Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) often says that there are three seasons to the school year, Instruction (August through December), Test Preparation (January through March), and Testing (April through June.) But at this point, he must admit, there is a fourth season, the season of Lay-Off.
As regular as May testing is the June grousing when the school year ends that teachers are lucky because who else gets two months of vacation every year?
Teachers rush in to defend themselves and GOT is seeing some of this now in social media outlets: we worked a full year in 10 months, we’re not really off because we are busy in workshops, mandated continuing education courses to maintain our certification, we’re working a second job because we’re not paid enough, we’re planning next year’s lessons, and more.
All of this is valid, but it really doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Teachers don’t get two months of free vacation every year. Teaching is the only profession where people are laid off for two months and have to provide for themselves because the summer hiatus does not qualify for unemployment compensation.
Let GOT say that again. Teachers don’t get two months of vacation every summer: They. Are. Laid. Off.
And must fend for themselves and their families.
Why must that be? Why must teachers be laid off every summer?
The end of a school year seems glorious with unlimited time to relax, catch up on household chores, take the children to the beach, mountains, or pool, but there is a problem with this that has nothing to do with the usual defense (see the paragraph above.)
School systems need the summer break to organize and get ready for the new year. First, everyone has to clear out so the classrooms can be cleaned. Furniture is moved, floors are stripped and waxed anew, graffiti is cleaned off, walls are painted, lockers are emptied and readied for the next student’s use, the list goes on and on.
Second, schools have to schedule students. This is a huge problem for the many states who have enacted Jeb-Bush-styled reforms, such as third-grade retention for children who don’t score high enough on the annual test. Will they complete a summer school course and test up? Will their teacher have a portfolio of their work so they can move on? Or do they repeat?
Then, at the secondary level, schools are waiting for test scores to come in. In Florida, that happens at the end of June. Schools then have four or five weeks to determine who needs to do what, who gets electives and who must take remedial instruction in reading and math, then decide on staffing needs, then adjust their master schedule and get the students into the correct classes.
If all goes well, and there are years when it does not, the state doesn’t butt into this process in mid-July with changes.
GOT remembers the couple years, only in the recent past, when the state ordered staffing changes in low-graded schools in late July and the district scrambled to find places for the teachers who had to move and to find others to replace them. This took place about two weeks before students were scheduled to begin the new year.
Usually, that resulted in rescheduling an entire student body, maybe 600 to 1800 students.
Understand that a normal school day is a huge time suck for administrators. There’s a reason most principals in GOT’s district spend Sunday afternoons in the office away from distractions, phone calls, etc. to deal with all the paperwork that they have no time for during the week.
Third, there are the curriculum changes that take effect. District staff need time to sort out the new mandates, prepare advice (hopefully, advice) for teachers, prepare new guides (hopefully, only guides), and orient teachers to the new outlay.
If it is a year when the textbooks are changing, books have to be ordered, come into warehouses, be sorted out, then sent to the schools. Schools have to put these new books into their inventories, which means that thousands upon thousands of books must each receive a bar code label that will subsequently be scanned into a student’s account once they are issued.
Students changing schools need to have new ID pictures taken. Trust GOT, when he meets a 10th grader whom he taught as a 9th grader online and all he had to look at was a 6th grade picture … let’s just forgive him for not recognizing the child.
The point of this is that Summer Break has many serious, important, crucial reasons for being in the school calendar.
To a teacher, the cost is not two months of it-must-be-nice vacation.
In the summer, teachers are not on break or a deserved vacation. They have been laid off.