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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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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.

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:-)

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