“More Like a Paid Vacation”: A Reaction

One of the several factors impacting my decision to leave my district was the news that we would be taking fourteen furlough days the following year. Contrary to popular belief, teachers aren’t paid for 365 days of work; we’re paid for 180ish days of work, spread out over twelve months so that we can pay the bills in the summer. As a result, 14 furlough days represents a not insignificant reduction to pay — equivalent to being unemployed for three weeks.

Our local newspaper is currently drawing attention to the fact that those employees at the bottom of the pay scale wouldn’t be financially impacted, because it’s against the law for a teacher’s salary to drop below a certain point in Idaho. So while these teachers (myself included, due to the multi-year freeze in advancement based on experience and education) would have fourteen days during the school year when they wouldn’t be at work, their pay wouldn’t be impacted. In an apparent effort to fuel resentment between teachers and in the community, the newspaper article characterizes this in the worst possible terms:

“For nearly half the teachers in the Nampa School District, a planned 14-day furlough aimed at balancing the budget will be more like a paid vacation. They’ll get the days off and won’t lose a dime in wages.”

In fact, this is a gross misrepresentation of what will actually be happening. The fourteen furlough days include one collaboration day, six teacher work days (including the two immediately before the start of the school year), two professional development half-days, one parent-teacher conference day, and the compensation day immediately following parent-teacher conferences. There are only four regular school days amongst the 14 slated for furlough, and three of those are the last three days of the school year, when there are finals to grade and classrooms to clean or pack up. The fourth is the first day back from winter break; every teacher I’ve ever known has spent the end of their winter break prepping for the next half of the school year.

If you’re not a teacher, you may not catch the implications of the above list. The thing is, a furlough day is supposed to mean that you don’t go to work and you don’t get paid. Or, if you’re one of us “lucky ones” who don’t earn a living wage, you get to stay home and get paid. BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. Just because we’re not being paid for a work day doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do it. If we don’t come in those days before the school year starts, we won’t be able to teach on the first day of school. If we don’t use the work days at the ends of quarters to grade finals and end-of-term projects, if we don’t collaborate with our departments and teams, our students suffer. And if there is one thing I know about teachers, or at least the many teachers I’ve worked with who deserve the title, it’s that they care too much about their students to let the district (or the legislature, etc. etc.) screw the students over. And so on those furlough days, the schools are going to be filled with teachers, doing what they always do: whatever they have to do in the best interest of their kids. For free.

I have been teaching for five years and have earned a 4.0 in the seventy-five graduate credits I’ve taken. (A masters degree is typically around thirty credits.) I’ve written grants that bring in thousands of dollars to my school, have volunteered countless hours to extracurriculars and professional development opportunities, and have never had less than a stellar performance evaluation. And in a field where the only paths toward a pay raise are years of experience and credits on your transcript, I’ve been frozen in at the same pay scale as a first year teacher with no post-graduate education.

So sure. I’m lucky that my pay — which, if I’m looking at this chart correctly, does not qualify as a living wage for an adult with a child — isn’t going to be whittled down any further. I’m lucky that, when I work for fourteen hours on one of those “furlough days” trying to provide each of the children in my tragically overloaded classes with constructive, timely feedback, I’m not actually doing it for free.

No, wait. The reason I’m lucky is that I don’t have to be in that situation: a situation where my colleagues, my friends, end up resenting me because an unhealthy and laughable schedule of “furlough” days drove a wedge between teachers on different places on the salary schedule. Thank goodness I got out… I only wish that all of my friends there could be as lucky.

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