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Forum: Reason to become teacher — vacation

- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2007

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain, With the barkers and the colored balloons. . . .

Neil Young

In a July issue of National Review appears a short piece on "Workaholics." In it, the author argues that Americans are preoccupied — actually obsessed — with work.

He comes to this conclusion based on a number of factors. First, he points out any increase in leisure activities over the last four decades is due to electronic appliances making our lives easier. Second, people living in Italy, France, Germany, the U.K., Canada and Japan can take advantage of 10 to 28 more vacation days than the average 14 allotted to Americans. Most remarkable is that, on average, Americans don't even take advantage of three of their vacation days.

Reading the article, I couldn't help but feel the author, Kevin Hassett, could have explored the subject much further. Although interesting, this tidbit of information was just the jumping-off place for something more central in understanding what a cross-section of Americans are willing to do to maintain a particular standard of living, forge a career or keep a roof over their heads.

Something else he doesn't explore is that there are people who enjoy working, who find it fills a need in them to do something useful, perhaps for society's betterment. But his most egregious omission is something that I, an education reformer, noticed straight away. What about teachers?

If I remember correctly, teachers are expected to put in around 188 days of teaching per school year. Let's do the math. If there are 52 weeks in a year, multiplied by five days a week, that comes to 260 potential working days for the average Joe, minus all 14 vacation days, to arrive at an obligatory 246 days of work. Let's see — 246 minus 188 equals 58 days more work expected of the average person than a teacher per calendar year.

If a teacher works 20 years and retires, this adds up to 1,160 days, or a little more than three years of more leisure time available to them than the rest of the working population.

Let's look at this another way. For the average Joe, this year'sTax Freedom Day arrived April 30, the day after people stopped handing over the sum total of their paychecks to the government and instead, the total sum of their paychecks went to pay themselves. A portion of these tax dollars paid teachers in our public schools salaries that rival most salaries in the corporate world, except maybe vice president and senior V.P.-level employees, who could be considered on par with the principals and superintendents of our public schools and who make more money than teachers.

In addition, these teachers are eligible for generous retirement benefits through the Teachers' Retirement System and provided top-notch health plans — with low copays, prescription drug plans and low deductibles. The average Joe must contribute to Social Security, which may or may not pay out in the long run. For additional monies, some companies offer 401(k)s. Neither of these options comes even close to providing the type of return teachers are guaranteed without the anxiety of possibly losing money on their investment.

While a teacher, I worked hard and put in many extra hours on professional development, writing lesson plans and grading papers. Now, employed in private industry, I find myself working even harder and putting in longer hours — in addition to the 58 days more I'm expected on the job compared with my former colleagues. The difference is that if I or my present colleagues don't meet our benchmarks — because we don't have tenure and there is no guarantee we will make enough money for the company to justify our salaries — we will most certainly find ourselves without a means to make a living. You can bet this reality keeps us on our toes.

I wonder why our nation's schools are allowed to exist outside this reality, in a world where benchmarks are vague enough to allow for broad interpretation, and whether effective or not, teachers draw equal wages for which others pay?


President of The Basics Project, ( a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational project.