Schools and Bureaucracy: Reflections on Survival and Other Personal Indiosyncrasies — Part B

Summary: Continuing reflections on survival during a career in schools.

Another benefit of working in schools snuck up on me, and was particularly accentuated by a growing love of mountaineering and the birth of my children. School vacations are rather extensive, and they are enjoyed not only by students, but also by the adults who work with them. Mostly we hear that teachers feel they need vacation to regenerate energy for the renewed campaign in the fall, but I say, “think closely how you want to live your life – work until you drop, or enjoy life along the way?” (Well, since you put it that like that……)

As much as educator types lament the diminished pay scale in the context of the difficulty of the work, let’s face it, there are trade offs. How many people in the work force get approximately three months of the year for vacation? Generally the independent wealthy and the part time aged. Though others make easily enough money to take more time off, for the most part the well recompensed are so tethered to their jobs that such generous time off is either not in the cards or not in the genes.

Though it is arguably a liability for our students in the USA to have so much vacation, and periodically there are cries to ramp up the days of the school year, for good reason, the flip side is that teachers who have strong avocations have more time than most to pursue them.

Moreover, the parents among the teacher cadre find they are on vacation frequently when their kids are also out of school. Other employed types are not so blessed, struggle to land day care during school vacation weeks or months, and are liable to spend less time with their kids.

As I made the transition from graduate student life to life as teacher, a familiarity with the outdoors morphed first into day hikes and back packing, then longer mountain treks, and finally into a discovery of the high country of the Pacific Northwest. Hooked, I was.

After a period of teaching high school English in Boston, I had returned to graduate school in clinical psychology in San Francisco, and later found myself as a community mental health therapist in the Seattle area. When our first child was on the way, I needed to bring in more income than that of a community mental health therapist. Serendipitously, a counseling position opened in a high school within easy commute of our home. Though teacher pay scale is regarded as a disincentive to entering the profession, by comparison with my community mental health salary, I immediately began earning 50% more than I had just previously, and added two more months of vacation a year.

Modest pay still, but now I had ample time to explore the mountains and be a father to my kids, and a partner to my wife. My father had made career decisions that left him less successful in his banking career, but allowed him to be the father his own had never been. Being a present father, and having time with my kids was high on my personal list of priorities.

The time involved in parenthood, the pursuit of avocation, the enjoyment of kids and the embedment in a constellation of human relationships oriented around a purpose greater than oneself – all these seem to me to be powerful inducements to a career in schools, whether as teacher, or counselor, or administrator.

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