All that free time is asking for summertime sadness, or for a laugh: the sorrows of Kurt Hofer.
When my summer break begins in June, even relatives have barbs to throw at me. “Whatever your pay is as a teacher, it should be cut by 25 percent because you don’t even work for a quarter of the year,” a family member once told me. Obviously they’d never seen my paycheck. If they did, it would put a stop to their jealousy and envy.
On another occasion, I was wearing an old U.S. Post Office jacket from a thrift store when I was spotted by the parent of one of my students.
“What’s with the jacket?” she asked.
Jokingly, I said “Oh, this is my summer gig to help pay the bills.” I thought she knew I was kidding, but a year later she asked me how my mail route was going. To be fair, if my wife didn’t expect free babysitting she would approve of any job—both to justify my existence and remind me that she doesn’t have the privilege of summers off.
I hear a lot nowadays about how traditional gender roles are changing. But come with me to the park on a weekday morning, and you’ll see that I’m the only father there watching my two girls. You think I’d enjoy being the sole male nanny–a MANNY if you will–in the park; that being a man among women would hold some kind of cache. So far I have not found this to be the case. More often than not I am eyed as an imposter or worse, an intruder—like the teenage boy raiding the women’s locker room. My inability to braid my two daughters’ hair or my trouble soothing them when they fall is often held against me. Despite my protestations of gender bias, they still call out for mommy when they hurt themselves.
See, being a teacher in summer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Your friends, almost all of whom make more money than you do, talk about how easy you—the layabout teacher—have it in the summer; meanwhile, somebody else is wiping their two year old’s bottom or dealing with their five year old’s temper tantrum. I’d feel emasculated, but I wasn’t a very manly man to begin with, which is probably how I ended up in teaching in the first place. Show me a male teacher—P.E. and coaching does not count—who is a man’s man, and I will show you the smoking gun Adam Schiff talked about during the Russia collusion investigation.
The other thing that’s hard about being a teacher—and please, reserve your judgement until I’m finished—is all that free time on your hands. Humans are not meant for this much navel gazing. What people in other professions don’t know is that if they had three months off every year, they’d not only dread going back to work; they’d probably have some version of a midlife crisis on repeat every summer until they retire. Was this what I was really meant to do? What, at the end of the day, am I accomplishing? These are the kind of questions working stiffs don’t have the time to ask themselves. They’re luckier than they think.
Every few years, it seems, one of my colleagues—the same one, every time—comes off of summer break with the declared intention that it’s his final year of teaching. He says this time he’s really going to take a chance on his writing, or his acting. (Have you ever noticed teachers have more unfulfilled dreams per capita than any other profession?) But every August I still see him at school, his face a mix of despair and resignation.
The teachers who dread the existential angst afforded by free time the most are the ones who end up teaching summer school. Pascal was right, all man’s problems stem from not being able to sit alone in a room by yourself. Fill it with other people and you’ve solved your problem.
Then there’s the dreaded email inbox. Do you check it in the summer or not? If you don’t, the messages pile up like snow drifts in an Arctic winter. If you do, well, let me put it this way: Emails you receive in summer generally aren’t from happy customers telling you what a great job you’ve done.
It’s summer emails that have explained how a son or daughter’s B+ will permanently suppress their earnings potential because income is linked to college placement and a B+ will banish them from the ivy league; it’s summer emails that have told me I am violating a student’s 14th Amendment right to due process by refusing to surrender every test and homework assignment from that year for the purpose of an IRS-style grade audit; and it’s summer emails that have informed me that rounding a grade down instead of up is a form of theft, because students have a proprietary claim to the letter on their report card.
Yes, summer has its perks. You still feel empty inside after you binge watch a whole series, but at least you can honestly say you had nothing more important to do. But for those of you non-teachers who envy my summer, be careful what you wish for. You may end up as your child’s primary caregiver, and you might even have to contemplate the meaning of life.
By the way, if you read this piece and enjoyed it, and you know my parents, can you please explain to them the difference between writing for an established news outlet like The American Conservative and “Kurtie putting up a little something up on his blog”? My parents, along with most of polite society, can’t seem to take anything a teacher does with his summer seriously. Don’t worry, neither do I.
Kurt Hofer is a native Californian with a Ph.D. in Spanish Literature. He teaches high school history in a Los Angeles area independent school.