Requirements vary by state, but most schools are in session for 180 days a year. Teachers are generally scheduled a few additional days than students to do professional development and trainings. So, what is happening all the other days of the year? Summer, Winter Break, Spring Break, and Government Holidays give students and teachers some nice time off, but do teachers truly get vacation days?
No. Most school districts allot teachers a set number of sick days, but these are not to be deemed as vacation days. Teachers are not provided vacation days in the same manner a traditional job does. Vacations for a teacher are intended to occur during the days off that students also receive.
Teachers get a set amount of sick days provided to them by their district. It varies, but for some school districts, it starts at only 6 days per year. These days are classified as sick or personal days from a teacher’s school and are intended not to be used for vacations.
Believe it or not, there are districts that offer up to 25 days per year! Districts in Harford, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey are two areas that support their teachers with this generous amount of days.
I actually work as a Middle School Math Teacher in a public school district in Phoenix, Arizona. In my district, we are allotted 12 sick days a year. Unfortunately, we are encouraged not to use the full amount of days. This is communicated to teachers by incentivizing us with a bonus if we don’t take more than 4 days off per year. A decision is made- receive extra money or utilize your provided days to potentially benefit your health.
Because of the variation in the amount of days, a teacher should thoroughly research several districts before signing a contract. There are several benefits that vary from district to district – amount of sick days, medical insurance, length of school day, distance from the school site to your home, etc. Even though the district with the most sick days might appear to be the way to go, another district with less days might fully cover a teacher’s medical insurance.
In a world with COVID-19, the question of taking time off arises now more than ever. Will taking time off assist in preventing COVID-19? Will taking time off assist in a teacher’s mental health?
Related: Do Teachers Get Benefits?
There are certain days, or as they say in the education world, blackout days, that a teacher is not allowed to even attempt to request off. There are unique, approved circumstances such as a wedding, funeral, or a health related reason that sometimes a school district will approve, but it is infrequent.
What is happening on these blackout days? There are a variety of reasons. Schools often schedule PDs (Professional Developments) once or twice a week that are mandatory for teachers to attend and blacked out. There are also Parent/Teacher conferences which are extremely important in a teacher’s role to communicate with parents. Other reasons for blackout days are days that might be hard to find a substitute, the very start or end of a semester, and mandated state testing.
So, let’s say a teacher is really sick or has a doctor’s appointment or just needs a specific day off, what happens if it’s a blackout date?
Taking Unapproved Days Off
There are two reasons a teacher might not get a day off approved. One, it’s a blackout day. For some predetermined reason, any requests made for the day will not be approved. And two, there are already too many teachers that requested off the day already. It is hard to find substitute teachers, especially with COVID-19. So, in order to avoid a potential crazy ratio of students to teachers for a day, administrators at a school can deny a day off request using their own discretion.
If teachers take an unapproved day off, a big chunk comes out of their pay. It doesn’t even matter if the teacher has available sick days to use. The missing day is calculated and then subtracted from the normal check amount. Depending on how the teacher’s school district determines their health and dental insurances, an additional amount might be taken out as well.
COVID-19 has caused such a depletion of substitutes all over the country. Even before COVID-19, it was a challenge to get substitutes. So many individuals have decided working as a substitute teacher is not worth the risk of potentially contracting this awful virus.
In response to the lack of substitutes, a great deal of districts have increased their daily substitute rate. For the majority of states, substitutes are required to have a Bachelor’s degree. Considering the degree requirement, some individuals still consider the daily pay low even after the COVID-19 pay bump.
In my own Phoenix school district, there was a small increase of individuals returning or initially applying as a substitute when there was a pay bump. People became intrigued about the 35 dollar increase. My school is still lacking subs. Teachers are being forced on a rotation to assist with the absent teachers’ classrooms. This means that teachers are required to give up their prep period and sub in another classroom for that one period. Several teachers will be in and out of that missing teacher’s classroom for the day. This is occurring almost daily and teachers are beyond exhausted.
Summer and Holiday Breaks
Let’s talk about one of the largest benefits of why individuals go into teaching, time off. Teachers get the same breaks as the students. Almost every single day the students are off, the teachers are technically off too. The word technically is used because teachers often grade papers, develop lesson plans, and create curriculum on their days off. Why are teachers working on days they are not scheduled?
Teachers feel a lot of pressure from parents, administrators, and even the public. We often hear, teachers get so much time off or teachers barely have to work. Not every individual shares these opinions of teachers, but it is a common consensus that is shared amongst the public. Because of this pressure, the majority of teachers feel compelled to continually work on whatever they can in order to better support their students. This turns these summer breaks, spring breaks, and single day holidays into more work days.
If teachers plan well, some of these days can be a nice break for them to take a step away from work. They can truly be breaks.
Being a teacher is a great opportunity for people who may have family members with similar time off. For example, a parent with a kid in school generally receives the same days off as their kid. A great deal of teachers try to teach in the same school, or at least the same district as their kid because it makes it easier for pick up each day as well as planning vacations.
Related: Do Teachers Get Paid in the Summer?
Why Are There No Vacation Days For Teachers?
This is a fantastic question. Why are teachers not allowed the days off they select themselves? Why do teachers have to abide by the school calendar? School administration always hopes that teachers will be present teaching as often as they can. They hope that teachers choose to only take trips and plan appointments on days where they already have off. Does this always happen? Of course not.
Weddings and Funerals, for example, are generally planned by outside parties where the dates are not in control by the teacher. School administration knows that not everything can be in a teacher’s control, but they always hope.
The hope is that, by having no vacation days, teachers are present for almost every scheduled day of school. Teachers being absent can lead to staffing issues which it is believed can be avoided by taking vacation days out of the equation.
It is important for a classroom teacher to be at school teaching their lessons because a substitute teacher generally cannot do as good of a job teaching the content as the regular classroom teacher does. Will classroom content truly suffer if a substitute is teaching a day of it here and there?
For some reason, this is a greatly debated question, but the answer is no. If a teacher is taking time off here and there to ensure that they are happy and healthy, they will be more successful and impactful as a teacher the days that they are there.
Final Thoughts – Teacher Vacation Days
Teachers are not provided vacation days. They are provided sick days. They are encouraged to take vacations during the days they are not scheduled for work during the academic calendar year. These are days determined by the school district, not teachers, which limits when they can plan appointments, vacations, and other life occurrences.
Teachers can take vacations on the days off, but often use these unscheduled days to work on lesson plans, grading, and other duties that are required of them. There are pressures at any job, of course, and most teachers are always trying to do more, even on days that are intended to be vacation.