The Guilt of Summer School

Ulf Kirchdorfer explains why he -- like most of the world, but unlike many other professors -- works during the summer.

May 15, 2015
 

I have taught summer school since I was a graduate student, for a total of more than 22 years, if anyone is counting.

I know I am counting and that my wife has helped me count all these years. You see, my wife has a job in what many call “the real world,” which is another way of saying surrounding the professor island are the majority of the working population, and they labor all year long. And though not part of our marital vows, it would be unacceptable for me to take one summer off from teaching, unless, as the saying goes, we won the lottery.

I teach summer school then, to make my wife happy. I do not teach summer school because we need the money. Even when I began my career as an assistant English professor, we budgeted so that what I made during my 10 months of teaching -- or 9, depending on the side of the argument maker -- along with my wife's income, would enable us to pay the bills. But we lived, and still live, frugally.

When I say that I teach summer school to make my wife happy, that is but one reason I don't have the summer off from teaching.

When we first got married and I was almost finished with my Ph.D., I had dreams, inspired by professors, both undergraduate and graduate: taking the summers off to write, traveling to Greece and walking among ruins of culture, touring England and Ireland in homage to famous dead writers, attending a conference in some out-of-the-way place.

After all, some of my role models as professors enjoyed their teaching, as I do, during the fall and spring semesters, but the summer was theirs. I wonder how many others who are reading this had similar role models and dreams and then somehow got swept up into the work ethic that teaching is something done year-round.

Society appears to be more accepting of teachers in secondary education who take the summers off. They have earned it, I often hear, accompanied by the reason -- in language not printable here -- that the kids they put up with during the school year are just awful.

But often, the mere term of “college professor,” as opposed to teacher, sets off in the general population visions of leisure and pipe smoking (the latter very anachronistic in our nonsmoking society), contemplating as in daydreaming, and teaching a few classes, this all occurring during the regular year. So why would a college professor need any time off during the summer? Those bastards are overpaid for the work they do anyway.

I am not sure the argument of needing to do research and publishing is sufficient to pull off a “no summer school for me,” as I find I am able to do research, write and publish, all while teaching summer school.

Somehow the work ethic of the common man or woman -- whatever the definition is for one such and if that incredible work ethic is so widespread among that creature as opposed to the college professor -- has rubbed off on me, compliments of my hardworking wife.

I wonder, too, how much time those fortunate few souls who have the summers off really spend on research and writing, and if they are more productive than those of us who teach during the summers. I would love to be part of some paid study, in which I was part of the group that took the summer off and did research and writing, as long as I could bring my fair share of income to the nest, while my wife toils year-round.

Some might think that the issue of summer school is an economic one, even in my case, in the frugal household with my year-round, hardworking spouse.

But I just would not have time and energy to teach overloads during the fall and spring semester to make extra income to equal that of summer school pay, because during the regular semesters, I teach, keep office hours, respond to students' work, grade, do committee work -- in short, I am a fully engaged professor.

Besides, the pay structure at the colleges and universities I know makes summer school financially more lucrative, substantially so, than overload pay during the semester.

It appears, then, there is no way out of the guilt of summer school or summer school of guilt. The only way might be if summer school rates of pay equaled those of overload pay, but I suspect even then I would have to enlist and sail the ship of summer school, where the mariner ghosts of professor role models of long ago do not walk the deck.

The Puritans would be mighty proud of some of us professors in the 21st century, as we work year-round and teach, and somehow squeeze in research and writing between a stint on the treadmill or the lifting of dumbbells.

But I expect no sympathy from the general population. Do you?

Bio

Ulf Kirchdorfer is a professor of English at Darton State College.

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