I Know What You (Really) Did Last Summer (August/September 2015)

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By Susan Krumholz
President, UMass Dartmouth Faculty Federation

Any one who teaches--K-12 or college--has heard any number of family and friends tell them what a "cushy" job they have--after all they have the summer off. Perhaps everything about this subject that could be said has been said. But when I woke up the other morning at 4 am with my head spinning thinking of all the work I still needed to do--with three weeks until the semester begins-- I knew I needed to revisit the topic.

I don't deny that we do have wonderful jobs! During the school year, interactions with students feed my soul. And I wouldn't change the flexibility of summers for almost anything. On the other hand, the suggestion that we have easy jobs, or just don't work hard or enough, is profoundly discouraging and insulting, and contributes to the falling national esteem teachers are facing.

Ah! But we only work (fill in the blank) hours, days, months? Talk to folks who work in other professions such as engineering or nursing. They work hard, often long hours, but when the come home they are generally DONE. Teachers are expected to take their work home! A study of K-12 teachers conducted by the Center for Teaching Quality found that teachers work an average of 50 hours a week, including twelve hours of "grading papers, bus duty, and club advising." John Ziker, an Anthropologist at Boise State University, conducted a study of faculty work-- the Time Allocation Workload Knowledge Study, or TAWKS--and published the first stage results in 2014. (https://thebluereview.org/faculty-time-allocation; retrieved August 11, 2015.) The study looked at faculty during the academic year and found that faculty work 61 hours a week, 10 of those on weekends. About 50% of faculty time is spent on teaching-related work, 17% in meetings and 13% on email. With all the emphasis on research, the study found that securing funding, research, writing, comprised 17% of the work-week and 27% of weekend work. A mere 59% of our work is done on campus -- at work. Despite all this there is enormous pressure on faculty to increase the time spent in all three arenas--teaching, which is highly visible and generates tuition; research, which institutions value largely for the external funding it generates; and administration.

And then there is salary. For those of us whose wages are annualized, we receive income over the summer, but that is based upon a nine or ten month wage. Wage analysis studies (done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, National Education Association, and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI)) show that teachers starting salaries are below those of other similar professionals, and that as they gain more experience the wage gap only widens. Overall teachers' wages have declined 13.1% since 1979. And the myth that our benefits make up for this is dispelled by the EPI's observations that employers often pay lower payroll taxes (no Social Security, for example) and that teachers have less opportunity for overtime pay. Overall benefits have not increased at the rate salaries have declined. And " the benefits of other workers would not have declined as much in recent years if they had the protection of a union, collective bargaining, and an independent voice on the job -- like public school teachers." (We knew that!)

So, what do we do with our summers?
o We do research. It is apparent when looking at the allocation of faculty time that any large-scale research or meaningful writing must take place at a time when teaching and administration duties aren't constantly competing. In the summer students aren't stopping by every 10 minutes and the phone isn't constantly ringing. (Email, though, never seems to go away!) Uninterrupted thinking is a requirement for writing.
o We attend professional conferences and/or classes. Most of us spend time during the summer preparing papers to present at conferences, attending conferences, or continuing our own education. Teachers are also lifelong learners, especially K-12 teachers who are obligated to continue professional development. Summer learning includes keeping up with mandated curricular changes and learning new technology skills.
o We teach. We might take on a necessary course, do enrichment work with our students, or take them to another country for an international learning experience. Or maybe we choose to teach just because we need the summer money.
o We develop curriculum, planning our classes for the coming year. Classes don't just happen. Summer is spent reviewing books, writing syllabi and lesson plans, and finding new ways of engaging students in the material. For K-12 teachers that often includes setting up the classroom environment and purchasing supplies; spending an average of $500 of ones' own money.
o We read in an effort to keep up with our disciplinary knowledge. Whether you are teaching 8th grade Math or Political Science at a university, knowledge is being constantly generated (isn't that what we are publishing for?). There is a lot of reading to be done simply to stay current and relevant.
o We meet. Administrative work doesn't end when the school year ends. We meet with colleagues to plan curricular modifications. We work with students, advising during orientation sessions throughout the summer. We plan for events that we will bring to campus during the academic year, that enliven the campus community.

By the time you are reading this you are well into the new school year. I hope you found some time to relax and maybe even take a vacation. But mostly, you better have had a productive summer if you expect to survive the school year.