What Do Teachers Do When They’re Not Teaching?

“I mean, they always get nights and summers off!”

It was the summer of 2015 and I was spending a weekend in Raleigh with friends. We were discussing the topic of teacher pay, and of course everyone was in agreement that teacher pay in North Carolina must be raised. I met a man who shared with us that his wife is a public school teacher, and I mentioned that my mother is as well. “Well,” he said, “I still don’t know if teachers deserve to be paid much more than they are now. I mean, they always get nights and summers off!”

I of course was incredulous to this, having been raised by a kindergarten teacher and having attended public school my entire life. I was absolutely dumbfounded that anyone, especially someone whose spouse experiences the public school system on a daily basis, could believe such a thing. We agreed to disagree and I kept quiet, remembering the all-too-familiar phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” We went our separate ways, and though I may very well never see that man again, his opinion on teacher pay will remain in my memory for a long time.

The justification made by this man and others that teachers do not work outside of the classroom is simply inaccurate. According to a study conducted by The Guardian, one of the six teachers studied discussed how he will work on classroom matters until 10:30 pm, unless he has more grading to take care of, which causes him to sometimes work into the “early hours.” I can tell you from the personal experience of watching my mother for years: Teachers’ lives outside of the classroom are often just as strenuous as within it, and sometimes even more so.

getty_rm_photo_of_stressed_out_teacherCredit: Google Images

On Wednesday of this week, I was volunteering in a second grade classroom and working one-on-one with a student on spelling. I noticed that several of his spelling words were labeled “My Words” and asked the teacher what this meant, to which she responded that each student has his or her own words every week. This got me thinking about the topic of teachers’ free time and how much teachers actually do outside of the classroom. I have gained a great appreciation for the amount of time spent by teachers preparing for class.

I wonder what the man whom I met in the summer of 2015 would think if he had been there when this teacher told me that she spends time each week preparing individualized spelling words, and of course that this is only one small component of her preparation. I wonder what he would have had to say about teachers’ free time and pay upon hearing of her work ethic. I wonder.

The best thing we can do right now to promote greater teacher appreciation is of course to continue imploring policymakers to make teacher pay a priority, but also to highly publicize the fact that teachers work hard even when they’re not “working.” I would like to hope that this man’s sentiments are not shared by a majority of people, but we all should consider it a responsibility to make more visible the work ethic and dedication demonstrated by teachers outside of the classroom. His viewpoint is one that is unfortunately a result of the teaching profession being downplayed and undervalued over time. Policymakers have the opportunity to promote the public celebration of our teachers and the sacrifices they make. We must do more to recognize that teaching is not a seven-hours-a-day job; it is much, much more taxing and time-consuming than that. We must do better for our teachers, each and every one of them. And we must make sure people understand that, in fact, teachers do not get nights and summers “off.”

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