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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"So you're a teacher, huh?" says the umpteenth Joe know-it-all. I know the tone, and I know what's coming. "Must be nice having summer's off," he sneers.

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

I don't know who these teachers are who are supposedly laying around all summer sippin' sangrias without a thought of prepping for the year before them. But I'm not one of them.

In fact, is there really a "them?"

Bottom line is that every year since entering teaching, and you should know that I am a second career teacher, having come from The World Beyond, I have seen some of the busiest summer months of my life. This is for many reasons:

1. I generally have to work summer school because let's face it, who doesn't need the moo-la? And that's not just about the hours I spend with students, but the hours I need to spend prepping for them. I develop the lesson plans and set up my learning environment for a whole new slew of students that I'll only have for a month or so.

2. I attend or head Department and curriculum meetings that are scheduled during July and August. This summer, I'm working on developing the 8th grade ELA performance tasks for my district. But I'm not the only one. There are teachers all over my district, at every grade level, developing these assessments this year.

3. I develop and improve the curriculum that may or may not have worked over the school year, and summer's the only chunk of time to reflect and tweak those lessons.

4. I build a library of new lessons because, let's face it, I sure as heck don't have a lot of time to do that during a year that is packed full of high-energy, tightly paced, over-scheduled days. I go through my feeds and readers and pull resources to use. I create files to access during the school year. I develop Project Based Learning units to save myself much-needed time during the actual school year.

5. I learn the new technology or new curriculum programs I've been given. Once again, summer's the only time to learn them. So whether I'm being asked to pilot teaching with a class set of iPads (like last summer) or, having now passed those to another teacher, a class set of Chromebooks like this upcoming year, I need to spend my summer educating myself on the tools with which I will be teaching and guiding my students.

6. I write, I blog, I comment. In other words, I maintain my 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. I continue my own professional development. I take classes or attend webinars. I join Twitter conversations or Google Hangouts. It's a 24-7-365 education conference out there!

8. I heal and recharge my batteries for the next round of middle schoolers to come through my door. It's true. By the end of the year, teachers are limping towards vacation. And do the math: by the end of summer school, the mythical 2 months you are accused of having off really only amounts to 3 weeks or so until the start of the new year. And those weeks are filled moving your own student desks from the pile in the middle of the room, putting up your bulletin boards, shoving shelves back into place, planning, prepping, preparing, and scabbing over.

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 my days, my minutes, and my hours existing at the pace of a middle schooler. Frankly, I deserve some time off after that. But the fact is, not only do I not get it, 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 in every store 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 to refer to in upcoming years. You pick up props and realia to supplement your lesson plans.

The fact is, we need the breaks we get in order to do the job that we do 10 months of the year. And the other 2 months are spent doing other parts of the job.

Civilians don't realize the toll that teaching takes on a person, on their energy, their appearance even. You ever see the pictures of a president before their term began and after their term ended? Well, teaching's kinda like that. Adult humans aren't built to spend their days with hundreds of children each day. It takes a lot out of an adult to have their antennae up so high, so often, so consistently.

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

The least those civilians can do is acknowledge that while their children are at camp, giving them a break from parenting, we intend to do what we always do...be teachers.

Hope you are having a great summer.

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Justin Hahahj's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I thought that I was supposed to get my summers off when I first started teaching but I was wrong. The first couple of years I was asked to teach summer school. It was nice to have the extra money. I finally got away from having to teach summer school when I decided to coach high school basketball. In the summers I go to team camp for a couple weeks and various summer scrimmages. I also run a basketball day camp for 3rd-10th graders for two weeks. On top of it all I just started going back to school to earn my master's degree. Needless to say, I don't have my summers off!

Melissa Messer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I was right out of college and beginning my teaching career I remember thinking to myself how I would never even think about work during the summer. My summers were going to be spent by the pool, relaxing, and sipping on something fruity. Funny how quickly that mindset was changed! That first summer I had after my first year it was impossible for me to relax. I constantly found myself attending professional development, sneaking to my classroom to put a bullentin board together,working summer school, or just talking about my job with friends over dinner and the plans I had that upcoming year for my classroom set-up. Teaching is not one of those professions in which you forget about it when you leave. It follows you home and sticks in your brain. I will be at the grocery store shopping or a restaurant eating dinner and think, "Ah what a great idea for a lesoon!!" Those of us who stick with teaching do so because we have a true love for our students and their accomplishments. So for those people who think it's for the summers...they have no clue what they are talking about!! We deserve more than just a summer after what we potentially go through all year. All the paperwork we have to fill out, all the parental issues, all the standardized testing....but again it all goes back to that desire to in some way touch the lives of if not all at least some of our students each and every year.

Melissa Messer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I was right out of college and beginning my teaching career I remember thinking to myself how I would never even think about work during the summer. My summers were going to be spent by the pool, relaxing, and sipping on something fruity. Funny how quickly that mindset was changed! That first summer I had after my first year it was impossible for me to relax. I constantly found myself attending professional development, sneaking to my classroom to put a bulletin board together,working summer school, or just talking about my job with friends over dinner and the plans I had that upcoming year for my classroom set-up. Teaching is not one of those professions in which you forget about it when you leave. It follows you home and sticks in your brain. I will be at the grocery store shopping or a restaurant eating dinner and think, "Ah what a great idea for a lesson!!" Those of us who stick with teaching do so because we have a true love for our students and their accomplishments. So for those people who think it's for the summers...they have no clue what they are talking about!! We deserve more than just a summer after what we potentially go through all year. All the paperwork we have to fill out, all the parental issues, all the standardized testing....but again it all goes back to that desire to in some way touch the lives of if not all at least some of our students each and every year.

Danielle Jelinek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Oh Julie I think we must be having a twin summer.

I too took advantage of my summer to potty train my daughter and have enjoyed spending as much time with her as possible. However, I too am wondering where my vacation went. I am an Agriculture Education teacher and have already filled my August calendar with County Fairs, CTE teachers Conference and a short 3 day vacation for the beach.

My husband is also a teacher and ever year we tell ourselves that next year we are going to relax and enjoy life a little but it never happens. This year I took advantage of a four week internship to learn what it was really like to be a florist due to the fact that two years ago I was told I was going to teach floral design. I didn't even know how to make a bow...so I signed up for classes online and figured and internship would be beneficial in that I would experience what the life of a florist is really like. I have also attended two weeks of teachers conferences and have started my Masters. My husband and I took one week off to go camping and am planning on going to the beach with family for 3 days next month, but other than that my life has still been focused on being a teacher.

I get so frustrated when my family and friends say it must be nice to be a teacher and have summer, Christmas and Spring breaks. They have no idea. On our camping trip I had to sit and listen to my sister-in-law talk about how she makes $90,000 a year with a two year degree. Here my husband an myself both have four year degrees and both working toward our masters and don't make as much as her combine. We are definitely teachers for the money.

I love being a teacher, but have to admit sometimes I wish I could have a job like my sister in law and mother in law. One is an x-ray tech and the other does scheduling. I commute with my mother in law and when we drive home from work I am always talking about what I need to get done before classes the next day and she laughs and says she is going home to watch TV and take a nap. I don't think as a teacher our jobs are ever complete there is always more. So yes I suppose we get summer vacation to just catch up a little bit so we can be smiling on that first day of school.

Danielle Jelinek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I must concur with Julie.

I too took advantage of my summer to potty train my daughter and have enjoyed spending as much time with her as possible. However, I too am wondering where my vacation went. I am an Agriculture Education teacher and have already filled my August calendar with County Fairs, CTE teachers Conference and a short 3 day vacation for the beach.

My husband is also a teacher and ever year we tell ourselves that next year we are going to relax and enjoy life a little but it never happens. As Heather stated there is something that fills each summer. This year I took advantage of a four week internship to learn what it was really like to be a florist due to the fact that two years ago I was told I was going to teach floral design. I didn't even know how to make a bow...so I signed up for classes online and figured and internship would be beneficial in that I would experience what the life of a florist is really like. I have also attended two weeks of teachers conferences and have started my Masters. My husband and I took one week off to go camping and am planning on going to the beach with family for 3 days next month, but other than that my life has still been focused on being a teacher.

I get so frustrated when my family and friends say it must be nice to be a teacher and have summer, Christmas and Spring breaks. They have no idea. On our camping trip I had to sit and listen to my sister-in-law talk about how she makes $90,000 a year with a two year degree. Here my husband an myself both have four year degrees and both working toward our masters and don't make as much as her combine. We are definitely teachers for the money.

I love being a teacher, but have to admit sometimes I wish I could have a job like my sister in law and mother in law. One is an x-ray tech and the other does scheduling. I commute with my mother in law and when we drive home from work I am always talking about what I need to get done before classes the next day and she laughs and says she is going home to watch TV and take a nap. I don't think as a teacher our jobs are ever complete there is always more. So yes I suppose we get summer vacation to just catch up a little bit so we can be smiling on that first day of school.

Jennifer 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There is no reason to feel inadequate. I haven't attempted to work on lesson plans either. I try to enjoy my summer break as much as possible. Now when school's in, it's a different story. Lesson plans, new teaching strategies, motivational strategies, etc... I know I work hard during the school year, so I don't beat myself up when I need a break. We all need some sort of break to keep us going. Enjoy what time you have left of your summer.

Sherrie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teaching in a preschool for years, I worked all year only getting winter vacation and the standard holidays off. When I began teaching in the public school, I was excited since I would have my summers to relax and not think about work until I went back at the end of August. I was wrong! Right after school ends, I end of attending professional development workshops and find myself buying supplies for the classroom when I see big sales in the newspaper. I have also started a Masters degree program, so I find myself constantly working until I go to bed. My husband doesn't understand why I am always working, since he is concerned I am not making time for myself. I explain to him I am in this field for the love of children and not the money, even though it would be nice to make more money than I am making now!

Brandy Rainey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the author. People don't understand that we spend more time with their children daily then they do. We hear everything and deal with more stress then our own. Even without a counseling degree we mentor students and co-workers daily. We hear all the sad stories and deal with the consequences. By the time "summer" comes around we are so drained we need a vacation. But wait even if we work at a school 1 year or 20 years our vacation time doesn't get any longer. If we have children at home then we come home daily and continue working on homework, housework, and husband work! We really work more than just one job. My classrom is coninually on my mind. Then July rolls around and before I know it subconsiously start thinking about students, teachers, and lessons. I have dreams over dreams about it. My husband thinks I am crazy that I dream and constently think about my kids. When I get home I want to talk about it and he just tunes me out. Then he has the same misconseptions about the summer. I may sleep in for a few weeks. But I am always checking email and thinking about school. It is stressful dealing with the business world. I want to say you chose to get you MBA and work year round behind a desk. I chose to teach and touch lives!

Kristi Sullivan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is amazing to me how over the course of the past two weeks, I have constantly been met with the questions "Are you ready to go back to work?" While over the summer I do not have to be up as early as I do during the school year, I definitely work. I love that this article points out all of the purposes that a summer break serves for teachers. As for me, this summer I volunteered with elementary students at church, took middle and high school students to camp, became a paid staff member on student staff, started a master's degree, attended professional development conference, rearranged my room, began meetings with a new principal, took on a job as a team leader, and set-up a new year of ideas with my team. I do not say those things to toot my own horn, but to support the ideas put forth by this article. I guess the real question is, "Are you ready to start getting paid for your work again?" :) Oh, and I am not looking forward to the early mornings, but I do not think I ever will be.

Julie Klein's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I, too wish that I made more money teaching but I can't see myself doing anything else. I love what I do even though it burns me out at times. I get so caught up in all of the deadlines, lesson plans, meetings, projects, etc. that my head hurts. Even though I spend my summers and other vacations working on school work I still have to have time to relax. If people outside of education really knew all that we did maybe they wouldn't comment about our time off. Maybe they would understand how exhausting our job can be and that we earn those vacations!

Good luck with the floral arranging. My father-in-law is a florist. He is very good at it and really seems to enjoy it.

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