There is an abundance of misinformation and misplaced ill-will out there concerning the teaching profession. Sadly, most everyone can site an instance in their childhood in which a bad teacher may have affected their lives. I know that such was the case for me. More sadly though, there are people who make it their mission, for whatever reason, to bash teachers, the overwhelming majority of whom are dedicated professionals. While some of the criticism comes from frustrated or resentful individuals who have a right to their opinions, some also comes from more influential individuals and institutions who are using the demeaning of teachers and public education as a means to further their political careers or agendas, or to profit from what they perceive as a potential privatization cash cow.
In the sewer that is the world of web site commentary, a place that desperate traditional media outlets allow to fester, one finds a non-stop diatribe of the bravely anonymous commentators voicing their frustration and resentment of educators. 'Those teachers! They have the summer off! They only work half days! They are paid so much! They have such "lavish" benefits!' You may have heard or read such things if you choose to waste time reading such enlightened prose. As a "teaching widower", let me share with you, as old Larry Glick used to say, "The story behind the story".
My wife is a public elementary school teacher in what Massachusetts likes to call, a gateway city. It's a city with a very divers, working class, often working-poor, population. Her school is one with many low-income students from homes with parents who are possibly from other countries and who often work harder than most to try to "make it" here. She generally leaves the house at about 6:30AM to set off on her 15 minute commute. Let me say that I worked for a very long time in what talk radio likes to call, "the dreaded private sector", where, if one arrived at work at 6:45AM, he or she would be alone for several hours in a dark office. Most of my wife's days at school last until about 4PM, which is followed by an unwinding at the gym. The after-dinner hours are usually spent on the computer struggling with the latest and greatest bureaucratic busywork that may have come down to the worker bees from those who know best. Sometimes these evenings involve grading, lesson planning, calling parents, using our own personal paper and toner, and spending evenings at school talking to parents. Did I mention our paper and toner? Oh, and Saturday mornings?... ditto.
So lets talk about the school year. Yes, teachers get the summer off. (The first week after school is over, my wife sleeps; day and night.) Did I mention that they have the summer off WITHOUT PAY? Many people are under the mistaken impression that the summer is a paid vacation. Um...no. Did I mention that I worked for a long time in the private sector? I have a Bachelor of Music degree. In the corporate world I was a software engineer with a few software engineering courses under my belt and was paid almost exactly twice what my wife was paid at the time, and she has a Masters of Education. And what about those other vacations? Yes, in Massachusetts, teachers get the Christmas break, a February and an April vacation. Most professional people do get paid vacation, albeit far less than is reasonable in this country, IMHO. The big difference is that most professional people can choose when they go on those vacations. I cannot. Did I say "I"? Why yes I did! My wife and I cannot go anywhere when we choose. I would also challenge you to check out airfares during these very popular vacation weeks. Such a perk!
And finally, I am going to throw in only one comment about benefits. When I was in the corporate world, my wife and I always used my health care coverage for both of us because it was much less expensive than hers. I am sure that this is not unusual and that not having to cover a certain percentage of employees is a huge win for the city.
Public education is one of the things that makes this country one worth living in. Public servants, like teachers, do exactly what the name implies; they serve the public. Whether that is you and me specifically or not is irrelevant. We are in this together. The founding fathers knew that. Those who created this "commonwealth" knew that. We can either support the education of children when they are children, making them into citizens who are part of the commonwealth, or we can pay even more to keep them alive in prison as adults. We already have the world's highest incarceration rate .
[Now try to visualize me stepping off my soap box please.]
(1 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_incarceration_rate)