Teachers- Tell me what it is like to have summers off.
July 18, 2008 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Teachers with families -- tell me what it's like to have summers off.

My husband is thinking about pursuing a career in teaching. The main reason is that he wants to have summers off to relax and pursue his projects (primarily writing, blogging, and contributing to message boards). My concern is that he is basing this decision on an idealistic notion, rather than reality, so I want to get some more information. Basically - we need to make the decision (as a family) on whether or not it's going to be worth the sacrifices.

Currently he makes between 60k - 90k in the banking industry (it's closer to 60k these days). He already has a BA, and would be going back to school in the evenings for a Masters degree.

Starting salary for a teacher in our area is mid 20s. Average salary for a teacher is mid-upper 30s. Now, since I am currently a stay-at-home-mom, I would have to go back to work. I think I could probably find something that paid around $40,000 per year. I am a little nervous about making the transition from stay-at-home mom to primary breadwinner, I will admit that.

We are in our early 30s and we have a three-year old. I think that she would probably have to go to a babysitter during the summer in order for him to have uninterrupted time to write, so that's another expense to consider. My husband believes that if he had summers off, he could start a secondary career as a writer/blogger.

So, teachers - how much of your summers off are acutally spent working? Do you have to attend classes to keep your teaching certification? How much time does that take? How much time to you get to pursue your own projects?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (34 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly...I and the teachers I know (all high school and college level) don't have summers off. The pay is like you describe, and because we have 3 months, we don't spend them really pursuing the personal things like you describe (and like we envisioned before becoming teachers)...we find other work.

A teach friend of mine works full time at Wendy's in the summer. I teach summer school.

This isn't just for grammar school and high school. My college professor friends also work all summer, either at their own schools or other schools that need summer help.

My sister (a college prof) even travels halfway across the country to her summer job, leaving her family behind for 3 months to bring in that extra pay.

It's hard to just make that much and live a comfortable lifestyle. What you realize is you're working 75% of the year and while the paychecks are spread over that 12 month period, you have the ability to work 100% of the year and get some income over those extra 3 months.

The ONLY cases of teachers I knew taking entire summers off were those whose spouses had really good incomes, or those going back to pursue their Master's degree or Ph.Ds. They sacrificed the current income to devote towards having greater future income.

All that said...I did take a year's sabbatical once. Got about 40% of what I wanted to get done done. It's so easy to take the lazy way...sleep in, watch some Regis, cool slow lunches, go to bed early...

This doesn't really help with your specific situation but the question was: how much free time do you have as a teacher with summers off. So...I've answered based on the many teachers I know...
posted by arniec at 9:07 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

My wife used to work summer school every summer, but a couple years back we decided she really wasn't making enough money doing so to make it worthwhile. Nowadays she spends most of the summer jaunting around the country visiting friends. However, she does have to take the occasional class, as New York State has an ongoing career development requirement in order to retain certification...something like 30 credit hours every 5 years. I'd imagine most places have some sort of requirement.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:09 AM on July 18, 2008

A warning here. Yes, teachers have summers off, usually. However, for many, this does not make up for the fact that teachers effectively have a workday that is about 1.25X to 1.5x as long as the corporate average. You see, teachers have to create lesson plans and grade homework, tests, and papers on their own time. So, while a teacher may leave their school in the mid-afternoon, that teacher typically brings a ream or two of paperwork home per week. Keep this in mind when you figure out your pros and cons.

Also, while teachers have free summers, they are not free to vacation at most other times of the year. When my wife was teaching, we missed out on several vacation opportunities and a few weddings, because teachers simply don't have the ability to "take a day off" the way that people in other occupations do.

Teaching can be very rewarding. But, contrary to the popular view, it's not a cake walk just because teachers "have summers off".
posted by Citrus at 9:10 AM on July 18, 2008

if the only reason he wants to teach is to have summers off - not a good reason.

the teachers i know that i consider good at their job do many things outside of what normally would be considered teachers hours, both during the year and during the summer. It is a demanding job that shouldn't be looked at as an avenue to allow you to do other things.

Now if he has always wanted to teach, that is a whole different ballgame.
posted by domino at 9:14 AM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

IANAT. But I know quite a few. None of them are what I would consider "off" in the summer. More flexible hours, perhaps, but they're finishing paperwork, teaching summer school (mandatory or effectively mandatory in some districts), attending conferences, pursuing education directly related to their teaching field, or planning for the next year. And working at a summer job in their spare time to supplement their income.

I always get a red-flaggy feeling when I hear people talk about needing a lot of time off to begin a writing career. Why isn't he writing in his spare time now if he has something to say? For most writers in my experience, taking a lot of time off to write is what you do after you get established.
posted by desuetude at 9:23 AM on July 18, 2008

Domino makes a very good point.

Teaching is HARD. And TRYING. And not for people who don't want to do it.

At every level there are students who push you, insolent students, students who don't want to learn. If you're only there for the time you're NOT there, you're not doing yourself, or your students, any favors.

Our educational system is borked enough as it is without (more) teachers there that don't really want to teach...
posted by arniec at 9:24 AM on July 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I teach at the college level, so YMMV on some of these points, but I'll try to focus on the similarities and things I know about high school teaching.

One thing I would say is that he shouldn't underestimate the amount of work that goes into teaching outside the classroom and during the summer. New courses have to get designed, school districts change textbooks and suddenly whole years' worth of material has to be redone, many districts have recertification requirements and ongoing advancement requirements (i.e. they keep making you go back and do new stuff on top of working, since most of that can't happen in the summer and hence other work gets shifted to the summer). Teaching is one of those professions where the hours look good on paper because most of the work you actually do is between the lines. I am probably unlike high school teachers in this respect, but in a normal summer I probably do as much or more work on research and class preparation as I do during the semester. (Happily, my research is stuff I *want* to do, but it's also tied into my job in a way that freelance writing or blogging would not be.)

On a practical note, bloggers I know have commented on the gnat-like attention span of blog readers. Go away for a week and your readership declines. Go away for eight or nine months while you teach full-time and you may find yourself starting from scratch every summer. On another practical note, you won't find public school teacher who aren't griping about their salaries, so the financial picture isn't likely to improve. One thing that might help is getting his Master's before he started teaching. In most places, he'd enter at a higher salary grade.

My advice would be this: I think this could be a feasible plan if the writing/blogging your husband imagines doing were very intimately tied into the things he was teaching. For instance, if he was writing on education, perhaps somehow tied into his Master's, and writing and blogging on that in his spare time. Or if he were teaching a specific subject - AP economics, maybe, given his background - and tying that into education somehow. Things like that would keep him focused on a consistent set of related things and (assuming he wasn't just gossip-blogging about the school district) would look really good to the higher-ups. (That might lead to administrative opportunities far removed from his hope of a second career, but whatever...) If his hope is that teaching could be a sort of "vapor job" where he puts in very little time or effort and gets to pursues unrelated writing interests, I think he's very likely to either (a) find himself an unsuccessful, unsatisfied and possibly unwanted teacher, or (b) find teaching pulling much more of his energy than expected and thus find himself an unsatisfied or unsuccessful writer/blogger. Depending on how hard it would be for your family to switch tracks again if he's unsuccessful or unhappy doing it, the closeness of his writing interests to his teaching interests would be a key factor for me (i.e. if it's hard to switch back later, approach with even greater caution).

And of course, high school children are more horrible than the souls trapped in Dante's 9th Circle of Hell when it comes to discipline and respect. I cannot emphasize enough that you need a thick skin for that, and I assume it hardly needs to be mentioned. Nobody is "getting away with" a job teaching high school. YMMV on other grade levels if he loves loves loves kids. In groups of 30 to 35.
posted by el_lupino at 9:25 AM on July 18, 2008

My mother and in-laws are teacher who all do take the summer "off." They have lunch with friends, indulge hobbies, whatever. But. They're also in their 50s, have grown up kids and are mostly financially okay. Their younger colleagues tend to work or have working holidays. And as Citrus notes, they also work far harder than most during the term.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:26 AM on July 18, 2008

Teaching isn't for everybody. In my estimation, you need to have thick skin, a sense of humour, and the discipline to stay on top of everything. Doing it for the summers off is the wrong reason -- the kids will eat your soul.
posted by maxpower at 9:33 AM on July 18, 2008

I'm a speech pathologist, my brother is a teacher, and my dad is a school psychologist. We're all employed by public schools. Last summer I worked another job to pay off some bills, and this summer I'm staying home to take care of my baby son. My brother is taking this summer off, but his budget is pretty tight and he's spending a lot of time working on his lesson plans. My dad always had summers off of work, but took care of us kids and took classes to keep his license. So our summers are not like the summers you remember having as a kid - it's nice to step away from work, but it's not a total vacation.

Also, as others have said, summer break is no reason to take up teaching. The thought of having three months off will be no consolation when he's standing in front of that classroom in the middle of January with a bunch of stir-crazy kids. Teaching is definitely not a cushy career.
posted by christinetheslp at 9:37 AM on July 18, 2008

Summers off are awesome! It depends where you are in your teaching career though. New teachers may have a lot of lessons and curriculum they want to write over the summer and get those things done, plus there are also classes they may need to take for their certifications. (I personally preferred to do my coursework over the summer, rather than taking classes during the school year because the school day is so long anyway.) For a more experienced teacher, summers are a lot more free. I love having two months off to do whatever I want. It's a pretty cool and "free" feeling to wake up and not actually know what day of the week it is.

And FWIW, "snow days" (depending on where you live of course) are pretty cool too. I can't think of many jobs that call you at 5:30 am and say, "Hey, the roads are kind of bad, stay home today."

The decision to become a teacher should not be taken lightly and done for the summers off reason only. This post I made before (and other comments in it) may be helpful in the decision making process.
posted by NoraCharles at 9:40 AM on July 18, 2008

I think you've gotten a lot of perspective on the actual amount of time that teachers get off in the summer, especially in the beginning of their career. However, I just wanted to add that I'm the only child of two teachers, and the summers we all got off to spend time together and travel were some of the best times of my childhood. However, it seems that teaching has changed much for the worse since they taught (they've been retired for about five years). Nonetheless, the amount of time that your husband will get to spend with your child as she grows up may be another factor you consider. (This is not intended to be preachy/judgey at all, just wanted to offer my perspective as a child o' teachers.)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:55 AM on July 18, 2008

My mother-in-law teaches at the high school level. She spends her summers on projects that she doesn't have time for during the school year. She also makes all her appointments for the summer (doctors, dentist, etc.) so she can go during the day, and not give up free evenings and weekends during school.

I teach at the college level, but I'm trying to get tenure, so I teach summer school any time I'm asked. But when I do have that occasional stretch of a few weeks between semesters, I also catch up on the projects around the house that I just don't have time for during the regular school year. My free time becomes more like down time and recharging time in order to recuperate from the demands of teaching, rather than time to start something that takes a lot of psychic energy.

The lure of unfinished projects and other outside activities (like that shed that needs painting, landscaping, cutting the grass, taking the tot to the pool) is very strong, and it sometimes is easier/more fun to tackle those before buckling down on a writing project. But maybe your husband has better self-discipline than most?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:03 AM on July 18, 2008

Husband to an elementary teacher, here.

Nthing the "don't go into it for 2-3 months of summer break." After the kids leave, there is still a week or so of time teachers are at work at the school. That's for report cards, paperwork, clean-up, re-locating, sp-ed referrals, etc.

And then, as is the case right now, there's the likelihood of mid-summer classes at school, meetings, training, etc. From the different school systems my wife has been at, some meet more than others, and some give a larger heads-up notice for you to attend. (Which is sometimes not the case - I've heard of teachers getting a vague email about having an all-day session the very next day that came out of the blue.)

In addition to the odd meetings, you have to get the next year ready. That can be anything from moving down the hall, getting new supplies/books, more paperwork (yippee!), etc. This can easily eat up two weeks of time even before you see your next student face-to-face.

So, Cliffnotes is that it's not 2-3 months of sitting on the couch all day long, catching up on soaps (or SportsCenter) and eating Bon-Bons.

Hey, Anon...if you want more details from my wife, MeMail me and I'll get her to help answer anything for you, ok?
posted by fijiwriter at 10:31 AM on July 18, 2008

My sister is an elementary school teacher in Florida. She has summers off. Workshops and classes are done during the school year. Sometimes she will tutor in the summer. Most of her teacher friends teach summer school or have another job in the summertime. Three months does seem like a nice, long stretch to do whatever you want, but often this is just a fantasy. By the time you are done with the school year you're looking forward to doing some things that need to get done around the house. After you catch your breath from a stressful school year and get some much needed obligations out of the way the rest of the summer flies by. Your husband is also part a family. Holing up for three months in a pseudo summer writer's retreat is kind of far-fetched.

I'll reiterate what others are saying: Having summers off is not a good reason to go into teaching. Being passionate about kids and education is.

Him returning to get his Master's degree to earn half as much as he does now does not make sense unless he is burning to teach. Neither does you returning to work (unless you want to get back into the workforce) and paying for daycare during the school year and summers so he can write. Your husband probably is a talented writer but I would think hard about these financial decisions. He wants to make less money and pay daycare costs so he can blog? It does not compute.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:32 AM on July 18, 2008

Around here, summer isn't even three months. The kids have about 2 months and a week off. Assuming the teachers work at school and extra week on each side, summer is effectively down to 7 weeks for the teachers.

Also, both parents working to make make 60-70K total will not be the same lifestyle as one parent working making 60-70K. Daycare will take a 12K+ chunk out of your income. You'll both need work clothes, lunches, extra wear and tear on two vehicles, etc. Stress will increase from the two of you hurrying home to get dinner done, pick up the kid at daycare and all that.
posted by COD at 10:43 AM on July 18, 2008

Teachers who are meant to teach are the happiest people I know, and teachers who aren't meant to teach are the most miserable creatures on earth. People who are meant to teach know they're meant to teach.

Does your husband realize he'll need to take a year of full-time classes to get his certification? When he starts student teaching he will have no time for anything else. When I student taught, I had to plan lessons, teach those lessons, grade work, go to staff meetings, decorate the classroom, go to parent-teacher conferences, and take my teaching methods classes in the evening. I was incredibly busy and I barely saw my friends and family for 6 months.

Teaching isn't the profession to pursue for those looking to spend more time with the family or work on other projects. It's physically, psychologically, and emotionally exhausting. I love it and I look forward to work everyday, but it is fucking hard work. I have been spending a lot of time this summer writing lesson plans, researching different ways to present material, making posters (I teach elementary school), reading books on classroom management and inquiry-based education, and attending conferences.

If your husband wants to teach because he wants to spend more time posting on message boards, he'll find that the only message boards he'll be posting on are the ones for teachers, e.g., "what's the best way to teach multiplication of mixed numbes?" or "how do I motivate a student to complete assignments because I've tried everything and nothing seems to work?" or "how do I deal with an administrator who is breathing down my neck because my test scores aren't high enough?" or "Help! I wanted to teach because I thought I'd have more free time, but it turns out I have less money and less free time than ever!"

If you go back to work and your husband starts teaching, your kids will see a lot less of their parents. He'll be able to pick them up from school sometimes (there are a lot of staff meetings, grade-level meetings, and parent-teacher conferences after school), but he'll have an awful lot of work to do once he gets home. And it's not easy to compartmentalize your life when you're a teacher. You bring work home and you bring worries home. I lose sleep thinking about some of my students who have awful home lives. I lose sleep when my students don't understand a concept and I have to find a way to repackage it in a way that makes it more accessible to them. I lose after a difficult parent chews me out. I lose sleep and I can't eat when I know someone from the district will be observing and evaluating me.

To get back to your question...

Sure, he can be a lazy teacher during the summer and not use that time to improve his teaching practices, but then he's cheating the students.

The bottom line is: he should teach if he won't be happy doing anything else. Otherwise, you will all be very unhappy--and poor.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:52 AM on July 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

Workshops, by the way, are not that onerous. I spend about a week per year at mandatory workshops.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:54 AM on July 18, 2008

Nonetheless, the amount of time that your husband will get to spend with your child as she grows up may be another factor you consider.
It sounds like the husband wants the summer off alone, not spending time with his child: she would probably have to go to a babysitter during the summer in order for him to have uninterrupted time to write

IMO stay at home mum all year round > dad at home during the summer, even if they don't send the kid to a babysitter.

Even aside from the fact that its clearly better for your family as a whole to have one parent earning 60-90k rather than 2 parents working to make 60k, having summer off is a terrible reason to go into teaching. In the UK teachers earn about twice the figures you've stated and 40% quit after 2 years, its a hard job and not one to go into unless you're really passionate about teaching - it sounds like your husband just thinks its an easy job.

It sounds like he has an idealistic dream of becomming a writer or making money off the internet to get him out of the rat race - well, lets face it, people that don't are in the minority (not necessarily writing/blogging but the idea is the same). Of the ones that give up the 9-5 or do it evenings/weekends, most never make anything of it. That might be all well and good for the singletons but he has a responsibility to do whats best for his family, if he's really passionate about the writing, he'll find time at weekends/evenings.
posted by missmagenta at 11:02 AM on July 18, 2008

Both of my parents were teachers, and while we did have some wonderful time together during the summer, they also did a lot of professional development and preparing for the upcoming year during those months, as well. I would imagine it would be even more intense now considering that many states require recertification every 5 years or so. There's also the rapidly fluctuating curriculum in public schools. It seems like every time their school system decided on one approach, a couple of years later, that was thrown out and replaced with something supposedly better. This meant workshops, revamping lesson plans, and a great deal of stress, many times at the beginning and end of "summer vacation." Many of their colleagues taught summer school or worked a second job to make ends meet during the summer, as well.

Honestly, teaching is a very demanding, and at times frustrating job. It's one thing if your husband feels like this is his vocation and he has a burning desire to teach. That could be a very rewarding situation for all involved. If the summer vacation is what's drawing him, however, then he is being naive about what being a teacher actually means. He might be better off saving up to take some sort of sabbatical from his current job that would allow him to focus on his writing for a bit.
posted by katemcd at 11:04 AM on July 18, 2008

my wife became a teacher after several other careers because she wanted the summers off. not to blog, but just to relax. its is a hard job for crap pay, but other than the crap pay she likes being a teacher and genuiniely enjoys it, i can tell when she talks about her day. she doesnt work in the summer officialy, but picks up $50/hr tutoring here and there in her school district. otherwise she does little projects around the house, goes to the beach, goes to midweek concerts and generally does things neither one of us has time to do normally, like prepare dinner at a reasonable hour, laundry.

my wife didnt have this buring desire to teach, but the summers offf and pension pulled her in and she grew into liking it. first year she hated it. i do pretty well so she had the flexibility to try it, so, its worth a shot i guess. but in my opinion, in your situation, your husband is being a bit selfish taking a 30-60k hit in salary and making you go from full time mom to working stiff just to fulfill his blogging wish.
posted by fumbducker at 11:17 AM on July 18, 2008

I was a high school teacher, I am now a college professor in a School of Education, so I help new teachers learn how to teach and continue on in their professional careers. I am also married to a teacher and my brother is a teacher. My mother worked in schools for the last 15 years of her public working career.

I echo those who say your husband should not go into teaching to get summers off.

In fact, one of my jobs is to weed (as gently as possible) people like this out of the program. While I have absolutely no ill-will toward people who want to teach because they "like the hours and love the kids", I do not want them teaching. Hours and kids is not enough. So, what I do is teach content and methods. I also help those who came into the profession thinking that they would have all this free time find another path.

I know it seems easy. As students, we watch teachers for so long. Many of them were terrible, yes, but many of them made it look easy. Then again, Wayne Gretsky made it look easy, too, and I know I never watched enough Wayne Gretsky to know how to play hockey like that. There is something else there.

I won't repeat too much of the good description I see in this thread but to say that teaching will take up a huge, enormous amount of time for about 5 years and then after that it will just take up a lot of time. It is a profession just like any other. Your husband is a fine man, I am sure, but he will not get what he wants out of this plan
posted by oflinkey at 11:44 AM on July 18, 2008

My husband teaches, and is not permitted to schedule medical appointments during school time. So he spends the Summers at the dentist, getting his diabetes checkups, meeting with other teachers to work out admin for the coming year that they are not given time for when they get back to work.

He nominally works 30 hours a week as the head of his section. He supervises 30 staff, thousands of students, and works at least twice that because of the administrative hell involved with trying to combine teaching with all the admin involved.

It would be unfair if we had kids to expect him to look after them in the summer. He is so exhausted when he finally gets time off that he just needs space to relax.

Oh, and it completely sucks money and time wise to be restricted to school holidays to take vacations. He is trying to build an area of his expertise and he can't attend the conferences he needs to.

He is also a writer and a researcher. There's never enough time. And this is someone who has an enormous passion for teaching and even he finds it difficult to manage it all.
posted by wingless_angel at 11:48 AM on July 18, 2008

Listen: I'm a good teacher. Some would say even above-average. And if all you teachers on here could be honest for a second you would admit that summers off is one of the best things about being a teacher. Is it wrong to be a teacher just for the vacation time? Hell no. Don't get all holier than thou and think of the children on us. Vacation is awesome!

Sure not everyone can be a teacher, it takes a certain mentality, and the first year will be tough. But really, it's not as hard as some people make it out to be. Yeah, some summers I take boring classes (to get more money) or do summer school (to get more money and it's easy), but this summer I happen to be playing princess and going to the pool.

Advice for anyone who is thinking about teaching: be a substitute for awhile and see if you can handle it. That's pretty much the worst of teaching, and if you can handle that you'll be fine.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 12:38 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Has he thought about asking for a sabbatical from his job for 2-3 months? Hey, it doesn't hurt to ask. If he's serious and motivated this will give him the time to "get started" and see if his plan is feasible without the expense and effort of a degree. I know of some people who get an unpaid sabbatical from their jobs to travel when they present the situation well, even in the US. You'll have to save up and perhaps downgrade your lifestyle a bit to support yourselves for the three months.

Personally, I think that it's not fair to your family for him to want three months of uninterrupted time off and not help out around the house and with the kid. If you become the breadwinner shouldn't he take over a good portion of the tasks you do now (cleaning, childcare, shopping, cooking etc.)?
posted by Bunglegirl at 1:02 PM on July 18, 2008

It is possible to do nothing all summer and work reasonable hours during the school year, but highly unlikely. It depends on how your prioritize your life. The teachers I know who pull it off are generally considered mediocre at best. You could take classes in the evenings\weekends during the school year (to keep your certification\increase salary), write your tests so they're easy to grade (or even have your students correct each others work), limit socializing so you get as much accomplished in your planning periods as possible, etc. but it depends on a lot of factors. My entire family works in public education (as do I) and one thing I can tell you is that each district varies widely as do each grade, subject, etc. Teaching 2nd grade for a laid back, supportive principal in a wealthy district is the polar opposite of teaching 12th grade science for a principal that rides you all day in a district that's struggling economically. At least in my area, the desirable jobs in wealthy districts (that start in the low to mid 40's) are tough to come by for new teachers. As a general rule, they don't even hire teachers right out of college.

I've never been the "do anything to live your dreams" kind of person, so it seems to me like your husband is willing to do a lot of work to take a giant step backwards. Other than the possibility of him having free time to write in the summers, everything else regarding your finances and family sounds negative. I would think of his ego as well. If he's like most men, myself included, it will be a mighty blow to have his salary cut in half. It seems silly to me for an entire family to sacrifice for the benefit of one parent, especially when there's a low probability of success anyway.

On the other hand, a colleague of mine went from the banking industry to teaching high school for mostly stress-related reasons. Her pay went from $140's to $70's and her hours only decreased slightly. Despite the problems, she says teaching is a walk in the park compared to her former career. She's also quick to list the positives like amazing retirement, all holidays (including the entire week of XMas) and weekends off, job security, intelligent and competent co-workers, etc. More importantly, she loves kids and the act of teaching.

Has he considered switching jobs within his industry, accepting less money in return for less hours? Of course, you might still have to return to work in this scenario.
posted by bda1972 at 1:34 PM on July 18, 2008

I'll answer for my wife, a primary teacher in a Title I school. I'd say the answer applies to the majority of her co-workers:

How much of your summers off are actually spent working?

She gets out of school in mid-late June, and is back full time by mid-late August. Even on the summers that she doesn't teach summer school she occupies at least a day or so a week with planning for the next year, or doing professional development (read: classes, lectures, conferences, etc.). There are meetings throughout the summer of both the individual teams/grades and the whole staff at her school. I often "volunteer" for such exciting projects as re-organizing her library, building/refurbishing cheap furniture, or moving and re-arranging her classroom.

Do you have to attend classes to keep your teaching certification?

This I believe depends at least somewhat on the district. The district she's in does not require much, but everyone seems to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement anyway. I'm fairly certain that you could really slowly pull off a free PhD in Education by working at it for long enough. You almost always get very tiny incremental salary bumps by adding endorsements (things like ESL), but again that'd depend on the district.

How much time does that take?

There have been times that my wife was attending class during the school year twice a week (and that was long after she already had a Masters). During the summers she's attended eight hour a day classes for a week or two more than once. Conferences often are day long affairs. etc.

How much time to you get to pursue your own projects?

I would guess if you were really dedicated to your side projects that you might be able to eek out a little time during the Summer, and a little more during the winter break(s). To be honest though, many/most of the teachers that I know use a lot of that time (that they're not using on professional development) to re-charge their batteries. I'm always amazed at how tiring of a profession that it is, and how much each and every one of the teachers that I know gives of their lives.

Independent of your questions it's incredibly common to see teachers donating tons of time and money to make sure that their kids do as well as possible. Buying dozens of shoes and winter coats is a ritual when the weather gets colder. Buying kids meals, making sure that they're getting to school regardless of their parents' problems, helping parents get into shelters, helping kids get out of bad situations... these are the kinds of things I hear about on a weekly if not daily basis, and all of that takes time. On top of that they almost all work from 6:30-7am until after 4pm, with almost no breaks throughout the day, and those that can't get everything done at school will take work home. If your husband thinks that he'll walk away from all of that sense of responsibility when it gets sunny... well he's not like the teachers I know. They're still teaching summer school classes, taking kids that they know have no money to the Zoo or museums, working in the community, etc.
posted by togdon at 3:25 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ms. Vegetable used to teach high school math. She hated it. She now makes double what she did teaching and is lot saner. Summers off ARE NOT WORTH IT. Even if a school were to pay her double what she is currently making, summers off are not worth it to her. You need that time to recover, evaluate your year, plan your next year, etc. Ms. Vegetable would much rather recommend that Mr. Anonymous find some other way to fulfill his desire for long blocks of time off - sabbaticals are a potential in other industries, as is part-time work. Another alternative would be for you both to work part-time, so that neither of you has the stress of primary breadwinner on your shoulders.

So: she thinks this is idealizing summers. Will not happen in reality. There are FAR easier ways to get those hobbies/side businesses happening than teaching and planning to work on them just during the summer. For an example: www.thesimpledollar.com - the writer of this blog managed to turn his side business into a full-time career in other ways.

Good luck!
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:50 PM on July 18, 2008

Teachers don't really have summers "off." We are essentially unemployed for the months of July and August.

There are about 2 months per year with no paychecks, yet mortgage and bills must still be paid.

I save a portion of each of my school-year paychecks (10 months) to partially get me through the summer, and work 6 weeks of the summer at a camp (6 hours per day). This leaves about 2-3 weeks free and clear -- far from a full summer, but I suppose it's a bit better than the average 9-5er (factor in winter break, spring break, federal/jewish holidays, and the occasional snow day, and it's a pretty nice deal -- but of course these days off are reflected in the comparatively low salaries teachers make).

Depending on your summer employment/income requirements, your mileage may vary. I know teachers who have their full summers off because they either 1.) have breadwinning spouses who cover the expenses during the summer, 2.) Make freelance income and work only when they want/need to, 3.) Have very few expenses or live with their parents, 4.) Have few expenses and manage to save a full summer's worth of income out of their 10-month paychecks. I know teachers who are craftsmen or contractors and operate their businesses during summer months.

I also know teachers who have to scramble every day of the summer to keep up, and are desperate for the school year to begin so the paychecks start coming back in.

Some school systems have an option to pay you through the summer (by dividing your yearly salary over 12 months instead of 10, which obviously makes each paycheck considerably smaller). My school system doesn't do this, but I have a friend who does it this way and he loves getting 4-5 paychecks over the summer for "doing nothing." If you are disciplined you can save a portion of each paycheck during the school year and live off of that savings during the summer -- I do this but I still can't afford to save enough to have summers fully off.

Anyway, just wanted to give you some perspective on the realities of the summer "vacation" for teachers. There's no denying it's an awesome perk, but it can be a hassle and a liability if you're not financially prepared to spend 2 months of every year with no income.

Another perspective: Lately I've been considering changing careers to something that requires less take-home work. I fantasize about having a job where I can leave at 5 and be DONE for the day. There are a lot of pros and cons which are beyond the scope of this post, but I must admit, the vacation schedule is one of the major factors that keeps me from changing careers. So despite all I said above about the financial realities, the vacation schedule is still pretty enticing.
posted by Alabaster at 6:47 PM on July 18, 2008

My mother is an elementary school teacher.

Unlike many of the previous posters, my mom always has the summer off to essentially do what she wants to do. She goes to the beach. She gardens. If she wanted to spend all day writing, I imagine she could. When us kids were growing up we were always at camp in the summer, so she really was on vacation. I never knew her to take (or teach) summer classes or attends conferences or workshops of any kind.

However (and these are some really fucking big "howevers"):
- She's not the sole (or even primary) breadwinner in my family and while the extra income is obviously nice, it's not absolutely necessary for her to work--therefore she doesn't need to earn money in the summers.
- She's been teaching for more than 30 years. I have no idea what her summers looked like when she and my father were young and broke, but I suspect they weren't really the same.
- She has a master's degree already, which negates a lot of the need for certifications, etc. (At least that's my understanding.)

I don't mean to be presumptuous, but your husband's idea sounds incredibly selfish to me. I don't mean selfish to "the children"--I'm not someone who thinks that all teachers need to be passionate, lifelong educators--I mean selfish to you and your children. Making you go back to work so he can have a job in which he'll have 6 or 7 weeks off to blog and contribute to message boards? At a third of his current salary? Really? (And it is only 6 or 7 weeks off--teachers around here have July and half of August off.)

It seems like an awful lot of sacrifice to be making for not much payoff at all. If he thinks he can make a career as a writer or a blogger, why isn't he already doing it on the weekends or after work (which is, by the way, when he'll be doing all the work he'd take home with him if he were to become a teacher)?
posted by cosmic osmo at 8:52 PM on July 18, 2008

I highly recommend he spend a week or two observing a teacher in the age group/subject matter he intends to teach. Go a few days to an affluent neighborhood, then a few days to a Title I neighborhood. Try out a private school as well. While I agree with all that's been said upthread about not teaching just to get summers off, different schools have different environments. I taught in a private girls school and loved every minute of it. Low stress, energetic and curious students, supportive (mostly) parents, summers free and clear. Salary was a bit less than public schools, but it was a wonderful job. I also taught at a public Title I school. I lasted one semester until my Tums habit told me to get out. Uncurious students, unsupportive parents, unprofessional colleagues, administrative issues, revolving doors for teachers... it was a nightmare of the worst kind. Teaching is a calling and must be revered as such. If he does not feel called to it, if he is just interested in it for the vacations, then run far far away. It will eat his soul and turn him into the worst version of himself.
posted by orangemiles at 5:19 AM on July 19, 2008

Since you are considering going from one income to two you might want to look at the book The Two-income Trap. I have worked in schools for ten years, in my area teachers start at $45,000 and earn around $70,000 after ten years with just a BA. \ Even so, the teachers I know that have summers off are supported by the other, higher-income spouse but still spend a lot of time researching and preparing for the next year. Otherwise yes, the teachers work during the summer to support themselves. Teachers also spent a LOT of time outside their 7.30-4 pm workday doing work. Teachers that were just phoning in the job for the summers off were VERY obvious and were "rewarded" with the worst classes. Principals aren't stupid and can tell the difference between dedicated teacher who uses the summer to upgrade and research and the lazy teacher that strolls in the day before Labour Day with generic lesson plans.

It is great that he has this dream but he needs to fit the pursuit of the dream into his life, not expect his family to make all the sacrifices, fitting you in around his dream. Now he has chosen to be part of a family his decisions must be made on the basis of what is best for the whole family, not just him. It also sounds like he is not valuing the work you do as a SAHM, if you are working outside the home then either he is going to do have to it (no time to write!) or expensive paid help/services will need to replace all that you do.
posted by saucysault at 7:04 PM on July 19, 2008

Writing is a passion. If the writing has to happen it will happen regardless of what job he has. I was a teacher briefly and it's definitely not an easy job. I have much more free time in my current job than I ever did as a teacher. 2 months of consecutive time off every year is not the solution.

What I'm wondering is whether or not there's a compromise in there somewhere? Do you have a place in your home that's dedicated to his writing? Could you set some ground rules where a certain amount of time is set aside for him to have a writer's retreat: one hour every night, or 4 hours every Saturday morning-- that kind of thing?

Maybe the thing he expects to gain by from having summer's off is consistency, but you could create more continuity by shifting your mindset. Gratuitous plug for Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. It's a little 12 Step program-ish but the gist of it is 'just do it' and especially with writing I think that's good advice.
posted by aperture_priority at 5:26 AM on July 20, 2008

Teaching is hard. I know it for a fact because I was one year away from having a Masters in Education. I was also engaged to a teacher and both his parents are teachers. My best friend from HS is a college prof pursuing her Doctorate. She and her husband both, actually. They are so sick of dealing with the students who think they are entitled to A's as soon as they walk through the door that they are both planning to scrap the Doctorate plans and do ANYTHING else soon. Teachers are working constantly, planning, grading, etc etc. I think you guys need to think hard about this decision. I'll tell you straight out what I told myself when I quit the teaching program: The world doesn't need one more half-ass teacher.
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:05 PM on July 27, 2008

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