Saturday, July 20, 2013

Schooooool's Out. For. Summer!

By the time you have spent some time in the teaching profession (perhaps not very much time at all), someone will tell you that you're very lucky to have your summers off. When people say this to me, I reply that I'm not lucky; I chose this.

You see, schoolteaching is not some mysterious profession that no one knows very much about, with bizarrely high levels of pay, filled with glamour and intrigue--you're thinking super spy. Or CFO. Or actuarial scientist.

Other than our parents' jobs, teaching was probably the first profession we were confronted with as children, and the costs and benefits were as obvious then as they are now: 1. Teachers got pretty good parking spots--actually, the teachers in my elementary school had to run out at recess to feed the parking meters. We were told that they were monitoring us through the PA system, but now I wonder. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if they may have just been using this as an opportunity to nip over to the teacher's lounge for a smoke (yes, youngsters, teachers used to smoke in the faculty room--from what I understand, they also used to smoke in the classroom before that). 2. They had six different outfits that they wore in a relentlessly repeating order (plus one special one for extra special occasions). 3. They had special text books with all the answers in them, and 4. They had summers off.

Unrelated side-note: teachers also had one of the only job titles that we knew of as kids that didn't have "man" as a suffix (e.g. police-, garbage-, fire-, spider-) which meant that it was one of the only professions suitable for girls. Even in make-believe, we tended to relegate the girls to jobs that came with dresses. For more on gender, see also: here and here.

Since we all knew the deal with teachers from very early on, why is it that people seem so shocked when the folks who went to college for teaching (or, as is the case with lots of my friends--went back to college for teaching after doing something else for a while) don't go in to work over the summer?

I don't know the answer to this, but I can tell you that there is a significant difference between "not in school" and "on vacation." Both are pretty cool, don't get me wrong, but they're not the same. I think the problem stems first from a misunderstanding of vacation.

So, The Slacker's Guide to Vacation:
  1. The Relaxing Vacation - This is the image that pops into lots of people's minds at mention of the word--and possibly the reason for their ire at the idea that teachers spend the entire summer this way. Basically, we're talking about living inside of a Corona commercial. To be done correctly, it helps to have money (see 6., below), but it's not absolutely crucial. Floating on an inflatable raft, in an above-ground pool, outside a double-wide trailer is pretty relaxing too, provided no one is asking anything of you.
  2. The Relaxing Vacation with Children - Come on, are you kidding me?
  3. The Adventure - I use this as an all-purpose euphemism for any vacation that doesn't go exactly according to plan. When your brakes catch fire descending the Rockies--adventure. When it takes seven hours of driving, a harrowing trip across the Cross-Bronx Expressway, and an hour on a diesel-powered-seasick-inducing ferry just to put your feet in the sand--adventure. When you spend forty-five minutes going the wrong way on the turnpike because there's just that much space between exits--adventure. When you get shaken down by a fake-deaf Indian girl outside the Gare du Nord train station and you don't know how much you just gave her because you still can't work out the exchange rate on the fly--adventure. Some people probably set out to have adventures, but we have usually been able to find them quite easily without trying.
  4. The Paris Hilton Adventure - This is a term coined by Michael Pollan's wife for the the week he spent working on a farm researching his book for The Omnivore's Dilemma (see also: here). People who have had quite their fill of the Relaxing Vacation sometimes prefer to do something fairly arduous--think: cattle drive--that any normal person would consider work. If you actually work for a living, this is probably not going to be your thing.
  5. The Christian Paris Hilton Adventure - Because good work needs to be done in this world, and because there are lots of good religious kids who aren't going on normal spring break or senior week, an entire tourism industry has grown up around the idea of do-gooder tourism. When it works, it's quite a wonderful thing, but The Onion had an interesting perspective on ways in which it may not work so well. From a more legit source, one of the authors my wife worked with reported in his book that a different group of these folks had painted the same orphanage every year for the past five. Need and availability don't always meet up perfectly in this, even when everyone's intentions are valid.
  6. The Rich Person's Vacation - The Relaxing Vacation goes even better if you have lots of money. I don't have lots of money, but I did see The Thomas Crown Affair and would be willing to give it a try.
  7. The Family Vacation - You did this one when you were a kid, and some families don't ever really give up on it. The basic bargain is that the patriarch and/or matriarch finances the whole thing and everyone tries to get along--even though the kitchen is very small, there's never enough hot water, everyone else's kids are poorly behaved (which makes your own children behave poorly for the first time in their dear little lives), your brother-in-law has taken up drinking quite seriously, and no one gets the room they want. In other words, it's just like being part of a family, but not at home. 
  8. The Staycation - Generally, the idea of staying at home and trying to have your vacation there is a terrible idea.You still have all of the incomplete projects, the reminders of other incomplete projects, the messy areas of the house, and your normal chores to attend to. However, if you have a very good reason (like you're under house arrest, or your pet-sitter cancels at the last moment, or you're pregnant enough to have morning sickness but not pregnant enough to tell anyone you're pregnant) it could work. Just throw a Somebody Else's Problem Field over all of the housework, arrange for a free trial of HBO, and spend the money you would have on a hotel at a restaurant that you normally couldn't afford. It won't work, but it will help to motivate you to pack up the car next time.
  9. The Couple's Getaway - While this can involve driving down the coast for a weekend at a quaint little B&B in wine country, it can also involve taking the turnpike to the nearest Holiday Inn. The most important goal is to finally have some quality time with your spouse that doesn't end with the kids banging on the bedroom door or your mother-in-law dropping by to give you one of the cantaloupes that were buy-one-get-one-free at Kroger.
  10. The Tour - If you enjoy spending most of your time in transit (planes, trains, and/or automobiles) with little snippets of time in between looking at stuff, allow me to recommend The Tour. It tends to be the kind of thing that one does when trying to be very efficient about crossing items from a bucket list, and not as efficient about actually enjoying things. My family and I have seen some cool stuff this way, but there is a little car over in Ireland somewhere that none of us would ever want to get into again.
  11. The Debauchery Tour - This can be combined with other styles of vacations, including The Relaxing Vacation, The Staycation, The Couple's Getaway, or even The Family Vacation--assuming you've chosen your family wisely. In simple terms, it's using vacation as an excuse to drink much more than you normally do, eat much more beef, bacon, cheese, and ice cream (possibly in one delicious combination) than you normally do, and perhaps lift your top for strangers if they ask nicely enough. This sort of thing is strongly associated with the young, since the rest of us would be forced to return to our real jobs with a case of gout,  gallbladder attacks, and/or very interesting tan-lines/sunburns. Guess what: even so, it's not entirely reserved for the young.
This entry began with a confusing conversation I had with the truck driver who comes to pick up horse manure at our farm. After an hour of pushing shi stuff around with a bobcat and getting much more of this stuff in my teeth than exactly necessary, he and I were chatting and he asked if I was on vacation. "No," I said, confused by the question while he seemed very confused by the answer. You see, nothing on the above list (except maybe The Paris Hilton Adventure) comes close to describing how I spend most of the summer. My part-time job may not be entirely typical, but it's not at all unusual for teachers to have some sort of extra work over the summer. Whether it is grad school, or teaching summer school, or babysitting our kids--I know it's not babysitting if it's your own kids, but believe me, there's a reason that people pay good money for this service--most teachers are not on vacation all summer.

And that's a choice, too. My related sales pitch for this profession isn't that you'll spend two months of the year doing nothing. It's that you'll spend two months of the year doing something different that makes you eager to go back in the Fall. I always return to my classroom a bit sunburned, with a bit of poison ivy, and with very sore shoulders and back from the final push to get everything finished in the last week or so. I also return with a lot more appreciation for what I do than I had when I left in June, and increased appreciation for the folks who do this stuff twelve months a year.

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