Surviving Family Holiday Education Experts

I am sitting at the dinner table and it’s Christmas Eve. As so often happens, relatives weigh in on the profession of teaching, since they attended school and that makes them experts. This setting has played out at homes across the country. Add unlimited eggnog to the scene and the comments worsen as the blood alcohol level goes up. The most commonly heard misconceptions of teaching heard at the holiday dining room table are:

  • Teachers have the summer off.
  • Teachers have many weeks of vacation during the school year, like this week between Christmas and New Year’s.
  • Teachers only work part of the year.
  • Teaching is a part time job with full time pay. (Thank you Governor Christie for that one.)
  • Teaching is easy.
  • Teaching isn’t a stressful job like my job is….

If your head hasn’t exploded yet, congratulations! If you are a teacher, chances are you started responding to one of these comments but then decided it was pointless talking to Cousin Eddie in his current state of inebriation. So like me, you probably politely excused yourself and went back to the living room to converse with more agreeable relatives. But these misconceptions need addressing because they are causing real damage to the teaching profession and to students. For example, teacher preparation program enrollment has drastically declined over the years since No Child Left Behind.

Statewide, enrollment in teacher prep programs declined 38% from 2008-09 to 2012-13, according to the most recent federal data available. Nationally, the drop was 30% during the same time period. (source)


This will eventually lead to teacher shortages which will adversely affect students. The research behind why current college students are choosing other professions to enter leads to the public perception of field.

“It tears me up sometimes to see the way in which people talk about teachers because they are giving blood, sweat and tears for their students every day in this country. There is a sense now that, ‘If I went into this job and it doesn’t pay a lot and it’s a lot of hard work, it may be that I’d lose it.’ And students are hearing this. And it deters them from entering the profession.” (source)


That brings us back to Cousin Eddie and his eggnog-fueled assessment of what we do and how easy we have it. This is what my responses should have been:

  • Summers Off (deep breath and slowly exhale).We do not have summers off unless you also would say we have weekends off. Teachers are basically sent home in June as if they were laid off and they are rehired back at the end of the summer to begin working again. We do not get paid for that time. Go ahead, make school year round, but then you will have to pay me for those 10 weeks. I will probably make enough money finally to make ends meet.
  • Teachers have many weeks of vacation during the school year, like this week between Christmas and New Year’s.

This is an easy one to answer. We don’t get paid for those weeks. Our salary is a compensation for the days our contract determines we must be in district. For me, that is 183 days – those days are when students are there and three additional days for district professional development. They do not include the days when school buildings are closed. So no, I am not getting a week’s paid vacation between Christmas and New Year’s or the week in spring either, or Memorial Day, or Thanksgiving and Black Friday, etc.

  • Teachers only work part of a year. If the schools were open more, I would work more and then make more. I am told how many days I must attend and I show up. If the school year was extended to match other professions work calendars then the pay would also have to increase to compensate for the additional time added. Even if that occurred, research proves that teaching has fallen behind other similar professions that require college level degrees.


An analysis of weekly wage trends shows that teachers’ wages have fallen behind those of other workers since 1996, with teachers’ inflation-adjusted weekly wages rising just 0.8%, far less than the 12% weekly wage growth of other college graduates and of all workers. (source)

A comparison of teachers’ wages to those of workers with comparable skill requirements, including accountants, reporters, registered nurses, computer programmers, clergy, personnel officers, and vocational counselors and inspectors, shows that teachers earned $116 less per week in 2002, a wage disadvantage of 12.2%. Because teachers worked more hours per week, the hourly wage disadvantage was an even larger 14.1%. (source)


  • Teaching is a part time job with full time pay. I already answered this one in the last bullet point. For those who do not know this, the Governor of New Jersey made this assertion in one of his many moments of his stellar leadership.
  • Teaching is easy and stress-free.

Okay, if it was then why is there a drastic drop in those who want to become teachers? Teaching has the dubious honor of being number 4 in a top ten list of low paying stressful professions.

Despite all of the negativity that exists, the truth is that teaching children of any age is a privilege and an honor that only those who do this work can really appreciate the value of. I know that every day I make a difference in the lives of my students and I will continue to dedicate myself to them and this profession because I believe in what I do is important. I share with you excerpts from a letter I received from a parent of a former student:

I remember, quite fondly, Susan’s experience in Mr. Dunlea’s second grade class. It was a year full of turning points for my daughter. Susan is diagnosed with oral motor apraxia, she is also neurologically and perceptual impaired. Being shy and quiet, I was always fearful of new challenges for her but given the opportunity to shine and feel comfortable doing so has made her a much better student. In her second grade class, Susan gave her first oral report when Mr. Dunlea encouraged her to try.

Her classmates were completely engaged asking questions after the report and Susan answered all the questions and took pride in her responses.

I saw a small change in Susan after that day, and it has grown in the years to follow. I comment on it often, stating it gave Susan confidence that only she could find within herself.

Susan is now in tenth grade, an honor-roll student, who excels at oral reports in the classroom. She is first to volunteer her report and takes pride in her work always. Yes, she still struggles with her speech impairment, but she does not let that interfere with her academic agenda. She reports with confidence and when asked she will tell you she learned that in Mr. Dunlea’s class.

So I leave you with Taylor Mali since he can handle my relatives better than I can.







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