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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Myth of Having Summers Off

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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"So you're a teacher, huh?" says the umpteenth Joe Know-It-All. It's late spring, and I know the tone, and I know what's coming. "Must be nice having summers off," he sneers.

I don't know what mythical job this guy thinks I have, but I've never had a summer off.

9 Education-Related Summer Tasks

I don't know who started this legend of the well-rested teacher who sits around all summer long sippin' sangrias without a thought of prepping for the year before them, but I've never met those teachers -- if they even exist.

Bottom line is that every year since entering teaching (I am a second-career teacher, having come from The World Beyond), I have seen some of the busiest summer months of my life. For many of us, this is for a variety of reasons:

1. We work summer school.

Let's face it, who doesn't need the moola? So that’s a few hours a day that we still spend with students, as well as the hours we spend prepping for those classes. There are enrichment classes to be taught, as well as credit recovery classes and RTI classes that are high stakes to many and often filled with students who resent having to be there. Not relaxing. Furthermore, you generally are displaced from your own classroom and your own toolbox, so we set up a new learning environment for a whole new slew of students that we'll only have for a month or so.

2. We attend department and curriculum meetings.

This summer, many of us are working on developing or revising the grade level mock-Common Core Performance Tasks for our districts. We might be finding multimedia text sets and developing a choice of prompts in an attempt to prepare our new students using current teacher-developed assessments

3. We improve on our curriculum.

Lessons and units that may have proven to be dusty, clunky, or just downright "meh" get reworked, revised, or dumped altogether.

4. We curate and develop libraries of new lessons.

We spend time finding inspiration for new lessons, researching resources that will work for the students to come. For instance, all year long, from Sept to June, I fill a file on my desktop of resources, headlines, and links that I plan to sift through over the summer for lesson inspiration. I go through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, readers, and blogrolls. Summertime is when I develop project-based learning units to save myself much-needed time during the actual school year.

5. We learn the new technology or curriculum programs purchased by our schools.

Sometimes, we leave for summer laden with newly-adopted curriculum that we want to understand before the start of school. Additionally, many of us are now being asked to pilot or adopt anything from a class set of iPads to a class set of Chromebooks, and it takes brainstorming procedures ahead of time for these newly adopted technologies to be used as deeply and efficiently as they can be.

6. We write, blog, or comment.

We maintain our online relationships so that collaboration is easier throughout the school year. After all, not all answers will come from your own staff. You have to develop and maintain a VLC (virtual learning community) as well as a PLC. Resources come from everywhere.

7. We continue our own professional development or help run others.

We take classes, attend webinars, and develop PD to share our expertise. I, for one, find myself participating in more Twitter conversations or Google Hangouts during the summer months. It's a 24-7-365 education conference out there!

8. We set up our classroom environments for the next year.

Remember that kitchen scene in Poltergeist? The one where the table and chairs are stacked to the ceiling? Well, that's what greets us when we arrive in August to set up our rooms. Needless to say, that's not what greets the students days later. A great classroom that's ready to go by the first day of school does not magically happen. And it rarely happens during the day or two before school starts for which we are contractually paid. Nope, we have to come in over the summer or come in early (assuming the office staff will give us the key) to make our classroom the awesome place it can be. Those days are filled with you moving student desks from the pile in the middle of the room, putting up your bulletin boards, shoving shelves back into place, and tracking down furniture that somehow ended up in some other teacher's room.

9. I heal and recharge my batteries.

It's true. By the end of the year, teachers are limping toward vacation. And by the end of summer school, the mythical two months suddenly really only amounts to three weeks to plan, prep, learn, tweak, scab over, and (yes) rest.

Teachers as Yearlong Learners

Back to my Joe Know-It-All: I really should've asked if he wanted to spend his year doing what I do. I spend every day existing at the pace of my middle school students. Frankly, I deserve some time off after that! Nevertheless, if I were being honest with myself, I don't know how I would ever function with it.

After all, thinking like a teacher never ends. And when you love teaching, you can't just turn it off at the end of June.

You still continue to search for books to replenish your classroom library. When a big news story comes out, you immediately try to seek out that last copy of the New York Times to use as a primary document. You pick up props and realia to supplement your lesson plans.

Truthfully, we need the breaks we get in order to do the job that we do ten months of the year. The other two months are spent doing other equally important aspects of the job.

Civilians don't realize the toll that teaching takes on a person. Ever compared pictures of a U.S. president before his term began and after it ended? Well, teaching's kinda like that. Adult humans aren't built to spend their days with hundreds of children. It takes a lot out of an adult to have his or her antennae up so high, so often, so consistently.

And yet we have troops of people willing to return to the classroom year after year and willing to join their ranks, with no summer break, just for the honor of calling themselves teachers.

Hope you have a productive summer, a summer filled with learning, and a summer with a few moments of rest.

How are you planning on spending your summer "off?"

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Pepeleponce's picture

I didn't bring a single teacher's edition home this summer. But then I realized that I need to complete 4 semester units to get a small bonus (questionable term) on our pay scale since I am stalled out after 18 years. So now I need to go back to my campus and pick up some books. I am completing this great course which allows you plan for 100 hours this summer for next school year. The best part is you chose how you want to spend your hours. I am enjoying reading all the different articles and going back through my old lesson plans. It is interesting reading how people spend their summers. In California you can indeed make $70,00 a year but the cost of living is more.

Donna's picture

Actually...I make 70k a year with a Master's degree after 20 years in the classroom in Southern California. However, the average mortgage or rent here is $2400 a month. And I have an average of 35 students in my classes topping out at 42 in middle school. Believe it or not, 70k is barely making it here. It's all relative...in the U.S. teachers do not make the comfortable living they should be, nor get the respect that is deserved. I am hoping the pendulum will swing in a different direction, as we have become quite the scapegoats. :-/

Charles Luke's picture

I was a teacher and then an administrator for years and my wife is a teacher. "Summers off" is a joke! Three weeks at best. As an administrator I once asked the district to put me on a 12 month contract rather than 11 because I spent all of my "off" time hiring staff and generally got about a week off. I thought I might as well get paid for my work. The district said no way!

Mrs. D. Teacher librarian's picture

I agree with many of you. Teaching almost 1500 students a year is a very important job and one that takes much planning, communicating with department chairs, administrators, and parent groups. To be "on" every single day from 7 am to after 3 pm for 10 months can be exhausting. Rewarding and worth-while Yes! This is a great career for anyone who is creative, intuitive, and really enjoys working with students who may love reading and education to students who are reluctant and resistant learners. You need to be a person who can stay balanced and be available every minute of the day to assist young learners to become more confident readers and users of technology and do it with enthusiasm and respect. My time off is spent ensuring I'm resting, reading , and regaining my sense of purpose before I return to my school in mid August.

Keith B.'s picture

Don't forget that some of us have summer jobs to help pay off the loans we used to become teachers.

Jane's picture

I'm a 20 year classroom teacher who is making the jump to literacy coach this summer. In addition to teaching this past year, I spent hours after school in fast paced trainings. This summer I am part of the Summer Intensive Training that involves teaching and coaching during summer school, and training and teaching during the afternoons. 7 weeks. Intensive, right? But the downside is that I took a 62% salary reduction to participate in this fast paced! working lunch! jam packed experience. Because our county only pays a small stipend to summer school teachers and trainings during the summer. While I love every second of it, because teaching reading is my heart, my bills and expenses did not take a 62% decrease.

Amanda B.'s picture

Here in Ontario teachers at the top of the pay scale - which most teachers can attain in 10 or 15 years - make $100000 per year, including universal health care benefits and other great benefits. Teachers are very well paid and they really do get nice long summer breaks. And this is good for teachers and society.

Terry Jolliffe's picture

And now, for the rest of the story...I have been at my current institution since 1984 and am considering retirement. Even though I've been here for 31 years, I only receive service credit for 13 years, because I worked the first 21 years as an adjunct.(part time) As an adjunct, I often took assignments in different areas of the college and almost always had full time hours; however, the Texas legislature does not believe that my service deserves consideration when it comes to retirement. To add insult to injury, my "princely" pension of $1700 per month, and the fact that TEXAS wouldn't let me pay Social Security, means that I cannot collect anything from my ex-husband's account.

It won't be a busy summer; it will be no summers until I just can't work any more.

Susan Keeney's picture

I try very hard to not do anything school related for at least the month of July (our district in Silicon Valley runs from mid-August to mid-June) and I'm lucky enough to be able to afford doing so. Most teachers need to disengage from the hectic pace of the classroom, as well as from some of the frustrations of the job (poor administrative decisions, lack of funding, large numbers of students, etc.) I go back to work in August refreshed, unstressed, stronger and ready to go!

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