It would be easier to beat the heat in the skirts and slacks she wears from August to June, but this summer, Ariel Serkin is lacing her bodice, donning her cap, and smoothing her petticoats in high 18th-century style. At work, she talks about her dear friend, Abigail Adams, her older brother, James Otis, and current events - like the Revolutionary War.
Ms. Serkin is one of legions of teachers spending this summer away from school, but still on the job. The old idea that teaching is a good profession if you want your summers free rings hollow for these teachers who, looking for a change of pace or change in their pockets, are weathering the heat while working a second job.
Last year, Serkin substitute-taught at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, and she hopes to find a job teaching history full time this fall. In the meantime, she's bringing history alive for visitors to Boston's Freedom Trail, guiding groups on 90-minute tours through the city's historic sites. She plays the roles of Mercy Otis Warren, a poet, playwright, and historian of the 18th century; Rachel Revere, wife of Paul; and Mrs. James Brewer, wife of a Boston Tea Party rebel who helped disguise her husband's friends as Mohawk Indians late one December night.
On the trail, Serkin says, "You're teaching history ... but there are very different concerns than you have with teaching school - like talking over trucks, or construction noise. [And on] a tour of downtown Boston, you have to get them all across the street."
Christine Day's summer job in the Harvard Book Store is quiet by comparison - and a contrast to her regular work, teaching English at Malden (Mass.) High School. Working in the bookstore is "a nice complement to teaching," she says, "because I can keep up on books; I don't have piles and piles of papers to grade. And I don't have to prepare [for work], I can just show up. Although I take it seriously, this is not my career."
In fact, Ms. Day says, most teachers she knows work more than one job. "And not just during the summers. During the school year, they drive cabs, they do real estate, they work in a dentist's office after school. Unless you have a spouse or a partner that's making a lot of money, you need to have an extra job."
Scenes at a sausage stand
Richard Andriole knows that situation firsthand. In past summers, the English teacher at Derby Academy in Hingham, Mass., has made extra money working at summer schools. But this year, he's selling $5 sausages from a cart outside Boston's Fenway Park. On game days, he's parked in a line of vendors right behind the park's outfield wall; twice during batting practice, fly balls have hit his cart. "At least during the game, we can listen to the radio and know when one's coming," he jokes.
Mr. Andriole often finishes his days at 2 a.m., after the bars close and the last sausage-hungry partyers shuffle home. He says he's seen all kinds of characters. One guy on a skateboard rolled by "wearing, really - nothing"; another cruised past on rollerblades in a pink wrestling suit. "There are a lot of bachelorette parties," he adds.
Despite the occupational hazards, Andriole says, he enjoys the change of pace from teaching. "I [almost] don't think this is work," he says. "In class, you have to be the boss. Here, I just do what I'm supposed to do." But even so, he says, he's already looking forward to getting back to school.
Jerome Butler has also seen how food can complement teaching. For 30 years, he ran his aunt's all-night diner in Watertown, Mass., while teaching English at McCormack Middle School and later at Dorchester High School in Boston. During the school year, Mr. Butler would go home at 3 p.m. on Fridays, sleep for a few hours, then go to Pat's Diner at 11 p.m. - and work through the next afternoon. When summer rolled around, he'd work at the restaurant full time.
Though Butler took over the diner primarily to keep it in the family, the extra income came in handy. "The money I made there was three or four times the money I made as a teacher. I don't think I could have bought a house on a teacher's salary [alone]."
Butler admits that "being a teacher and running a business is not the easiest thing in the world." But there was a certain synergy between his daytime world of classrooms and the late-night breakfast mecca. He hosted football-team dinners and free pancake breakfasts for local kids, and students often dropped by to say hello or ask for jobs.
"As the kids got older," he says, "they'd come in with their girlfriends, and that was neat to see because I'd known them as seventh-graders."
Taking lessons back to class
For Serkin, too, summer work and teaching experiences "play off each other." Substitute-teaching for third- through eighth-graders taught her to make material appealing to different ages - a skill that has helped her as a tour guide. And managing large tours, like a recent group of 80 fifth-graders, helps her master crowd control and hold a group's attention. Plus, Serkin says, she'll reuse her costumes in the fall. She plans to dress up for her history classes, and organize plays about Colonial America.
Day's bookstore job will likewise have tangible benefits for her students. She says part of the reason she chose this job was the substantial discount that bookstore employees get on their purchases. Right now, she's using her discount to the fullest, collecting used books to supplement her classroom lending library.
Still, Day says, bookstore customers who hear why she's working there are often incensed. "I can't tell you, when I tell them I'm a teacher and this is my second job, how many people say 'Oh, that's terrible.' They think it's shameful that teachers, to have a reasonable standard of living, need to take second jobs."
And as much as she enjoys the break from teaching, Day says, "I do agree with them. Because I could be taking this time to focus on curriculum - to step back and reflect on the work I did during the year, and to plan for next year. My time definitely could be better spent, if I was better paid."
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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor