by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
“Teachers are solar powered. They recharge during the summer!” – Internet
Most teachers have 10-month contracts, which means that they are not obligated to teach during a substantial portion of the summer months. Regularly scheduled time away from the day-to-day responsibilities of the classroom is a perk cherished by public school employees and envied by most others.
That is not to say that teachers are idle during the summer. Certainly, teachers use the time to pursue recreational activities, take vacations with family and friends, or simply enjoy downtime. But it is not unusual for teachers to set aside time to improve their craft by modifying or creating units, lessons, instructional materials, and assessments.
Of course, a number supplement their income through summer employment. According to the latest teacher compensation data from the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 18 percent of public school teachers earned income from a supplemental school system contract during summer, while just over 16 percent were employed in a nonschool job.
Thanks to the pandemic, the percentage of public school teachers employed in schools this summer should increase significantly. Many school districts and states, including North Carolina, plan to offer summer learning programs to students who have experienced learning loss during the pandemic. In April, Gov. Cooper signed House Bill 82, “Summer Learning Choice for North Carolina Families,” a bill that received unanimous approval from the House and Senate.
The new law directs school districts to use their share of over $1.4 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding to support a summer program that offers at least 150 hours or 30 days of in-person instruction focused on the needs of at-risk students. School districts (and charter schools that opt to participate) must submit a plan to state education officials that details program offerings for elementary, middle, and high school students that choose to enroll. Districts must provide transportation, food service, enrichment activities, small group instruction, social-emotional learning support, and competency-based testing.
School board members are concerned that they will be unable to recruit enough teachers to meet the demand for the summer program. Keung Hui of the News & Observer reports that Wake County may fall short of the estimated 1,300 teachers needed to serve an anticipated enrollment of 23,000 students. Compensation does not appear to be the reason why teachers are not signing on for the summer session.
Teachers qualify for a $1,200 signing bonus if they possess National Board Certification or have received a reading or math performance bonus in the past. A $150 per-student bonus is available to teachers whose students obtain grade-level proficiency. Otherwise, districts may set wages for teachers and staff. For example, Wake County is offering $40 per hour to teachers and $20 per hour for support personnel. According to Robesonian reporter Jessica Horne, Robeson County Schools is offering $60 per hour for site coordinators and $50 for teachers, social workers, counselors, and special education staff.
Teachers have started to share their plans for the summer on popular social media pages. Some educators welcome the opportunity to supplement their income. Others declare that “no amount of money” would persuade them to participate. The decision of educators to forgo the potential to earn thousands of dollars in additional income this summer is a good reminder that not all North Carolina educators struggle to make ends meet.
Reasons for opting out vary, but they fall into three categories: political, financial, and psychological.
One teacher opting out decided to send a message to elected officials. “Nope … this is at least one way to take some control. What we permit, we promote!” A fellow teacher added, “If we keep giving them what they want, we will never gain our profession bavk [sic]!” As mentioned above, every state lawmaker voted for this bill, and Gov. Cooper signed it a week after receiving it. More importantly, these educators appear to have lost sight of the fact that the summer session was designed to help children who have struggled throughout the pandemic.
The most amusing responses were from those who are conscious of the tax implications of their summer earnings. A financially savvy teacher wrote, “Been there, taxes will get half, trust ne [sic] on that. The more you make, the more grabbing Uncle Sam gets. It’s all day too, nah nah for me. You’ll pay more taxes next April too.” She is right to worry about Uncle Sam taking an excessive cut. On the other hand, the Republican-led General Assembly has spent the last decade lowering income taxes for public school educators and all other North Carolinians.
Overall, teachers were much more likely to cite summer vacations and mental health reasons for declining the opportunity. “No thanks. I have vacations to take,” one teacher wrote. Others added:
“Umm noooooo- I need to recoup after this year!! I am TIRED!”
“Lol Mental health is more important!”
“This past year and half has been sooooo taxing on the mind, that it’s important to say no to money and choose self care.”
Without a doubt, the ability to use the summer months to prioritize mental health, “self-care,” or recouping from the stresses of the job is a luxury that is not available to workers in other professions. Such statements usually prompt defensive and dismissive responses from educators, but they shouldn’t. A simple “thank you” will do.
As for the needs of students, lawmakers should consider funding a learning loss Education Savings Account (ESA) program, which would allow certain families to use state funds to employ tutoring services for their children. For more information on learning loss ESAs, I highly recommend a recent John Locke Foundation article authored by my colleague Dr. Robert Luebke.