Did you know that in the United States alone, there are about 3.2 million public school teachers? With those odds, there’s a chance that you have a teacher friend that you envy a little because of their “summers off.” And if so, you’ve likely heard the complaints of their job a time or two. But hey, if they’re teaching 20-something youngsters math or science, dealing with stinky classrooms after recess and grading endless stacks of papers each week, I think they get a complaining pass.
As the friend on the listening end, you’ve likely hit them back with, “but teachers get summers off!” The infamous words that everyone who isn’t a teacher says. And this makes total sense because if you’re working the typical 9-5, summers off are a pipe dream for you. That’s all you see. But to teachers, this comment is up there with the kid in their class that asks the same question five times in a row… after they’ve already given the directions twice, because the response to those infamous lines are, “not really…”
What Do Summers Look Like for Teachers?
What used to be a true break has grown shorter and shorter over the years, especially for teachers. Across the United States, public schools let out for summer break in late May, right before Memorial Day weekend. Students will then return to school in early August, approximately a month before Labor Day weekend. This gives students about two to three months of summer vacation.
While students get the entirety of this time off, teachers are contracted to work up to a week after students are released each summer for post-planning. Additionally, at the beginning of each school year, teachers typically return a week or two prior to students for pre-planning, as well. Beyond pre and post-planning, teachers are also required to attend professional development days that are often scheduled during their summer vacation. All of these things combined cut a teacher’s “summer off” considerably.
What Do Teachers Do in the Summer?
Now that we know that teachers don’t have as much of a summer off as the world thinks, let’s dive into what teachers actually do in the summer.
As mentioned, teachers return to school about a week before students at the beginning of each school year. This time period is called “pre-planning.” During this time, teachers are setting up their classrooms, writing lesson plans and getting everything in order before students arrive. Additionally, this time is used school-wide to determine how people, time, money, technology and resources will support the priorities for the upcoming school year.
At the end of each school year, after students have been sent home for summer break, teachers will participate in post-planning. During this time, they will reflect on the year and begin to revise their plan for next year. This time often involves a lot of school-wide meetings, as well.
Throughout the summer, teachers are typically expected to attend multiple professional development days. These days are set up to be a continued education effort for educators specifically. During these conferences, seminars or workshops, teachers will learn new skills, discuss new ideas that can be implemented and work together to create a better student experience for the school year to come.
Beyond the required pre and post-planning and professional development days, teachers often spend many of their summer days revamping their curriculum, cleaning and organizing their classroom and attending classes for their certification – and the crazy part? The time they spend doing these things IS NOT compensated. More on that in a minute!
In addition to everything previously discussed, many teachers take summer jobs – in the school system or elsewhere – to supplement the fairly low salary that you’ve likely heard about if you have a teacher friend.
Remember that complaining pass I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it still stands.
How Much Do Teachers Get Paid?
If you have a teacher friend, there’s a high chance you’ve heard them jokingly say that they’re “broke because they’re a teacher.” The thing is, they might not be joking. While the term “broke” is subjective to everyone, it’s no secret that teachers do have fairly lower salaries than people in other industries.
According to Niche.com, the average starting teacher salary in the United States is $38,617. To put this in perspective, here’s a look at some starting salaries for other common industries:
- Registered Nurses: $73,300 (according to Drexel University)
- Marketing: $44,918 (according to Indeed)
- Journalist: $42,107 (according to PayScale)
- Recruiter: $47,140 (according to Indeed)
- Engineer: $58-68,000 depending on the type (according to Michigan Tech)
From a quick glance, you can tell that teachers clearly aren’t in it for the money. As teachers continue their education and grow their tenure in the field, they are eligible for raises along the way.
Most teachers will see a small raise in their pay for each additional year of experience. They can also earn more as they go beyond the basic required Bachelor’s degree and go back to school to add additional letters to their name. This is often why you see teachers getting their Masters or Doctorate degrees – it’s not because they LOVE college necessarily, it’s about the dollar signs!
Do Teachers Get Paid in the Summer?
Since we’re on this money talk, you might be wondering, “do teachers get paid in the summer?” Although they aren’t “working” as in being in the classroom each day, teachers typically have the option to either receive their annual salary over the 10 months of the school year OR spread their paychecks out over a full year.
If they choose the latter option, then the answer to this question is technically “yes.”
How Many Hours Do Teachers Work Each Week?
From the outside looking in, another perk of being a teacher could be that they get off work around 3pm every afternoon. If you asked a teacher what time they actually leave their classroom, they’d probably say around 5pm or later.
If you speak with a teacher for any amount of time, you’ll quickly see that they’re responsible for a lot more than just teaching and leaving each day. While students leave the building each afternoon around 3pm, teachers have to make sure their class is prepped for the next day, papers are graded, other paperwork is completed, conferences are taken care of, meetings are attended, etc.
While planning periods are put in place for teachers, a lot of teachers say that this designated time that’s built into the school day is almost never used for actual planning or grading. There are often other things that need their attention, so the planning is pushed to the side for them to fit in elsewhere.
Because of this, many teachers arrive to work early, before students get there, or stay after students leave to ensure that all of their responsibilities are taken care of. Beyond that, many teachers have to take their work home so that it all gets completed in a timely manner. This means that teachers are potentially working TONS of overtime without extra compensation.
In fact, according to an article on teachthought.com, it was “estimated that, during the school year, teachers work an average of 53 hours per week. While this is not true of all teachers, those for whom this is true are putting in an extra 39 hours every three weeks. For every 40 weeks of a school year, they are putting in an extra 13 forty-hour weeks.”
So, with this data, we could argue that the “summers off” is well deserved.
What Kinds of Benefits Do Teachers Receive?
By now, you have a better understanding of what summers look like for teachers, how much teachers get paid and how many hours they work, so let’s finally dive into what types of benefits teachers receive.
As you may expect, teachers receive the typical benefits of many government jobs including:
- Pension Plans
- 401k Retirement Plans
- Social Security
- Personal Leave and Sick Days
Western Governors University does a wonderful breakdown of each of these in detail that you can refer to here.
Support Your Teacher Friends
Hopefully you can see that teachers are in the industry for many more reasons than the pay and schedule. Most teachers are in it because they love to help children learn and grow in their life. They support students through many life transitions and help them navigate through confusing times as they grow into adults. Research shows that students spend about 13.36 of their waking hours in school by the age of 18, so it is clear that teachers play a massive role in their learning and development over the years.
While the work they do is often very fruitful, teachers can still feel the burnout that comes with pouring into others all day long without refilling their own cup. If you have a teacher friend, don’t forget to support, encourage them and be their listening ear. Recognize them for their efforts, tell them they’re doing a great job and be there for a hug when times are extra hard. They’ll appreciate you for it!