Labor Voices: Educator a year-round job

Steven Cook

Working in a public school doesn’t begin or end when the bell rings. School employees are doing more than ever with fewer resources and shrinking paychecks to make sure students get the best education possible — and that stretches into the summer months.

During the summer break, many MEA members work second and even third jobs to support their families, while finding creative ways to prepare for the next school year through professional development and other opportunities.

To debunk the myth that educators have “summer off,” we recently asked our members what they’re up to during break. Here are just a few examples:

■Many school employees work during the summer. With pay cuts common in the education profession — according to state data, Michigan’s average teacher salary has dropped for five consecutive years — many educators work summer jobs to support their families, while also preparing for the new school year.

April Bieri works three jobs, including two year-round jobs while school is in session and a seasonal summer position. She teaches summer school and tutors students throughout the summer. Angela Roberts-Beegle works a summer job as a seed corn inspector. Her job lasts six weeks with eight-hour-plus days in all conditions, rain or shine.

■Summer is an excellent time for professional development. When the school year ends, many educators finally have time to learn themselves. They engage in summertime professional development to stay up to date on the best teaching practices to enhance student learning.

This summer, Andrea Jurk is taking Google Educator Certification to become proficient with tools to help turn her Algebra 2 class into a “flipped” classroom, where students view video lectures at home to maximize time in school on activities and exercises.

Many in the Jackson area attended “nErD Camp,” a creative opportunity to learn new ways to advance literacy across science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

■Educators spend a significant amount of time preparing for the upcoming school year. Summer is a time for teachers to revise lesson plans, review new student materials and books and ensure they are fully prepared for a successful school year. Many support staff actually work in the schools throughout the summer to ensure facilities are clean, safe and ready for students in the fall. Prep work needs to be done in the summer because once school begins, everyone is busy working with students.

Jean Pingel is spending her summer training for Math Recovery, learning how to incorporate technology into the classroom, leading a second-grade workshop, and writing grants for classroom materials. With cuts to supply budgets causing educators to spend hundreds of dollars per year out of pocket for basic school necessities, many were spending time bargain shopping for their classrooms.

■Summer gives educators a chance to collaborate and share their successes on the national stage. During the school year, there isn’t time for teachers to take days out of the classroom to attend conferences and collaborate with other educators. Some of our members travel across the country to collaborate with other top educators and share best practices.

Kim Abel is participating in a summer Harvard University computer science course, providing her skills to help prepare her students for 21st century jobs.

Fifteen Michigan teachers are spending a week aboard an Environmental Protection Agency research vessel to learn about Great Lakes ecology, biology and gather ideas to bring back to their classrooms. These are just a few examples of public school employees who work hard all year long — including the summer. Educators help prepare our children for college and jobs, and never stop learning themselves — because preparing students for future success is a full-time job.

Steven Cook is president of the Michigan Education Association.


Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.