Reader Mail: Do Teachers Really Get Three Months Off?

Musicians who check out for music business news may want to skip past this post -- it's about one of my extracurricular projects.

As always, I am so flattered and excited when I get to write for my friends at Yahoo! about careers. My editors asked me to look into some jobs that offer more than just one or two weeks off per year. The resulting article, Five Rewarding Careers that Let You Have a Life, went live over the weekend and bubbled to their top page this morning.

It generated some interesting reader mail, including these comments:

You paint a lovely but unrealistic picture of this career. Our last day is June 2nd and I'll return to this building August 7th. Actually I will use a personal day for June 2nd because I report to graduate school in Kansas on that day. For the second summer in a row, I will spend all of June and July attending classes. - Kiki in Colorado

Are you kidding me, were did you do your research. A K-12 teacher lets there class out early June, in most cases they are back in the classroom the next week to meet state requirements. Last summer because of the cost of daycare (NO INCOME DURING THE SUMMER BREAK) my children went to class with my wife, which let out right before she was the report back to the school she teaches at, for the beginning year seminars and to put your classroom back in order after summer cleaning. - Michael in Arizona

I am extremely insulted by your article. I do NOT get a VACATION! I am on unpaid leave for about 2 months. Also, during that time I HAVE to continue my education. Teaching licenses require 6 graduate credits every 5 years. So, even though I am not being paid I have to pay out money to continue my career. I would appreciate you doing better research before your write your articles. After reading this one, I assume you have misrepresented many things in your other articles. - Linda in Texas

I am NOT off for three months in the summer. If you look at when I do not have school, it comes in at less than three months. On top of that, there are meetings for 1 - 2 weeks after the year is over, and 1 - 2 weeks before the year begins. In reality, my summer is approximately 6 weeks long. - Wendy in Oregon

Certainly, I didn't write the article to rile you up, or to paint an overly flattering picture of a challenging -- but rewarding -- career. To clarify the position I took in the article, I'd like to point out a few facts:

First, a number of you were riled up at the implication that teachers get "three months off." Rest assured, that statement never appeared anywhere in my article. While teachers, in my book, deserve three months off, I don't know of a school district that offers that much of a perk. Some of the other careers profiled in the piece do offer an unpaid seasonal break, especially for resort chefs. The closing paragraph of the piece also noted that all five careers involving unpaid leave required time management and money management skills.

Unfortunately, one of the folks who helped to promote this article used "Three Months Off" as a subhead on the Yahoo! home page, so I can understand where you might have felt that was implied. In my experience, teachers tend to get from 4-8 weeks in the summer as personal time. Sometimes, this time off is paid. Sometimes. it's unpaid. Every school district seems to do this a little bit differently. And, as many folks pointed out in my inbox, some employers expect or require teachers to complete professional development projects during that time.

Second, whenever I write an article about education jobs, I hear from teachers who want to know where I get my data. I rely on surveys conducted by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as data from local school districts and government offices. I also interview teachers and school officials for background information, which I add to my collection of articles from colleagues at newspapers and blogs.

In many parts of the country, school districts and charter schools are competing for fresh talent with bigger pay packages, fast-tracked licensure, and -- yes -- guaranteed time off that does not include lesson planning and professional development. Some school districts are experimenting with year-round calendars, while others are dropping weather buffers in favor of longer summers.

For prospective teachers entering their careers in competitive school districts, there are some sweet deals to be had. At the same time, I know many beleaguered teaching professionals who earn under $22,000 a year and don't remember what a day off looks like. Is that fair? Certainly not. But that's the reality in a system that is generally underfunded and under attack from both political and economic forces.

Finally, some writers suggest I implied that teaching is a breeze. Yes, some teachers make it look effortless. However, teaching is hard work. None of my articles imply anything different. If you have read any of my articles and understood that to be the message, I sincerely apologize. More than most of us, teachers have a tendency to take their work home with them. Some teachers absorb the personal struggles of at-risk students. Others face challenges of meeting lofty goals with few resources. Do we ever ask bank tellers to pull a shift without pens or pencils? Why, then, do we constantly ask teachers to do the same?

I hope you can understand that my intent was not to insult anyone or to denigrate a profession. I'm merely reporting on a curious trend that has been tracked by multiple, credible sources. I do thank everyone who wrote in, especially since it gives us a sense of how many people are getting the chance to enjoy these pieces.

Comments on this post are open, and I'd love to continue the conversation...

UPDATE (Aug 27, 2008): A re-edit of this piece is now circulating, in which a paragraph has been massaged to include the phrase, "Even with three months off, many K-12 teachers earn over $41,000 per year." A well-meaning editor wanted to emphasize the "three months" angle, although the statement actually refers to a minority of teachers working in school districts that do provide this perk.