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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.


Comments (193)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Karen HUber's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that teachers do NOT have the summer off! I am taking several classes this summer, not to mention other workshops that I am involved in. I am going to be teaching anew grade this fall, so I need to spend time acquainting myself with the curriculum materials. Not only that, but I am learning how it implement web 2.0 tools for my new grade level. Most of the world has NO idea what it means to be a teacher!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Don't remind me! The only day when I don't see the end is the last day of school when all possibilities for summer are still open. But then the schedule starts to fill...Nevertheless, I get to spend my summer planning to be the teacher I want to be because when September sets in, the challenges will come a-knockin'; and if we aren't planning to be the teacher we want to be, we'll end up being the teacher who just settles. Thanks for the resources, by the way. I'm definitely going to check them out! Thanks also for checking into Edutopia and the Spiral Notebook Section. See, it ends up being professional development for us to read comments on our own articles as well. Take care!
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think there's this misunderstanding with education that comes from everyone believing that they are an expert about. I think this stems from everyone having once been a student. I've said this before that "to know what it must be like to teach because you've been a student, is the same as saying what it's like to give birth because you were once born." Joe's don't know the struggles, the trials, the effort, and the love. Having said that, however, it's up to us as teachers to set the record straight and just calmly let people know the truth: that teaching is a way of life that never stops. Thanks for reading my blog, and thanks for reading Edutopia!
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You're right, the world does not know what it's like. That's why it needs to become a part of our jobs to get our professional word out there. Great teachers need to be a voice in the reputation of our profession. Keep blogging. Keep talking. And keep doing what you do best...teach. Thanks for commenting.
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Judith Epcke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


You echo my sentiments exactly when someone says something about having summers off. Usually I hear, "Oh must be nice being a teacher in the summer". My comment is usually, "It's great being a teacher in the summer and all year long. You too, could have chosen to be a teacher and as a matter of fact, you could still be a teacher. There is no lottery, no special contest to win, just a teaching certificate and lots of hard work"

That usually silences them.

Mishima's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If a teacher prepares well during the year and has a few years of experience, it is quite easy to take off the entire summer. Teachers do not want to admit it, but many go into the professon for that very reason - A 190 day work year. Also, if a teacher is efficient and does not waste time in the teachers' room during the day, he or she can leave the building by 4:00 at the latest.

Most people get only 2-3 weeks off a year which comes to a total of about 240 days; a teacher has 50 fewer days. In addition, the teacher can leave work and not deal with rush hours.

Many teachers decide to work after school, join committees, take courses and so on. This is their choice, of course. They do not have to do this. Also, with the CEUs that are applicable to their updating certificates, they can take personal or professional days and attend conferences and not have to take courses during their free time.

I wish more teachers would be honest about what their work lives are really like. Most choose to be busy, but the teaching profession does not require this, of course.

Patricia Leslie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Terry,

Of course I agree with everything being said and recently when people say, "How wonderful, you have your summers off," I am responding with all the things I am involved in during the summer to prepare me for the coming year and all the workshops/research I am doing to be a better teacher in September. This year I have attended two days at NJECC (New Jersey Educational Computing Conference), did a presentation on Ellis Island for AIHE (American Institute for History Education), a week long National Endowment for the Humanities in Philadelphia (the topic was Ben Franklin and the Colonial period - fascinating - also have about 5 books to read on the topic) and spent a day at Stockton College learning about Web 2.0. I am very interested in your professional development. Could you give me further information? Did you get a grant to travel to Ireland and England. This sounds very interesting.

Pat Leslie

sally's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Are you one of those people who get an hour or two for lunch and also have the freedom to take breaks, make personal phone calls and play around on the computer for hours at a time during the work day? I wish more non-teachers would be honest about how they spend their "work" time.

michelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I don't know where you live, but in my state, we are REQUIRED to take summer training and we do get a stipend for the classes or trainings that we take (which is usually much less than your local fast food employee). We are also required to join a committee at our school, it is not optional, it is part of our contract. I do not DECIDE to stay after school. I am usually still there to return parent phone calls because my planning time is taken away three times a week due to meetings for students who have IEPs or academic improvement plans; or because I have to meet for collaborative planning with my colleagues once a week and with my administrators twice a month. I'm sure I'm not the only teacher out there who has this type of "planning invasion". I would like to go to work during my contracted time and leave everything at school. I believe that doing that would take away from my teacher effectiveness and it would also be unfair to the students that I must instruct. As for going to conferences and taking courses during the school year~ PLEASE, you must not even know a teacher. For every day that you are out of the classroom it takes two days to get them back on track and most substitute teachers can't even read our lesson plans (most of them don't even know what the scientific method is or what phonological awareness means). I spend at least 6 hours a week working above and beyond my contracted time. And that is HONESTLY WHAT MY WORK LIFE IS LIKE!

Jennifer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you guys!!!! As teachers summer fades away so quickly with all the planning of what the next school year brings. This summer I was required along with all the teachers at my school to finish some course training along with a lot of work. I love being a teacher don't get me wrong but I'm not a teacher just because I "off" in the summer! I do get the ohhhh your a teacher look often and then most of the time is "Its because you get all those breaks." You have to love those people anyway!:)

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