• Motherhood After Tenure: Having the “summer off”

    By Aeron Haynie June 16, 2011 1:52 am UTC

    I know I should write about the recent political events in Wisconsin, but honestly I don’t have the heart. Instead I will describe my summer so far, perhaps as a way of extending recent conversations about workload and also to address common misconceptions that teachers and professors “have the summers off.”

    For a variety of reasons, I have been out of town more often than not. A combination of job interviews, conferences, and paid gigs have made me into the absent parent. This spring I missed my daughter’s school performances, teacher conference, and much of her birthday. Other years I would feel lots of mama-guilt about this, but right now I don’t. As I explained to my daughter, mama has to go out of town to earn money for the family. She gets it.

    This week I’m in Louisville, Kentucky grading AP exams. I had heard it was grueling work, but also that it is filled with camaraderie; both reports are true. But I am here to offset the effects of state budget cuts and furloughs. As the primary breadwinner for my family, I am, for the first time, finding it difficult to balance our budget.

    The AP experience is a cross between factory work and summer camp. For eight hours we sit in large fluorescently-lit rooms read stacks of pink booklets, but in between we are herded along from activity to activity and at every meal there are lively conversations and friendships are made. I am here along with hundreds of high school and college teachers.

    Rarely do high school and college teachers attend the same events, and it’s fascinating to discuss the work of students who are at the cusp of becoming college students. Together we discussed what makes a good reading of a George Eliot passage, coming to a consensus and following a shared rubric, instead of using individual (often idiosyncratic) standards. Every day we go back to the passage, reading it again and discovering it anew. Our table leader is a man of calm, gentle authority and every once in a while he will query a score we gave, listening with gentle concentration and asking us to consider the rubric again. Today our table of eight read over a thousand essays; we’re told we are slightly ahead of schedule. This is met with wild applause.

    In academia, faculty rarely work together on grading or even discuss it. Most academic conferences I’ve attended (with notable exceptions) have not been this collegial. Perhaps this is because here we are not competing for jobs, performing our brilliance, or hobnobbing with powerful people in our fields. Here we are working together.

    Perhaps I have written about Wisconsin after all.


Comments on Motherhood After Tenure: Having the “summer off”

  • Posted by Staff at mid-sized public U on June 16, 2011 at 3:45pm UTC
  • I'm sure it must be difficult to spend time away from your family, but I hope you realize that most of the rest of us - both inside and outside higher ed - have to work all year long at our regular jobs, with a few weeks of vacation time, little or no flexibility in our schedules, and no opportunity to get paid for extra work.

    This is exactly the kind of stuff that makes faculty/teachers seem out of touch with the "real world," and makes education an easy target for politicians.
  • How hard it must be to be you
  • Posted by Classified Supervisor on June 16, 2011 at 6:46pm UTC
  • I hear about how hard faculty work all the time. Then they return from their breaks looking refreshed asking what I did on my break. I worked, that's what I did. My days off are 1/3 of your days off - enough for a very short vacation.

    A little bitter? Yes, but only because faculty seem to forget that we are here working year around as our contract requires. They deserve whatever perks they have managed to get for themselves, but don't forget who keeps the doors open - Classified staff.
  • Posted by Private on June 16, 2011 at 8:00pm UTC
  • One could point out that most classified staff have set work hours and rarely if ever have to bring work home whereas faculty work enough hours during the 9 months of the academic year to more than equal that of a year-round 9-5 job.

    But then, one would also be missing the point of this article, just as the sour grapes comments posted above do.
  • Great article!
  • Posted by Thomas L. Mischler on June 16, 2011 at 8:00pm UTC
  • I worked for 25 years in business and industry, then I spent 10 years as a classroom teacher "with summers off". I've seen things from both sides, folks - and I can join with former Texas governor Ann Richards who said, "Teaching is the hardest thing I have ever done."

    During the first 25 years (I was in the commercial printing industry) I worked lots & lots of overtime, frequently worked night shifts, attended college for much of that time in addition to full time work, worked weekends & holidays to finish jobs - in short, I was anything but a "9 to 5" worker. The first thing I realized when I began teaching was that if I were to work as many hours as I felt I needed to, there was no way I could sleep more than 2 or 3 hours per night. Since that was out of the question, I learned very quickly to prioritize; there simply were not enough hours in the day to do what I needed to do. And I did so as a single adult male - no children, no family. I continue to be amazed at how mothers & fathers manage to teach & raise their families as well.

    As for "summers off" - first, the stress of teaching is such that it takes a fair amount of time to unwind; second, few teachers truly take summers off. They either work a second job (as in this case) that is necessary to make ends meet (not to buy a new Ferrari) or they take summer courses - at their own expense - in order to maintain certification or expertise in their field. Teaching may look like a piece of cake - but that's due to the expertise of those doing it, not the demands of the job. I used to think doctors had it pretty good too - until I lived across the street from one and learned how hard he worked.

    I don't wish to pass judgment on those involved in other jobs. As I said, I, too, worked hard at those other jobs. But unless you have done both, please do not be so quick to attack teachers. All of us do our work to the best of our abilities. All of us make sacrifices and face unique challenges. None of us has the right to judge others.

    That having been said, it is clear that this blog post is not about working summers; it is about whether people are willing to work together or not. The first two comments above inadvertently proved Ms. Haynie's point - that too often we fail to collaborate and instead compete with one another. When educators do this, and my experience confirms what is written here, students suffer.

    Early in my teaching career I cried out for greater communication between educators - across levels & across curricula. Few responded. They were simply too busy doing their jobs.
  • Posted by Staff on June 16, 2011 at 9:00pm UTC
  • @ Private:

    One of the article's points was clearly stated at the beginning, "... to address common misconceptions that teachers and professors have the summers off.” I didn't miss the other points, but simply chose to respond to that one.

    I'd also like to point out that there are many salaried professional staff on college campuses, who do not work a limited/hourly schedule. We went to grad school, we work long hours 12 months a year, and most of us get paid much less than faculty.

    As for your suggestion that faculty work more hours during their 9-month contracts, I'd say those faculty are few and far between. Most of the faculty I've known over the years spend 2 or 3 days a week on campus, and rarely even a full day. We all know that "working at home" is code for running errands, providing child care, watching TV, or consulting for extra pay. We know this because we hear them talking about it in front of us. They either don't notice us at all, or think we are too stupid to understand. We are "just staff" after all.
  • Posted by Private on June 16, 2011 at 10:45pm UTC
  • @ Staff:

    So, you've taking the time to educate me about hours that staff put in. I do appreciate the reminder that I shouldn't overgeneralize. I shall now gently remind you not to do the same.

    Because this statement of yours - "We all know that "working at home" is code for running errands, providing child care, watching TV, or consulting for extra pay." - is a grossly unfair and untrue assumption. Running an errand or watching a child during the day does is usually a tradeoff for late-night class prep or grading. And your assessment of faculty schedules, if true, is certainly not universal. Everyone in my department is at school 5 days a week, works full days, grades at home several nights a week and does class prep on the weekends.

    Clearly, you have an ax to grind about faculty that you encounter, and I don't know how you're treated where you work. And you're right to say that I don't know the individual circumstances and schedules of every staff member. But you're letting your individual experiences cloud your judgment, and it's leading you to make simplistic and cynical assumptions about faculty as a while.

    I'm off now to go work my summer job, then do some of the research and writing required of me to get my contract renewed. I'll be doing all of these things all summer. What job-related things will be required of you on during your "vacation" days?

  • Posted by Staff on June 17, 2011 at 12:15am UTC
  • @Private:

    My comments about faculty work schedules may be cynical, but they are neither simplistic nor unfair. I did state that they were based on my experiences, so it is certainly possible they aren't the norm. But I've worked in higher ed for more than 20 years on 5 different campuses in 3 different states, and that is what I've observed. There are some faculty who work very hard - usually pre-tenure folks - but the majority I've encountered work much less than full-time, whine about how mistreated they are, and expect everyone on campus to cater to every whim.
  • Thanks for your comments
  • Posted by Aeron Haynie on June 17, 2011 at 11:00am UTC
  • We all work hard, we all make valuable contributions; let's work together.
  • Posted by Classified Supervisor on June 17, 2011 at 4:15pm UTC
  • Regarding the "9-5 job" referenced above, many staff, including myself, work many hours over a 40 hour work week. In my case, with no additional pay and NOT from home.

    Sour grapes come from years of being treated like we don't matter by faculty who believe they matter much more than they should.
  • Enjoyed it for what it was
  • Posted by CJ , FA at State U on June 18, 2011 at 9:30am UTC
  • I enjoyed the article and wanted to say thanks for sharing. I enjoyed it for the look, not only at what a teacher does during the summer, but also at the atmosphere and camaraderie of this grading group. It's obvious here that the graders are learning from their work, and turning work into a useful and pleasant experience. I'm staff - mid level admin, and I work long hours, but I know plenty of teachers at the K - 12 and at the post secondary level who work just as hard. The hours are different, but the responsibility to the student is there. Go back and look at the point of the end of the article -- life goes much smoother if we work together, instead of competing for ever scrap.
  • Working at Home is Not Code
  • Posted by Stephanie , Associate Professor at University of Central Arkansas on June 21, 2011 at 5:45pm UTC
  • Working at home is not code. I am a teacher/scholar/writer. On campus and in my office, besides teaching I do things I do not mind being interrupted at: complete work related documents, plan class, attend meetings, work with students individually. At home, I grade papers and write, write, write. Three scholarly books, countless essays, my blog (none of which I am paid for). I also review book and essay manuscripts for journals, and do many other work-related tasks. When I am at home, one way or another, I am usually working. I might pick up my child from school at 3:30 but then we go home and I go back to working for another 2-3 hours. Then dinner and often, more work.

    I take about a week off in the summer and my children's Christmas break. I might be home (as opposed to on campus) more frequently in the summer, but I am working. Summer is also the only time when I actually "might" get through most of a weekend without working several hours. From September to May, that is not the case.

    I love the flexibility of my job, especially in terms of where and when I work when I am not teaching. But I do not work any less.