When you think you are casually bringing up the idea of “summer vacation” to a teacher, the reality is you are inadvertently being a douche. Because teachers and summer vacation don’t exist in the way you think they do. Non-teachers assume that teachers work from 9-3pm, get paid fairly and spend large parts of their day doing crafts. We wear witch earrings on Halloween, celebrate Christmas with carols and go on field trips to fun locales. We are rewarded for our pursuits with two months of pure rest and relaxation, where we will jet set the world with our easily earned money, collecting compliments from strangers when we tell them of our occupation and will come back to teach in September smelling of freedom and sporting a sun kissed glow only achieved by island hopping.
Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But unless you ARE a teacher or are the relative of someone who has chosen to spend a fair share of their adult life coaxing paper from a photocopier machine, you have no idea. So stop acting like I should be envied for both July and August. Your envy makes me want to curb stomp your soul.
Imagine having a job where you routinely had to hold your pee for 8-10 hours. Imagine, that even if you were so sick and were choking on your own vomit, you were required to come to work and spend two hours planning what your replacement would do the following day, where calling in sick was JUST the beginning of your sick day duties. Imagine having a job that required you to work 10 hours a day (plus weekends), though society thought you only worked 6 (and spent your weekends working on your tan). Imagine teaching a someone who was born with cocaine in his system so there is a twenty second delay for him to understand any instruction you give him. Every. Instruction. Imagine having him and 4 other students in the class with ADHD- plus a boy who refuses to speak due to actions he’s witnessed at home and one more, a girl who is deaf and you have to teach them all algebra. Get started. Low test scores mean you aren’t doing your job, didn’t you hear?
Imagine being required to bring your own supplies for work (and for the twenty plus others you work with) and not getting compensated for this. Imagine monthly lice outbreaks at your job. Imagine girls cutting themselves and eating disorders that make your stomach ache. Imagine bullying so bad it’s worse than any documentary. Imagine drug busts at work and parents yelling at you on your lunch break. Imagine being the parent figure for all the students who do not have parents. Imagine being responsible for feeding students their only meal of the day and waking up realizing in eight days all the kids you’ve been feeding at school will be on holidays and you are left to think of how they will feed themselves. Imagine.
This is what it is. Teaching is the single hardest job outside the home. It is beyond lonely and is so overwhelming the majority of teachers quit within their first five years. It is heartbreaking and soul sucking and has left me so exhausted that I’ve fallen asleep at red lights. It’s a personal sacrifice to become a teacher- besides the missed parties and get togethers due to either work that needed to be done or sheer exhaustion, it costs teachers a lot to teach. This year alone, I’ve spent over $2445.58 on my classroom. I’m not buying iPads and laptops, I’m buying scribblers and erasers.
So when a well meaning individual comes up and tells me that it must be nice to be a teacher, how lucky I have July and August- it really is all I can do to not to murder them. For most teachers, July and August are necessary mental health breaks to get over the ten previous months of seeing horrendous acts and hearing the tragic stories most parents and non-teachers cannot even begin to assume happen in schools. It’s two months to forgive yourself for the home lives you can’t fix and to try and let go of the children who you can’t help. It’s also two months to start over and plan for the following year- because next September your students don’t have ADHD, but FAS, ODD and you’ll have a handful of ESL kids who are just learning a new language and you have ten months to get them reading “Island of the Blue Dolphins”.
July and August are my sixty days to take deep breaths. To remind myself that there is good in my job, that there is good in what I do. July and August are not calming. Teachers do not simply switch ‘off’. My job does not allow me to ‘punch out’. There is no break, there is simply a time where the students are not there and you worry and wonder about all you don’t see. Where you plan for what you can’t plan for and anxiously countdown to September to start it all over again.
Because for every lice outbreak, cutting epidemic, screaming parent or bullying administrator, there’s a teacher who gets sixty days of the year to process it all, sort through everything, read, research and figure out how they can make the next year better.
Some call that vacation time, I call that fucking work.