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From the Beat: Story Ideas For the Holiday Week

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For education beat reporters looking for story ideas next week, I wanted to offer a couple of suggestions.

First up: Do teachers in your district take on second jobs over the holidays to make ends meet, or to boost their Social Security retirement contributions?

When I worked in Nevada — where teachers don’t automatically earn Social Security benefits — it was commonplace for educators (and the occasional administrator) to moonlight. One of the more unusual examples: A business and marketing teacher who worked as the night manager at an adults-only motel. And the Las Vegas Sun had a story a few years ago about a teacher working as an actor at the Mob Museum.

But setting aside these “only in Vegas” examples, I most often saw teachers working the registers at Bed Bath & Beyond or women’s clothing stores at the mall. One teacher had worked for more than a dozen years at the airport newsstand, where she often ran into her own students and their families headed out of town on vacation.

These examples aren’t isolated, though, and may speak to a larger issue of teacher financial insecurity.

In a new report, Leslie Kan and Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners explain the retirement risks looming for 1 million public school teachers — about 40 percent of the K-12 workforce — who aren’t covered by Social Security. Their state-funded pensions and personal savings are typically inadequate for retirement, the report concludes.

Another story idea to consider: What are students doing over the winter break? Are schools offering enrichment programs to kids who would typically be on campus before or after school? Are the students doing more than watching videos? Who’s teaching them? You might also check with local community centers to find out what programs they’re offering. (Our new Topics Page on after-school programs offers some good questions to ask when evaluating these kinds of educational activities outside the normal academic calendar.)

The holiday break is a also great time to talk informally with high school students about how their academic year is progressing – conversations that can be tough to have on campus. (The food court at the mall is a good place to start those conversations.) Some questions to ask: Is there anything different at your school this year in terms of new programs or initiatives? How much homework do you have to do over the winter vacation? What do you like best about school? What would want to change?