According to Expedia.com 2006 survey data, the average American employee gets 14 days of vacation annually, and usually only uses 10 of those. In contrast, human resources firm Hewitt Associates reports that Europeans average around four weeks of vacation per year. Hewitt Associates told Vault, an internet-based career-information provider, that Denmark employees receive the most vacation in Europe, with an average 31 days per year, while Switzerland came in on the low end with an average 20 days vacation annually. Vault reports that because Americans receive vacation based on seniority, it can take American employees 15 years or more to earn four weeks of vacation, unless you’re a teacher, of course.
On August 20, 2007, the National Education Association website featured a survey asking educators “How long was your summer break?” It provided the options of:
• No break;
• 3 weeks or less;
• 4 to 6 weeks;
• 6 to 8 weeks; or
• More than 8 weeks.
Of the 454 people surveyed, 76% recorded receiving four weeks or more vacation this summer with many of them receiving 8 weeks or more summer vacation time. Despite these cheerful results the NEA asserts, “Taking the ‘whole summer off’ isn’t quite like it sounds. . . Paperwork, planning, preparation and continuing education can shorten the summer quite a bit.”
“How much time did you actually have for a ‘break’?” the teachers’ union asks. In other words, who would like to share their tales of woe of how overburdened their summer schedules really are?
One poster, using the name Cynthia Lee, complained on the forum that “My summer broke [sic] was a little over 8 weeks. . .I am very disappointed. . . Even though we had a short time out, we continued to go to workshops. It seems as if there wasn’t a break at all.” Those employees receiving one to two weeks vacation annually might object to Lee’s characterization of 8 weeks as a “short time.” Also, those workshops don’t seem to be helping this teacher’s spelling.
Similarly, another poster, Csanders reported “I’ve had 13 weeks ‘off,’ but I’ve spent a lot of that ‘off’ time on school-related work.” Csanders took a two-week course in June which required reading four novels, writing a ten-page paper, and writing and revising 20 pages of materials. The teacher reported working between 2 and 4 hours per day during the course, claiming “Since the time I spent on ‘school stuff’ was a few hours here and there rather than 8-hour owrk [sic] days, it’s hard to determine exactly how long my summer break has been.” The online course didn’t seem to help with this teacher’s spelling either.
One might argue that teachers—given their allegedly low incomes—spend most of their summer working at their second job. However, only 13% of the teachers in the NEA survey reported that they were actually working at another job.
Perhaps there is so surprisingly little moonlighting on their part because public school teaching salaries may be actually higher than advertised. According to the NEA salary tables, Pennsylvania teachers earn an average $54,027 per year. D. C. teachers earn an average $61,195 per year. Mississippi, ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau as the poorest state in the Union, pays its teachers an average $37,924 annually.
Another NEA survey, found in the professional pay subsection, asked teachers and school support professionals to answer the question “How have you been spending most of your time this summer?”
• 30% reported that they devoted their time to classes;
• 3% reported that they spent most of their time “Preparing for the upcoming school year”;
• 47% of respondents reported that they were taking what the NEA website listed as “well-deserved time off!”
Apparently, taking a vacation four times longer than that which most taxpayers enjoy is a teachers’ professional right. This clear educational exceptionalism doesn’t stop just at vacation benefits. The NEA has launched a “nationwide salary initiative. . .advocating a $40,000 starting salary for all pre-K-12 teachers and appropriate professional pay for higher education faculty and staff.” (emphasis added).
Bethany Stotts is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.