What teachers did this summer

Thursday, July 22, 2004

For nine months of the year, Mindy Swanner spends her days in front of a classroom teaching the three Rs, wiping noses and chatting about the world on an elementary-student level.

But during the summer, she slips on her comfy shorts and T-shirt and spends her days wiping down tanning beds, handing out lotion samples and showing customers to their booths.

The atmosphere is different, but Swanner's cheerful voice and matching attitude remain the same at her job away from job. As with many local teachers, the idea of a relaxing summer on the couch is a mere mirage to Swanner, a teacher at Blanchard Elementary.

Between the last bell in May and opening day in August, local teachers serve food in restaurants, mow yards, sell fireworks and work a variety of other jobs for a variety of reasons.

Money and boredom are the two things that keep Swanner working year round. She's working on her graduate degree and needs extra money to pay off student loans. She also needs money to buy extra school supplies for her classroom this year because of districtwide budget cuts. And, staying home is boring.

"I haven't had a summer," Swanner said. "But I'm so used to going, I don't want to just sit at home."

Her work at Tans R Us offers a change of pace from the nine months she spends at the head of a classroom.

"It's not as stressful. I do this job and I go home. With teaching, I go home and I take my job with me," Swanner said.

Jon Stephens, who teaches at Cottonwood Treatment Center, uses his summer job with a furniture moving company to build up muscle.

"Teaching school is not a very physical job, it's more mental. So in the summer I like blue-collar work because it is physical," Stephens said. "It doesn't seem like work because it's so different from my usual job."

This year, Stephens also took an overnight security gig at a fireworks stand for extra money.

"I get bored. It sounds good to have two or three months off, but I need something to occupy my time," Stephens said. "And working full-time, you can make quite a bit more money."

Lane Dynneson, who taught computer at Blanchard Elementary last year, is spending his summer building trailers in Oran, Mo., and teaching pottery classes out of his home.

"Every day I'm surprised by how much I enjoy it," said Dynneson, who lives in Jackson. "It's fun. I can talk with adults on a slightly different level than with students. We can talk about life matters."

Starting teachers in Cape Girardeau, Scott City and Jackson make between $24,500 and $27,000. At least in Cape Girardeau, employees will not receive a raise this year, which makes summer work even more important for some teachers.

"The salary is too low as a teacher to support a family of four with two in braces, two in college, all three driving and be able to provide many extras," said Gail Lowrance, a special education teacher at Blanchard with three children.

Lowrance has worked with the district's summer paint crew and in a doctor's office in past years during school vacation. For five years, she worked at the doctor's office after school year round.

"Hard work is essential. It's important to have a strong work ethic," Lowrance said. "You have to do whatever it takes, and you have to rely on yourself to make that happen."


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