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What OR Teachers Do On Their "Summer Vacation"

June 20, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - Many teachers in Oregon shift gears at the end of the school year - and not into vacation mode. Instead, they take on second jobs or go back to school for additional training.

For Prineville math teacher Rachel Huish, the summers include both. She works as a wildland firefighter for the Forest Service and is taking courses for two graduate degrees. In the seven years she has been teaching, Huish says she has never had a summer off - and in her district, budget cuts have meant 30 days less pay for teachers than she got when she started.

"I haven't had a normal paycheck for probably about four years. We've given concessions in days each year, and we'll be taking a freeze next year, as well. I'm pumping in a lot of money for professional development and for additional degrees, to make myself more marketable."

Karen Staben is a special education teacher in Willamina. The school year does not end for her in June, because some special needs children are required to take summer classes to keep them from falling behind. She has a dozen students, from kindergarten through eighth grade, and is already working on next year's lesson plans.

"Granted, we have a little bit more flexibility and a lot more breathing room, perhaps, than in a traditional 9-to-5 job. But there's so much front-loading and planning that the days of having three months off and being able to walk away from school just don't exist anymore."

Staben says Willamina teachers have their hands full this summer. Budget cuts have forced closure of the middle school, shifting students into two schools, grades K-6 and 7-12. She says teachers are moving classrooms on their own time. And younger children will be in blended classrooms, two grades per class, she adds, which also means changing curriculum to fit the new arrangements.

According to Huish, it is especially hard for younger teachers to survive financially today. She warns this will have a long-term effect on the quality of education.

"People are turning away from the profession. They're not going into teaching, or they're waiting in the market, ready for a job but not able to nail one down, so that they choose to look elsewhere. They relocate, they get discouraged. I see this as a major issue."

It's a misconception that people choose the teaching field because they want the long vacations at Christmas, spring break and in the summer, Huish says. Those who think that don't realize how much time teachers put in outside the classroom year-round, she adds.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR