Fruity Umbrella Drinks and Giant Jugs of Coppertone.

Cranky Blogger’s Warning:  I’m wound up, y’all.  That means this post is heavy on the Radical and light on the Tempered.  There’s enough truth in it, though, that I wanted to share it with you.  Just remember that I was straight riled when I wrote it.  


I blew a gasket yesterday.  A neighbor read my recent post about my salary and slipped comfortably into a rant about teachers and how easy our jobs are and how he’s sick of hearing us complain given that we work from 8 until 3 and have three months off every summer.


So I uncorked.  Like spittle flying from the corners of my mouth uncorked.  Like “Holy Smokes, THAT guy is angry” uncorked.  Like I don’t think he’s sending me any more Christmas cards uncorked.


What dudeman doesn’t understand is that I DON’T HAVE A THREE MONTH VACATION.  Instead, I spend all of that legendary “free time” that teachers get working part-time jobs.

Need proof?  Read this.  Better yet, stop by the dirty McDonalds near my house RIGHT NOW.  It’s a snow day and I’m grinding through a bunch of tasks on my part-time to do list as we speak.  I’ll buy you a two-pack of cookies and you can hang out with the teenagers smoking eCigarettes in the booth behind me.  Be prepared for the smell of sewage, though.  The toilets in the mens room are kind of janky.


Nowadays, my part-time jobs are mostly professional gigs.  I write books for teachers, deliver professional development and consult with schools, districts and companies across North America.  It’s good work that challenges me and pays well, but it ain’t easy.  Most of the time, that work involves sitting behind a computer screen trying to translate good ideas into solid instructional practices or traveling to schools and districts to show other teachers how to integrate those practices into their work.

But over the past 22 years, I’ve done more than my fair share of grunt work, too.  I’ve stocked shelves at grocery stores, I’ve manned the register at gas stations, I’ve worked the counter at bookstores, I’ve driven school busses for after school programs and summer camps, I’ve been the on-ice skate guard at the local ice rink, and I’ve worked for a landscaping company.


Sure, I have more vacation days than my neighbors and friends working in more traditional professions.  But the notion that I’m spending those vacation days lounging by the pool with a fruity umbrella drink and a giant jug of Coppertone is a fallacy, y’all.  The truth is that I’m spending those vacation days — and all of those “free” hours after the school day ends — just trying to make ends meet.

And I’m not the only one.  Heck, most of my friends and colleagues who are full-time teachers and the main providers for their families are working part-time jobs, too.  One works at the help desk at the local Apple store 20-30 hours a week.  Another stocks shelves at the Office Depot.  A third tutors four days a week and plays live shows at local bars three or four times a month. And a fourth coaches high level youth soccer teams.

Now don’t get me wrong:  Teaching is remarkable work and I’m blown away every day by just how lucky I am.  I have the chance to change lives — and I get to see the tangible impact of my work every time that a student walks through the door of my room with a story to share or a success to show me.  That’s the reason I still teach even though teaching doesn’t pay my bills.


But to suggest that I only work seven hours a day and 180 days a year is ludicrous.  It’s an antiquated and offensive notion that often becomes an excuse for paying teachers next to nothing.  

In the end, we have to decide as a community if we are okay with forcing accomplished teachers to find other work just to pay their bills?  What are the consequences — for our kids and our communities — when we fail to pay the folks in our classrooms competitive wages?  Can we really be surprised when good people quit, given that staying often means constantly worrying about where the next part-time paycheck is going to come from?



Related Radical Reads:

Teaching is a Grind

I Made $54,000 Last Year

The Truth about North Carolina’s Historic Pay Raise for Teachers

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  • JenniferHenderson

    Never ending!

    First af all, this is such a great post that I am using it as a mentor text tomorrow in my class – I would love for my kids to write with such voice and passion!  

    Second of all – why is this argument still happening?  Why are there still people that believe we sit around all day eating bon-bons and watching the kids play dodge ball?  

    Why are there still people in denial of our pitiful salaries and “after-hours” responsibilities?  They know what we make – kids are discouraged all the time from going into education because eveyone knows it doens’t pay well.  And they know we work other jobs – they meet us frequently as the hostess showing them to their table or the waitress/er taking their orders (I used to grade papers between shifts).  

    My guess is that it’s out of guilt.  It’s easier to live in the fantasy world that says that teachers have it easy than face the facts that our country refuses to give teaching the respect and pay that’s deserved.  

    Sometimes I even fool myself, thinking, “Hey, I ‘m doing pretty well! Nice house, nice car, no more second job.”  But then I look across my desk at a first-year teacher eating Spaghetti-o’s and talking about her 2 roomates and I remember…I’ve been teaching for 19 years, all in the same district, with my Master’s plus 45 credits.  

    Should it really take teachers that long to feel like we are finally financially secure?  That long to feel like we are doing well?


    • billferriter

      Jennifer wrote:

      Jennifer wrote:

      Should it really take teachers that long to feel like we are finally financially secure?  That long to feel like we are doing well?


      This is such an important question, Jennifer.  The consequences of creating a profession where practitioners can’t feel financially secure are serious times ten.  We can’t be surprised when good people quit.  If they can’t pay their bills, what else can we expect?



  • DaveOrphal

    Everyone’s an expert

    Thank you for this, Bill. You hit the nail on the head once again.

    It seems like everyone is an expert on the work that teachers do, because they used to sit in a classroom when they were kids. They saw what they thought the job was.

    Thinking that teachers work 8-3 for 9 months a year is analogous to thinking that professional football players only work 3 hours a week for 16 weeks a year; or thinking that actors only work for 2 hours, once a year. 

    You can ask anyone of the teacher-bashers who promote the 8-3 myth if they believe football players work in the off season or practice during the week, and they will say, “Of Course they Do! That’s how they get better.” 

    And yet… with teachers… it’s the same old story year after year.

    • Aaron

      Not only that….

      Dave, to continue the analogy, the football players only get paid for those 16 weeks plus the pre-season and a few professional development days here and there, just like teachers only get paid for their 36 weeks, plus some pd days here and there. In the old days, when no one got rich playing football, they all worked off season jobs to make ends meet. Eventually that got old and players would leave the game to enter into a more lucrative, less punishing career path. The owners, in order to retain the best talent and enable them to prepare in the off-season, had to raise salaries and make it possible and worth their employees' while to train in the offseason if they wanted to stay in the game. So I'm guessing we can expect to see teachers salaries go up as the public demands to see the best possible talent on the field, er um, I mean in the classroom, putting their all into the job, even after 3 and during July and August without having to worry about supplementing. Yeah, right. A guy can dream. 

    • billferriter

      Hey Dave, 

      Hey Dave, 

      Have you ever read Schoolteacher by Dan Lortie?  Barnett recommended it to me years ago.  Lortie calls the situation you are describing — the “I know what teaching is like because I was a student” scenario — False Transparency.

      I’ve always thought that False Transparency was one of the biggest stumbling blocks to improving our profession.  Until people really know what we do, we can’t hope to see anything change.


  • marsharatzel

    Don’t we all have a neighbor like this?

    I get it and I get their criticism.  But it’s the flip side of that coin is this.  My grown children and their spouses are making almost double what I make, they travel on the company’s dime literally all over the world (conferences in Italy, Scotland and France), corporate retreats, expense accounts, matching 401(k) programs, profit sharing programs, incentive bonuses, and….need I go on.  Am I discouraged that I don’t have any of those things?  Absoluetely but I didn’t chose to go their path and they certainly didn’t want my path after growing up with the financial struggles we endured.

    Your neighbor is a jerk who is talking about stuff he doesn’t know about and probably really doesn’t want to know about.  I have one of those next door to me too (let me just say that he took the seat off of a toliet and put the President’s picture inside & nailed that to the outside wall of his house right by the front door).  It tells me reams about who he is and when he starts his rant, I tell him “I can’t listen to this and I’m walking away”.  I wish I could ignore him, but he’s 93 and needs loads of help getting his trash cans in and and out; his sidewalks shoveled and salted so he can get to his mail box and generally checking on him to make sure he hasn’t frozen in this winter.

    I’m trying to smother him in kindness.  Take heart.  Rant away.  We will all listen and nod in agreement.



    • AnneJolly

      And then there’s those “snow days”

      Your rant reminds me of mine when I read the article in (was it the NY Times) asking just why teachers took off for snow days when the rest of the world went to work. The writer went on to suggest that teachers were lying around and enjoying themselves instead of doing like reasonable adults with a work ethic and going to work.  

      Someone straightened him out nicely – pointing out that teachers were hired for 180 days and did he really want them going to work and sitting around without students for one of those days. That would shorten the student’s learning year.  

      People with problems about teachers are everywhere. Editorialists who would research other topics they post about don’t have to research anything they post about teachers – they already know it all.  


      • DaveOrphal

        Good Point, but…

        Anne, you’re right about the rant about snow days. The major point the columnist was making was this: Sure, kids stay home, that’s a safety issue, but teachers are grownups and grownup go to work in the snow.

        Someone straightened him out nicely vis-a-vis the realities vs/ the myths of teacher working conditions, but I was left with another take.

        My school closed today becasue of snow. The district, my bosses, said that “safety of students and staff is our #1 priority…”

        It makes me wonder about all of the grownups noted in the NY Times article who have to go to work in the snow. Clearly thier bosses have a different #1 priority, namely, profits. 

        So I ask, do teachers have it “too good” for being asked to stay home and safe when icy roads turn dangerous? Or, do other workers not have it good enough that they have to risk thier safety (and even their lives – I saw on the news of a trucker killed when he ran off an icy road) so that their employeers can make money,

        People before profits.

    • billferriter

      Marsha wrote:

      Marsha wrote:

      Am I discouraged that I don’t have any of those things?  Absoluetely but I didn’t chose to go their path and they certainly didn’t want my path after growing up with the financial struggles we endured.


      I think what drives me nuts, Pal, is that critics of schools have created paths that are dead ends and yet they aren’t willing to accept responsibility for the damage that those decisions have.  

      I could handle my crappy salary and my need to juggle a thousand part time jobs a lot better if people still respected what we do on a daily basis.  When people valued my contributions to kids and communities — I had a lot more contentment and satisfaction with our profession.  

      Now that people gut us at every turn AND pay us nothing, it leaves me nothing short of discouraged and frustrated.  

      Any of this make sense?