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Teacher Wussdays

You call that overworked?

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Greetings from the latest of the many teacher wuss-, I mean, workdays our kids have off. Apparently concerned that the students might actually get back into the routine of attending school after the long winter break (we're not allowed to call it Christmas break anymore), the district scheduled a couple of four-day weekends almost immediately after it. Probably the teachers wanted to make sure they could get a critical ski weekend in, or maybe they just needed some extra shopping days to spend the holiday gift cards showered upon them by all the suck-up, um, sweet and generous parents.

They're called workdays, but with the word "optional" usually attached, meaning, I assume, that teachers don't have to actually show up on them if they don't want to. Pause here a minute and ask yourself if you know of any other profession's workdays that come officially labeled "optional."

If teachers do opt to go into school on one of these workdays they get to be there without the distraction of those pain-in-the-neck students who happen to be why the job is called "teaching" and not "memo-shuffling" or "apple-shaped-things collecting." They also have the chance on workdays to do a lot of chewing, including chewing the fat with their co-workers, chewing lunches eaten out in a hilarity-filled group, and chewing through bags of that microwave popcorn with the stench of artificial flavorings that school offices often reek of.

Conventional wisdom claims teachers are so overworked they need these days, which are scheduled what feels to parents like roughly every other week, for planning complex lessons and grading towers of tests. The thing is, the school day is over at two or three, so you'd think they could do their paperwork after that instead of blasting off in their cars the second the bell rings. While sitting in the afternoon car-pool line, I see adults with nametags around their necks fleeing the building as if it's on fire.

A friend reminds me that teachers used to keep the hours of eight to five at work, like most of the rest of the world, although actually getting out by five is considered having it easy in a lot of fields. They were available in their classrooms during the later afternoon to talk to parents and help kids who needed it.

Today they might occasionally still be available, but for hire at the steep clip of twenty-five to thirty dollars an hour. Tutoring is big business and a source of considerable extra income for some teachers, but we're not allowed to pipe up that maybe they actually do make a good living, especially when you consider that they only work nine or 10 months a year. The official party line, though, is that they're as underpaid as they are overworked.

Even if teachers want to go home early you'd think they could still manage to red-pencil an illiterate essay or two after they unwind. Besides, most of them in the lower grades have assistants stuck in the corner to go cross-eyed over smeary misspellings and multiplication problems.

Come on, we know what these teacher workdays are really for, and it's not just to catch up on the grading. They exist because the teachers want a break from our bratty, berserk, annoying kids -- but the problem is, we parents do too, and we're paying major bucks for it in the form of either taxes or tuition. We're the employers here, yet the employees get to set the schedule in another reverse twist from most professions, and we're supposed to just go along with it.

The only people who really benefit from teacher workdays are the teachers, natch, and the students who get to sleep in. For many households, what to do with the kids is a major hassle, and often the solution seems to be to either leave them home alone and pray this isn't the day they discover matches or porn sites, or just drag them along on the job. If you look around on teacher workdays you'll see little girls hanging out in the grocery store aisles while their fathers stock the shelves and guys slumped over Game Boys behind their mothers' desks.

Sure, an occasional long weekend can be fun, but national holidays provide enough of them. Most parents I know would rather have their kids go more days during the year and be out for the traditional summer stretch from Memorial Day until Labor Day, but obviously the schedule isn't set up according to what we mere salary- payers prefer.

A classic example was when they extended the school day by 15 useless and inconvenient minutes at the end of last year so that the teachers wouldn't have to get their buns into work one extra day. I guess too many months-long vacation trips were in the balance. Oh, but did I mention that teachers are overworked and underpaid? At least that's what they say, anyway.

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