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The Myth of Having Summers Off

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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?"

(10)

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Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm in full agreement! My summers are almost as busy as the school year. I also always teach summer school. Then, it's curriculum development, meetings, PLU classes, and working on lessons for the new year. During the year, I teach an after school program 3 days a week, and remediation classes the other 2 days.
I especially like your comment about some of the summer time healing from wounds. No one could keep up with the daily demands without a break. I never feel guilty when someone says, "Oh, so how does it feel to be off for two months?" I use it as an opportunity to let them know how I'll spend it doing more school work, and as for the little bit of time I'll have as actual vacation, how much I deserve it!

Chiwon Sadler's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I could not have said it better myself. I am a middle school teacher in Buffalo, NY taking graduate classes at Walden U. I work 180 days a year, at a trimemster school. We are in session September - November, January through March and May-July. Sounds nice huh? Well we offer intersession labs to prepare students for NYS ELA testing, sports programs and practice, as well as other labs to offer parents a place to bring their students when school is not in session.

So, as you stated, summers are spent reflecting and preparing for next school year, training for new teachers and a host of other non-instructional yet vital duties.

If you are an effective teacher, you are a reflective teacher. If your are a reflective teacher you lick your wounds, bask in your successes and keep your mind on what you can improve on for the upcoming year. Summer is relaxing in the sense that you don't have students all day but it is just as busy.

I love what I do. There is nothing I would rather do other than teach, however, it is a 365-day, 24-hour position. Summers off are just a small bonus, if you actually get them.

Leanne Ferreri's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard this comment, I might be able to retire from teaching after only 9 years. Of course, I wouldn't, because I love every single heart-warming, frustrating, exhilarating, achingly satisfying moment that comes with doing what we do....preparing our youth to stand on their own.

I know that those of us reading this blog are nodding our heads in agreement about the irony of the phrase "two months off". I bet that if we compiled a list of all the summer duties mentioned in the comments to this blog, we'd have to re-fill the paper tray, because there wouldn't be enough in it to print the list. But, I am preaching to the choir.

The fact is, we (teachers) spend our summers getting better at teaching. I don't know that I've ever heard a business-person say, "I'm taking some time off so that I can improve my marketing skills". This is not to knock business-people, but to put in perspective what our jobs entail. Most (if not all) of my non-teaching friends clock out each day at 5:00 pm and do not even think about their jobs until the next day at 9:00 am. Meanwhile, I am still struggling with how I handled one of my brightest students (I teach at a community college) telling me she was pregnant and leaving school four months ago. (Should I simply council and not advise? Should I let her know my true, real feelings....that she shouldn't leave school, that she is way too smart to give up her education, that I wasn't disappointed in her and I wanted to help her make the best of her situation???) Caring, worrying, and life-touching doesn't end every day at 5:00 pm.

So, yes, I might spend a little more time "depositing" into my "sleep, rejuvenation, and self-care" bank this summer, but believe me, I will already be overdrawn a few weeks into the semester.....and I'll still have hundreds of students who need me to help them stand on their own.

Brandi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are no other professions where vacations are treated with such contempt from others.

No one else in my family is in the teaching profession. When I say that I am off to a summer class, or am talking about work for graduate school, or discussing meetings I've recently attended, I get the unsympathetic "boo hoo" from MY OWN FAMILY who feels as though I have no right to complain. It's funny, though, that when I compare my salary to theirs, they wouldn't trade their much-higher pay for the lesser pay I receive for "dealing with other people's kids all day"! How amusing is that?!?!

We are teachers because we love what we do, not because of having our summers off! Although, it is nice... ;-)

Dana's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Don't forget all the strangers' children whom we reprimand at the store - "watch your mouth", "take off your hat inside the building", and "use your words". :)

Scott's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teachers are whiny babies! You are always crying that you don't make enough money, yet you work 8 months out of the year. (2 weeks off at Christmas, 1 week of at Easter, plus other assorted holidays) Average salary for a teacher in my areas is 40k per year, which is pretty good for 8 months of work. Also, you are always crying about having to work more hours and grade papers. Boo hoo! Do you know how many people have to work overtime and don't get crap for it. Suck it up!

Maria Kontogiannis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first blogging experience as well. I think we definitely need the time off to relax and get our energy back for September. Our summers are kept busy with us trying to prepare for the new school year. We develop new ideas and projects, get the classrooms ready in August, buy school supplies and furniture, and attend workshops. I also started to pursue my Master's this summer.

Eric's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree, summers are not off. Since I have become a teacher I have worked harder in the summers than ever before. Not only am I spending time gathering information for a new year, and attending required and voluntary workshops, but I am also working a summer job. It is ironic however, that in a teachers vacation, it is not unheard of for administration to set up and require a training or workshop. In any other profession that would be an outrage. All you teachers know what I am talking about. We just go and participate. We understand that it will be better for the students if we better ourselves. Teaching is the love of learning after all.

E's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I want to live in the area that you are. I don't know of any district that only works eight months of the year. In my area, we work ten months of the year (student contact days), plus, during our "vacations," spend several weeks in workshops and trainings. Most of the teachers in my building work a minimum of ten hours per day during the week, plus spend one of the days during the weekend planning and prepping. You are welcome for teachers wanting to create the best environment for your children. If you are still thinking that teachers have it made, maybe you should make a career change. It will be the most difficult, yet rewarding career you have ever attempted.

Laurie Chvatal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with those who are the teachers. Let's not forget that the last day of school is not our last. We need to stay and take down our clasrooms, label everything and move them out. I am lucky enough to have a closet in my room and don't have to take everything home. The first day of school is not our first day, in Maryland, we report a week before the students, have professional development and have two days in our rooms to prep if we are lucky. Most of the teacher at my school go in before the required day to set up on our own time. Don't you just love how the students get a four day weekend, and teachers get a two or three day weekend depending on what is scheduled. For Yom Kippur, the students just had a 4 day weekend, fri and mon off, and teachers had to report on fri for professional development, and we got monday off. One of my students came back all excited because he went to Disney World in Florida for the four day weekend. I wish I could go to Disney World! I don't know about you, but I spend most of my weekends bringing work home and grading it, or planning for upcoming projects, etc. We now have an online grading system in my district and it is pain, we have all kinds of kinks and problems. So, I basically end up inputing grades on the weekends as well. I spend my summers cleaning up things in my classroom, and then cleaning up stuff in my house that get neglected during the school year, and travel with students for 3 weeks in the summer. When it comes down to it, I only have about 2 weeks total vacation. I don't know about your area, but it seems that our summer vacations keep getting shorter and shorter. We seem to start school earlier and get out later.

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