Matt Pearl

What do teachers do all summer?

Folks always want to know. There’s no single answer to the question, though.

Some of them get a second job. Some of them keep the yard mown and the roof dry. Some of them hold down a beach towel at the pool. There’s no one kind of teacher, any more than there is one type of police officer, or funeral director, or car salesman.

Each of us makes our way the best we can, I guess. When you teach, you generally get nine months of pay divided into 12 monthly paychecks, and your summer time becomes what you make of it.

Several of my companions spend a lot of time at workshops or professional development opportunities in June, July, and early August. Practically all of the good teachers I know work on school stuff: summer is a great time to prep for the year, which leaves you more time during the academic year to work with students rather than processing paperwork. I assure you that the former task is more personally fulfilling than the latter.

You will hear politicians and academics arguing about the role of teachers, their value to society, what their sustainable salaries ought to be, and all kinds of other matters concerning educators. If you asked me if I would like more money, my answer would be the same as yours: Yes.

But life doesn’t always give you victories in clusters. For me, I win by having the privilege of working in a career that helps young people on the journey toward becoming capable learners and productive citizens. I can’t expect everyone to value the work I do with the same dollar figures that I hold in my imagination. Who out there really believes he or she is getting paid what he/she is worth?

My love for teaching was not one born from promises of competitive professional pay: quite the contrary is true in fact. Among my college professors, the ones involved in the education degree courses were honest with those of us who were candidates for ed degrees. They told us about the hours, the expectations, and the pay.

I had other non-education-track professors who would occasionally ask why I wanted to teach high school. One warned me after I signed my first teaching contract at South Nodaway R-IV School in the spring of 2002: ‘Don’t go teach there. You’ll have six preps, hours of grading and no money.’ Well, I can’t say she was wrong.

But what she didn’t know about the experience is that teaching at Barnard those four years would connect me with hundreds of wonderful people, connections I still maintain to this day. My job at King City came next, and I met even more great folks, and taught/coached hundreds more great kids. The same is true now in Union Star, where the numbers are small, but the community is warm.

I suppose it would be the natural time to say, ‘Yeah, Matt, that’s all great. But what good are all those friends and acquaintances when it’s time to pay the mortgage?’ You’d be surprised.

Opportunities come from familiarity, particularly in rural areas, where who you know is infinitely more important than what you know. I have had more chances to say yes and no to professional opportunities than I ever could have dreamed, a fact I still cannot hardly believe. I’m not rich. I enjoy a modest living as a school teacher and the owner of my publishing company, and I will not complain about either role. I am blessed, but my riches are not in banks and stocks.

My wealth cannot be measured; the value of having students I have taught, as well as friends and colleagues/former colleagues scattered throughout northwest Missouri, is a treasure I couldn’t begin to quantify. Good people make work worth coming back to – and I’ve had more than my share of good people around me in my professional life. I thank all of you.

Matt Pearl owns and operates newspapers in King City, Albany and Grant City.