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Summer school is increasingly important for students, but where are the teachers?

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A classroom sits empty and dark. Unused desks and cubbies are visible.

Summer school programs can be helpful for students whose education was disrupted by COVID. But finding educators willing to work this summer is easier said than done. Jon Cherry/Getty Images

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In the past, attending summer school was seen as a way that students who were behind could catch up. But now, with interruptions caused by the pandemic, a lot more students are behind, and summer learning has become even more important.

In some districts where many parents are in the workforce, they want their kids in school partly to have them doing something. Trouble is, a lot of teachers who in the past may have been willing to work in the summer are tired, and this year they want the time off. That means school districts have to adapt.

Kindergarten teacher Virginia Mosier arrives at work by 6:15 a.m. The kids arrive at 7:20. And then … it’s on.

“It’s like I’m on stage all day,” Mosier said. Because she not only talks; she sings some of her lessons. “So, you know, for letters, you know, the A goes, ‘Ah ah ah.’ The A goes, ‘Ah ah ah.’ The big A is a mountain with a stick across like that.”

Mosier teaches at a public school in Las Vegas, and she used to instruct during the summer months too. But she found it was more important to her to have the time off.

“To relax, to be with my family, to spend some time at home,” she said. “You know, I’m starting to do my house cleaning for the summer because I haven’t dusted in forever because I’ve just been so busy and tired.”

Mosier, who’s been on the job for more than 20 years, wasn’t tempted to teach this summer even though her district is offering more money than it did before the pandemic. But for many teachers — especially younger ones — money is a useful recruitment tool.

“In any scenario, I think it’s a matter of figuring out what the right incentives are,” said Marguerite Roza, the director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University.

Roza pointed to a program in Indianapolis that’s paying teachers up to $10,000 for six weeks of work. “If you have this nice, round, very clear number like $10,000, you can start to see people weighing the decision. Like, ‘Should I do that? I’ll get $10,000.'”

In Niagara Falls, New York, Superintendent Mark Laurrie isn’t offering more money, but he is offering flexibility, allowing teachers to work from home for some lessons. He said it’s a lot simpler to get people through a virtual door than a real one.

“It was really a lot, a heck of a lot, easier than to get teachers to come in,” he said.

Laurrie added that school is no longer a September-to-June proposition, and with so many kids falling behind after years of remote learning, they can’t afford to take the summers off.

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