Back to Work

On Wednesday I officially go back to work.

While I always feel a fair amount of regret that summer is ending, there is a tinge of relief lacing the disappointment. Relief that I’ll be back among the working parents with whom I so strongly identify, relief that I’ll no longer be enjoying something that not everyone has.

It might seem weird, but I feel a fair amount of guilt over my summer break. After all, most professions don’t come with a built-in 8 week break every year (along with others throughout the school year). Obviously summer break is one of the reasons teachers get paid less than most every other profession requiring a similar level of education. I also think it’s one of the reasons teachers aren’t generally regarded with the respect I believe they deserve.

I understand that my summer break is a luxury, but it also feels like a necessity. There is no way I’d still be teaching if I didn’t get that time away from the classroom to decompress and renew my inner resources. Teaching is incredibly intense work, it requires you be “on” for 8 hours a day with very few breaks. (I always laugh when SAHM talk about how they can’t even pee when they want to… I get two opportunities to go all day! And I have to wait in a long line (during a very short minutes break) to do it!) There is no room to feel tired or to be sick. You can’t hide behind your computer and just clock your hours until closing time. Even if you put on a movie, you have to monitor the classroom constantly. We may only work 190 days, but each one of them is utterly exhausting.

And then, if we have kids, we have to go home and parent our own kids after being a surrogate parent to other people’s kids all day. I have found that it’s much harder to be the teacher I want to be now that I have kids waiting for me at home.

{I won’t even go into the part where teachers are asked to do the impossible with meager resources every day. How they are expected to bridge the gaps between low- and upper-income students when it’s been shown time and again that what happens in a classroom can never make up for what doesn’t happen at home. I won’t mention how the federal government requires public education be accessible for all students and then cuts the funding promised to make that possible (but still expects the states to manage it without any money). Or how every 5-10 years they come up with new standards and assessments, changing the game, again and again.}

Teaching is a hard job, and most people don’t even respect the work you do. Most people think that since they went to school once they know as much about what goes on there as teachers do. And there’s always the charming adage: Those who can’t do, teach. God I love that one. Yep, teaching is a hard job with generally low compensation and less respect. Does that mean we deserve a summer break? No. But it’s probably good that we get one, or this country would be even more desperate for good teachers than it already is.

Having this time off, especially when I put my daughter in camp and take my son to daycare, does make me feel guilty, even if I do recognize that I need the break. It also messes with the delicate balance my husband and I maintain during the school year. When I’m working we are on more even ground–we leave each morning knowing we have a similar work day ahead, and come home knowing we spend a similar amount of time away from home and kids. That doesn’t mean we’re able to split all the parenting and household duties evenly–actually, I think time off my job provides creates some of the disparities in how we divvy up parenting responsibilities–but it allows us to feel like we’re coming from the same place.

When I’m on summer break my husband gets moody, even a little resentful. He said this year that I don’t vocalize how grateful I am to have my time off. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. I am grateful, but how do I adequately express it? I try to accomplish goals that benefit the whole family. I work hard to get rid of things we don’t need, to clean out and organize, to make progress around the house. I doubt if he had the same time he’d accomplish as much. I don’t expect to be thanked, because I know how lucky I am to have the time to do it, but I also don’t think I should have to express adequate gratitude.

It’s complicated. And messy. As human emotions always are. And while I do appreciate the opportunities my summer break provide me, there is always a part of me that is relieved to go back to being the working mom I know myself to be. Is that crazy?

8 Comments

  1. Teaching has different constraints AND different flexibilities AND different problems. Teaching is underpaid in this country, and hugely underpaid in most of the communities near where you live compared to the housing costs.
    Of course he is jealous of the perks of your job. We all are jealous of the perks of other people’s jobs …. we generally ignore the downsides of those same jobs. I am sorry your husband sees only the short end of the stick about how he is impacted by your job and pay, not the off-sets; but you cannot change that.
    Here is wishing you a MUCH happier year and FEWER complications with the new schedule than you anticipated! I think we all send our support and hopes that having a two campus schedule will have some surprising joys; you will need them!

    1. “We all are jealous of the perks of other people’s jobs …. we generally ignore the downsides of those same jobs.” <-- This. 100x this. My FIL thinks that teaching is the easiest job there is (mostly because of my summers). He always says that he would have been a teacher but there were too many back then and it was impossible to get a job. Bull shit. He probably looked at the pay and walked the f*** away. But he doesn't remember it that way and he can't acknowledge that my job is at all challenging. Drives me crazy.

  2. I’ve recently started following your blog and have very much enjoyed your posts. This is an extremely thought provoking post for me — I am on the other side of the equation so-to-speak. I am the breadwinner, with a longer hour, slightly unpredictable job. Two years ago, my DH decided to leave the workforce because many of the kid/household demands fell upon him and he was having a difficult time with both. He has spent that time focusing on our kids (young elementary school age) and occasionally some household tasks. He, without a doubt, tries to make it easier for me to work my longer hours. Most common in the popular narrative is the couple where each is trying to make their way in the world, trying to further their careers.

    What happens, though, when like us, neither of us really want that. We both want more time at home? It comes out in the form of jealousy – me to him. Regardless of how much time he spends on the kids/house, there is no way around the fact he has so much more available high-energy, high-quality time to himself. For a long time, I wanted my DH to be grateful for this time — after all, it is my long hours and steady employment (and resulting salary) which allows it to be a possibility.

    But lately, we’ve started be clearer — it’s not his free time and gratitude that I want (and you are right, there is nothing he could say that would satisfy me and not feel weird to him). I want my own high quality, high energy time. I can’t stop working or even scale back, so it’s unlikely I will ever get it. Then in the alternative, it just becomes easier then to focus on getting a “thanks.”

    1. If our kids were in elementary school and I was home all year with that time in the middle of the day, my husband would go crazy with jealousy. He would also expect me to do EVERYTHING at home. EVERYTHING. He doesn’t expect that now because our kids are young and they aren’t gone all that long during these few weeks I get break (camp isn’t like a school day). He also sees how much I get done around the house, the big projects I’ve been putting off all year. But yeah, if I were you and my spouse were at home while my kids were at school, that would be really hard for me. I applaud you for figuring out how to be okay with that. It must be really hard, even with a “thanks.”

  3. You deserve the time off and should get to enjoy it! Teaching is so tough, so important and yet ridiculously undervalued.

    Anecdote: When my now husband and I were early dating I had a phase of feeling grumpy that he could sleep in and I had to be up pre 7am every morning. One day when I was grumbling he just looked at me, shrugged and said “Well, we made different choices.” I had to laugh and for some reason that just clicked for me, and I often think of it when I have a moment of envy.
    He’s a PhD student and can get up whenever he wants, go for a run in the middle of the day and has somewhat unlimited vacation time BUT I have zero desire to do a PhD and would hate so many things about it. There are some downsides of my nurse practitioner job, but I chose it and keep choosing it.

    But I think you are not alone in having the summer upset the balance ~ was just talking to a teacher friend about how she and her husband struggle with this every year.

    1. I really like that: “We made different choices.” I feel like I’m really good at remembering that when I see other people making so much more money than I do. I know they made a different choice, and keep making that choice with sacrifices that I don’t have to make. I made the choice to teach and part of that choice is getting summers off! Almost makes up for the other part where I have to wake up at 5:30am most days to be ready for work on time. Blerg. There are always pluses and minuses, pros and cons. The important part is that we did make choices, and that we had those choices to make in the first place. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  4. I am officially back to teaching on Monday, although I have been spending time the last two weeks preparing. There is definately a period of time where my husband and I have to readjust to me not being home during the day. Thankfully he does not make me feel bad about my summer break, although j think he is a little jealous of the time I have with our boys. Hope you have a great year!

    1. If I had my kids at home with me all day, my husband would not feel jealous of me, at all. 😉 I had them this past week and he was all, how are you? at the end of each day. It’s when they are both gone for 4-5 hours that he feels jealous. And fair enough.

      He’s also going to have to get used to me being back at work this week. I don’t think he realizes how much of his usual chores I’ve been doing for him. He’s going to find out pretty quickly…

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