By Katie Murdoch Herald writer
Summer is no vacation for many teachers.
Like other states, Washington requires teachers to stay fresh in their content areas and log specific numbers of continuing education hours or complete university-level courses to keep their teaching credentials.
Summertime is when most teachers have the chance to complete these credits along with working on advanced degrees, taking courses to improve their teaching and working part-time jobs to supplement their salaries.
A typical teacher in the Edmonds School District sees from 25 to 28 students in a classroom and makes around $54,000. That’s a nine-month salary spread out over a year.
Teachers must pay for their continuing education credits out of pocket. Continuing credits and advanced degrees often result in salary raises.
Some of the courses Marjie Bowker, an English teacher at Scriber Lake High School, has enrolled in have cost $250 per course.
Applying for National Board Certification has cost Robin Cogburn, a Spanish teacher at Mountlake Terrace High School, hundreds of dollars to stay competitive in her field.
And for Kristyn Staal, a fourth-grade teacher at Cedar Way Elementary, earning a master’s degree has meant sinking deeper into debt with student loans.
Teachers have seen freezes to state cost-of-living increases, furlough days and ballooning class sizes.
“It’s not a cushy job,” Staal said.
Lisa Markussen will spend the coming weeks staying on top of ever-changing state and federal policies and laws. Markussen is a special education teacher who works with 3- to 5-year-olds at the Alderwood Early Childhood Center. Her job calls for staying up to date on research, namely on the brain, and policy issues. Next fall, Markussen is working with children who have disabilities she’s never worked with, so she is spending the summer preparing.
To supplement her teaching salary, Markussen also works two part-time jobs during the summer. There was a time when teachers had summers off and it gives people the wrong idea that today’s teachers live in luxury, Markussen said.
“People assume that’s the reality for teachers,” she said. “The majority of teachers are spending time one way or another taking classes, maintaining certifications or keeping up with policy changes at the state and federal level.
“Some teachers will teach summer school and tutor students to keep the neediest kids from falling behind,” Staal added.
The continuing education that teachers go through in order to keep their jobs means many have several degrees, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees in addition to teaching certificates.
For Cogburn, the Spanish teacher, a typical day consists of arriving at work at 7 a.m. and leaving around 6 or 7 p.m. and still not accomplishing everything she wanted.
“I stand in front of 160 different teenaged personalities,” she said.
Cogburn is participating in an immersion class in the Dominican Republic. The conference and airfare totaled $3,000, which she paid out of pocket. The intent of the trip is to improve her skills teaching a foreign language.
“When you pay that much … you want to attend all of the classes,” she said.
Staal is spending the summer enrolled in the district’s literacy training program to become a better teacher.
Previous summers have been spent striving to become a board certified teacher and working towards her master’s.
But teachers wouldn’t do it if they didn’t love it.
“I went into it because I had a connection with kids; it was a calling,” Staal said. “I knew I wouldn’t make a lot of money.”
A passion for the job
Teaching also is a mission and a passion for Kimberly Nelson, a family and consumer science educator and adviser for the robotics, ASB and Key clubs at Mountlake Terrace High School.
“The kids are amazing,” Nelson said. “I laugh all day long.”
Craig DeVine, who teaches engineering and geometry at Mountlake Terrace High School, considers himself lucky to work in the Edmonds School District.
“There’s a sort of purpose I didn’t feel at other jobs,” said DeVine, who used to work as an engineer. “It definitely balances out the hard days. Did I make a good difference or not?”
There are some other perks as well, like the two weeks off teachers have for winter break, when there is no school or extracurricular activities, Nelson said.
Also, Nelson noted that the eight and a half to nine weeks she has off during the summer is nothing to complain about, but points out there is still work to do during that time. Revamping or improving an entire curriculum can take up to 100 hours during summer hours, she said.
Still, the summer break is a perk for teachers.
“That is a nice part of the job, but I pay for it during the year,” DeVine said.
A former engineer, DeVine said there are different types of pressures in that field compared with teaching. But he feels more pressure as a teacher than when he was an engineer.
He is headed to Boston this summer to take courses to help prepare him to teach STEM courses this fall. Further, he is redesigning a class with a coworker which he expects to take 40 hours.
“In order for next year to go well, you put things in place during the summer,” he said.
“Come September, you don’t want to be frantic and up against the wall.”