoring of the lunchroom; and nightly grading of papers and lesson planning. The summer off for a teacher is what professionals in other industries call “comp time.”

Considering all of that, why do teachers teach? Because they want to help kids succeed. They want to help your kids succeed. They want to help my kids succeed. That’s a pretty huge thing.

So, I say, enjoy your eight weeks off, teachers. You have earned it. Play with your own children. Bask in the sun. Travel. Take some time to read a great novel. And know that there are many moms and dads out there who are grateful that you did decide to become a teacher.

Full disclosure: Brian Kantz’s wife is a teacher. But, no, she did not make him write this column. And, no, she does not make his lunch for him during the summer even though she’s off. Can you believe that? Visit Brian online at www.briankantz.com or drop him a note at thenewbiedad@yahoo.com.