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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?"

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Laura Townsend's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am spending my summer going to school. Even though it is online it still requires my time. I also tell people that they can be teachers too if they want the summers off. That usually keeps people quiet. I need to take more time to preplan for next year but my mind is always thinking of what new things I want to try and what didn't work last year and what did.

Julie Klein's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Well said. I don't know a teacher out there that does not walk out the door with an armful (as well as bags full) of books to read, papers to correct, and lessons to do. Those people that make the comment that our job is easy truly have no idea or are intimidated by what we do. I have been in conversations with such people and it is very irritating. I get very defensive because I know first-hand how difficult my job is and how much time and effort I truly put into it.. To all of the people out there who truly believe that a teacher's job is easy and that teachers have all of this time off during the year, please feel free to spend some time in my shoes.

Julie Klein's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I will admit that I have had time to potty train my son, play with him, and enjoy every moment I have with him. I have also been able to visit with family members on a recent trip. But my summer has also been busy doing a lot of what teachers do...I have also spent countless hours on the internet researching for my master's degree, reading textbooks, articles, and writing papers as well as replying and posting discussions. Several weeks of the summer have been devoted to learning a new grade levels curriculum and planning for a new year. I spend a lot of time reflecting on what worked last year and what I would like to do next year. I have spent time planning with other teachers as well. Hmmm...now I am starting to wonder if I have really had a vacation!!

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!

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