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

"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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Lorna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Well said Heather

I never have summers off. People think that we get all this time off and really do very little, but they do not know just how hard the dedicated ones of us work in and out of the class.
Like you said I use my summers to reflect on the lessons used last year and upgrade or throw away and start afresh. It is just too mundane for me to use the same lesson plan year after year, so I don't. I start from fresh and always looking for new and exciting ways to present the topics i taught last year. The students love to play games so I am looking for great ways to play games and have them learn at the same time.I am also doing my masters in Integrating Technology in the Classroom, an online course with Walden University. I also did summer school. So my summers are busy too, and moving too quickly.
Have a great school year and all the best to all you teachers.

Jodi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There is so much to do during our 'summers off', that I can't even begin to make a list! I'm not sure there is any teacher out there who can honestly say that they don't do anything school-related throughout the summer. This is the never-ending profession! There are always new studies to keep up with, formulating new lessons, researching, etc. etc. This is the only sliver of time I get throughout the year to really dive into all the information out there. If there are really 'teachers' out there just lounging around for two months and not bettering themselves professionally in some manner, than they should probably be re-thinking their career!

ann coffey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ha- summers off- do they prepare for their employers as we do our students during the summer? I constantly am looking for ideas, creating lessons, reading IEPs for my new students all summer long.

Christine Chop's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I get that comment from everyone who isn't a teacher. It is a completely different world for them. They are referring to the time they were in school. The difference is that they were a student, not a teacher so they don't understand the other side of the story. Teachers all over participate in summer schools, day cares, other jobs, conferences, or curriculum planning during the summer. Not to mention preparing for the incoming school year. I don't think people understand the stresses that teachers go through during the year. We need the time to reflect and de-stress. I think it is essential to being healthy. And yes....most of us do get that time to go on vacation for a week or two, but every job has a week or two for vacation, so there is no difference.

debbie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the many teachers defending their summer work schedule. I have been teaching for two years and it still feels like I am starting a new job every fall! I often ask myself if it will ever get easier, will my tasks ever be managable? I started working on my Masters this summer and I am amazed at how much time that alone is taking....I am now asking myself...will I be able to juggle a fulltime job and grad school?! I have two children...they are the ones with the summer off...not the teachers!! I used to think like thse who are not in education. I thought it was a pretty easy job too...then I joined the ranks of them and was rudely awaken!! Not only do I have new curriculum in 4 subjects to learn, I have new technology in my classroom that I will need to learn before I can use it to its fullest. Just because students aren't in the desks all year doesn't mean a teacher doesn't work all year. If you don't beleive me, do what i did...join the ranks of teachers and see for yourself!!

Dalinda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Some days I don't even have enough of a break from the classroom to use the restroom. Make a personal phone call, you gotta be kidding, all my personal phone calls are made after 5:00, if I remember to make them. I would venture to say that teaching has to be the most time demanding profession out there. Even break times are often taken up by some sort of supervision duty. Holidays are grading time and summer is prep time. Here's to teachers who dedicate their lives to their work. Have a great summer!! Ha HA

Tiffany Blum's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can relate well to many of these posts. I have also been teaching for two years, and it is an extremely demanding profession. Each summer I have spent time working on lesson plans for the next year, building up my classroom library, searching for websites to use in the classroom, doing research etc. Why? So that I can be that much more effective in the coming year because in the interest of sleeping and having something resembling a social life I do not have time to do all of that doing the school year. However, I will acknowledge that the summer is a more relaxed and flexible "vacation" time for me which I enjoy thoroughly. However, I do not feel in the least bit guilty for having two months "off" every year considering the number of hours I work during the other ten months and the strain that I endure.
I also just started my Master's degree this summer and two things have really stood out to me during this class. First, the need to continually learn and seek to improve in my profession so I am thankful for the time in the summer to do that. Secondly, to see teaching not as a burden but as a privilege. Teaching is what I meant to do, and I love it. That means that even if my summer vacation were taken away I would continue to teach. There are dedicated teachers everywhere who would agree with me I am sure which is why we patiently endure those who would begrudge us our "summers off."

Jennifer 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I've only known what it's like being a teacher for two summers now. Both times I have had a summer job bartending and waiting tables. Sure I get paid during the summer month, but that's hard enough to live on. I have also started on my Master's Degree. Thinking about the time that's going to take out of my life during the school year...

The summer's sure aren't the same, even six years ago summer vacation lasted three months. Somehow I become a teacher and it's down to two months! I would have to say, even having a month taken away doesn't lessen the fact the I enjoy my summer vacation. Sure I'm busy with appointments, another job, another degree, but I enjoy the time not worrying about lesson plans, parent conferences, and what I'm to do about that problematic child. It is certainly more relaxing that during the school year.

Jennifer 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I don't know many teachers like you have described. I know of two teachers that have a cellphone basically attached to their hips throughout the whole day. Even texting during classtime! I certainly am not one of those people. My cell is off during the day. Any parent phone calls I make on my own phone on the 45 mintue ride back home. And what lunch break? Since I teach fourth grade, I eat with my kids in the lunchroom. Even during planning period, which is only 40 minutes, we have three required meetings during the week. That leaves two days of actual planning time, which I use to run copies. I am always up and working. I wish you could inform me of how I can maybe take it easier at work?

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.

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