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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.

Originally Published April 13, 2014

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Stacey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In the system where I teach have large summer breaks as well and my schedule during the year is extremely similar to the one in the article. However, each year, our system seems to be ending the school year earlier and beginning the new school year earlier and they are not giving us a reason as to why. We (the teachers in my system) seem to think it is because we are being groomed for a year round schedule that will be something like the following: We would attend school for 6-6weeks then a 3 week break in-between the terms and still get an extra week for vacation during Christmas. Many of the systems in my state have implemented this schedule and it seems to be working for the teachers and the students. The teachers have time to regroup and the students get a break and they do not lose a large amount of concepts that was taught the previous term as I believe they would during the extended summer.

Diana Mc Donald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I must agree the summer is so short lived, and yet to still have so much to do. I have to teach summer school, attend development workshops, still trying to get my assignments done for my Master degree, amist all this still try to be a mother and wife, and that job never stops, and when you think you have it all together, its time to plan for the next school year. Oh WOW happy summer.

Joy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I didn't even realize we have a break! I spend most of my summer planning for the next year and setting up my classroom. This summer I started my masters. Therefore, I don't have any time to do anything! I get the comment all time about "how nice it is to have time off." Yeah, I wish!!! Good teachers are bettering themselves for the sake of their students.

Kelli Volkman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

For me, summer is a continuation of the school year. I do take at least one trip, but it's right back to work. I spend my summers submerged in school work. This summer, I worked to better our school. I have spent the entire summer working in our guided reading book room. I have reorganized, alphabetized, labeled, and "genretized" all of our books. This has been a huge project, but it really will help the teachers (inturn helping students) next year. I also am in a new grade, with a new curriculum adoption for reading/writing. In between working in the book room, I am learning the new material. On top of all of this, I have started my masters. So summer...never heard of it. Dedicated teachers don't spend their time sipping mimosas at the beach...all summer. There is no time!

Lorna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too wonder whether the time has gone. Individuals in the secular world believe that we have so much time but we don't. I taught summer school as well as I am completing a masters course so I am busy. In addition to all that I will be teaching in a new school this fall and I just cannot seem to use the same lesson plans twice.
In order to improve on students learning and implement more 21st century skills i need to reflect on past lesson plans, see how they worked and did not work, what needs to be changed and what should remain(Richardson 2009). So the days go by quickly and before we know it school has begun.
In the midst of all the planning for the new school year, let us take time to enjoy the summer, relax, and be reinvigerated or we will experience burn out and end up accomplishing very little next year(Kottler, & Zehm, 2005).

Reference

Kottler, J. A.,Zehm, S. J., Kottler, E (2005). On being a teacher: The human dimension: Thousand Oaks CA, Corwin Press

Richardson, Will(2009) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.

Kelly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I coud not resist joining in on this summer talk. I am a mom of 2 young children so my summers are just as busy if not more than the school year.
I was just in a store the other day and I commented how nice it was to be able to walk through the store without the crowds. She smiled and asked when I usually shop. After I informed her that since I teach elementary school and don't get a chance to come in unless it is anweekend. The cashier commented how lucky I am to have time off with my kids. I have learned that it is not worth explaining that it is not really a "break" to everyone who says this. The only people who really understand are those who have teacher in their family!

Christy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As I read over this post I felt very inadequate as a teacher. I have been teaching for 4 years so I am still relatively new to the profession. I very rarely take the summers off either, but usually I do not teach summer school though I have in the past. I have worked as a camp counselor and instructor, or as a sever in a restaurant. I usually do after school programs through my district as well as participate in professional development opportunities. This is the first summer since I can remember that I am not working, however I am taking grad courses and took a week long set of workshops to integrate art into the curriculum. While I do think about my future students and the up and coming year I do not lesson plan. Is that unprofessional of me? In comparison with the rest of the teachers posting on here I feel subpar as a professional.

Thank you Jennifer for posting. I agree that it is much less stressful and for that I am thankful. I think that I would burn out much sooner if we didn't get the summers off. It's not that I don't love my children or the daily challenges, but I need that time off to recoup and prepare mentally myself for the next year:-)

Kaywana's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I must confess that I was once a Joe Know-It-All, well at least a Jane Know-It-All. Then I decided to teach not because of the summers (let's admit it, the idea of summer vacation did sound good) but a genuine love for children and a need to impact the world. This is my first summer as a teacher and I am busier that ever. I started my MS in Education so there are the assignments and reading and discussions that take up a lot of time. I am also planning my lessons for the Fall and by the end of the day I am totally knocked out. Then morning comes and I do the same thing over again,loving every minute. So now I do know that summers off is indeed a myth.

Amy Robertson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too only had the weekend off between graduation and the beginning of summer school. I run our summer enrichment program for grades k-8. This is not a "rec" program. We still plan activities and I am in charge of 50 plus children. We have the option of signing up for trainings in August at our school, so I have two trainings to attend plus a few other duties before the actual school year begins. Ultimately I may a mere two weeks of freedom without any obligations except Master's work. Isn't two weeks about what Joe Know it All gets in his place of employment?

Leah Bucklen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Goodness, I loved reading and feeling your passion for teaching! As I am embarking on a new school year, it is always refreshing to hear other teacher's dedication to our profession (something that I do not get the chance to see daily). I can not tell you how many times I hear, "When schools out, schools out. I don't want to come think school, see school. I am going to enjoy my summer and not do anything school related until school is back in session." I hate hearing these comments, primarily because I love what I do. I love that I get to spend everyday with these children and I get to watch them grow. Yes, I believe we must enjoy our summer, however, in order to grow from a novice to expert teacher (if that is even important to some teachers) I believe that we must continue learning and be involved as much as possible not only in the school, but in the community. In the past, I can not look myself in the mirror and say that I have given 100% to my school and community. I can say that I have let the negative comments get the best of me, but as I am beginning my master's program my passion to help students is starting to rekindle. Thank you Heather for starting this wonderful blog! Thank you for helping me remember what is important.

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