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Opinion

Readers React: Second jobs, low pay: Teachers bust the myth of excessive summer ‘vacation’

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Third-graders wait for the doors to open on the first day of school at Dolores Huerta Elementary School in Los Angeles on Aug. 14.
(Los Angeles Times)

Having been married to a teacher for the last 11-plus years, I must admit that I anticipated the backlash when deciding this week to publish a letter to the editor that noted the months of summer vacation in a school year and said teacher salaries should be set accordingly. This is an argument I made early in my relationship with my wife — whose mother, sisters and cousins are also teachers — and I can say now that our marriage persisted in spite of my unwelcome observation.

Readers fulfilled my expectation. The offending letter, written in response to a teacher’s op-ed article pointing out the forces laying siege to public education, said that any discussion of low salaries must take into account summer vacations. Teachers and their relatives responded with angry exasperation.

Nancy Miles Jarvis of Chatsworth takes issue with the word “vacation”:

My ire exploded when I read a letter claiming teachers “generally have a vacation of two to three months a year.” I hate to burst his bubble, but we weren’t paid for those layoff months.

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Our salaries were based on 40 weeks of work, but they were spread out over 12 months so the public would buy into the myth we had “vacation time.” When I started with the Los Angeles Unified School District, I had to get a second job during my fake vacation to make ends meet. People in no other profession are treated less professionally than in education.

Please tell it like it is. I am retired after 40-plus years in the classroom.

Santa Monica resident Lorraine Knopf points out that teachers aren’t saved by the bell:

As the mother of a teacher, I cringed when I read the letter stating that teachers get two to three months of vacation each year. Teachers only get paid for 10 months, but most opt to have their salary spread over 12 months because it is easier to budget that way.

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People also think a teacher’s day is over when the bell rings. They have no idea how many hours of work at night is required to grade papers, plan lessons, write reports and meet with parents, among other things.

In addition, teachers often have to dig into their own pockets to pay for school supplies. Teachers are grossly underpaid and undervalued.

Michelle Watnick of West Hills remembers budgeting for summers and taking second jobs:

To the letter writer who said teacher salaries should take into account “vacation time,” I would offer you the same unpaid “vacation” at your job every summer.

My husband and our family had to plan for every summer for more than 40 years. We had to find temporary work and figure out how to set aside money to last us through our “vacation.”

Unpaid summer vacation is a layoff, but teachers cannot collect unemployment. I hope people who comment on our pay take that into consideration.

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