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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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Jenn's picture

This brilliant student hits the nail on the head...though sadly I bet it changed nothing for the lady sitting at the head of the room. Hope I can get the right youtube link here. If I lose you, it's called High School Student Wrecks Teacher. My 14 year old was shown it by a school mate and passed it on How pleased I am they recognized the importance of the message.

Emily Edwards's picture

This blog post completely resonates with me today. Last night the panic attacks started with the thought of, "Holy Cow I have one 3 weeks until school starts.... I have so much to do!!!" And then the long list of random thoughts poured out onto a notepad making me even more anxious for the start of school.

I do know teachers that have summers off and I just don't understand how they do it. I don't like teaching the exact same thing every year. I would get bored and become a mediocre teacher. I need the summer to rejuvenate myself. I teach art so I spend my summers making art, visiting art museums, taking art classes and visiting with other art educators. I need this sharing to get inspired. If I am not inspired, how can I ask my students to be?

A couple of points in this post that really made me go... "OH YEAH! I do that!".... were:
1. Every bookstore or shop I go into I seem to be looking to add to my library or random boxes of supplies.
2.I try to reflect in the school year as much as I can, but there really isn't enough time revamp those lessons unless you work in the summer too.
3. I too feel like I am crawling towards the finish line by the end of the year with all of my energy completely spent from performing all day long for ten months.

And most of all... I'm sick of that comment that says, "Oh, you are a teacher. Must be nice to have summers off."

Thanks for sharing and thank you for reminding me I am not alone.

worried's picture

It's not "summer's off." It's not possessive or a contraction. It's just plural.
It's not..."is there really a 'them?'" The question mark goes outside the quotation mark if the question mark applies to the whole sentence.
I was searching the web for encouragement to become a teacher, but now I'm discouraged again. Every teacher essay I've encountered just seems to point out how beleaguered they feel and how superhuman they are. Sorry for the nit-picking, but bad punctuation drives me crazy.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Hi worried-
Don't despair. Teaching (like many jobs in the service professions) CAN be exhausting. It's also exhilarating and joyful and the best way to change the world. Check out these links for a more positive outlook:

Young People: Don't Be Afraid to Become a Teacher!

Why We Teach

TaughtThemNot's picture

I've heard this argument before, but in all due respect to friends of mine who are full-time educators, I still think it's a flaw in our education system that teachers have three months of paid vacation time built in to their contracts.

I've worked as a teacher--just part time--and it is indeed EXHAUSTING. I think most people overlook that. It's also one of the few jobs that truly requires you to take your work home with you. It's emotionally training, challenging, and doing it right isn't easy. But the fact that teachers are "lifelong learners" or that they attend seminars doesn't change that. Journalists or doctors or engineers who are good at their job no doubt attend seminars voluntarily or read books to better themselves in the field without being directly paid for it. It's troubling, too, to hear dear friend of mine who are teachers complain about their "miserable" salaries of $50K or $60K a year, while I have just as much experience but work in a much less lucrative field that requires just as much education and consistently make a mere fraction of those amounts, all the while working from about 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on average, frequently including weekends and holidays. This is reality these days, folks. With that in mind, naturally it's also hard to sympathize with the sentiment that "we work ... because who doesn't need extra money?" Tons of professionals do freelance work in addition to their other job. But they're not doing it while still receiving a paycheck from their full-time employer unless they allotted personal days to their freelance work just for that purpose.

It was such a relief to meet a young educator who went out of his way to acknowledge that having summer off has been one of the sweetest benefits of his young career--receiving a paycheck while he drove cross country. I do not resent him for it. In fact, I envy him. At times I just wish more educators would own up to the reality that while his or her job may not be perfect for innumerable reasons, having 90 days + personal days to do what you want is a really, really nice benefit of the profession.

Mike McCool's picture

I'm glad someone else got nitpicky because I couldn't help noticing that the author used "laying" instead of "lying" when she wrote "laying around all summer sippin' sangrias." Using lay in that context has a very different connotation since lay is a transitive verb. Pointing out these kinds of errors--particularly on an education website-- might be nitpicking, but how can we hold our students to a high standard of literacy if teachers and editors don't even practice it in their own writing?

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

I think that's an interesting question, Mike. While I am incredibly careful about punctuation and grammar in most of my writing, I find that blog posts/ comments/ status updates tend to be less rigorous in their use of standard mechanics. I know we all have our pet peeves, grammar-wise (mine is the phrase "Where you at?" I want to shriek "RIGHT BEHIND THE AT!" every time I hear it), I tend to focus more on the overall content of the piece. If I can understand what the author is trying to say, then I tend to forgive specific mistakes. To each his own, I guess. What are your thoughts on the piece itself?

Mike H's picture

I'm in my 10th year of teaching and have become one of those teachers that takes the summer off. About four years ago, I made it a plan for each summer to go somewhere different, to experience new cultures, food, drink, and points of interest. This is my way of taking care of myself before each school year. I teach journalism and drama. I'm the adviser for the yearbook and newspaper. I am the director of an arts academy on my high school campus, and I oversee the performing arts auditorium and direct three shows per year. I don't leave campus till after 6 and sometimes I'm working with students on Saturdays. I am an English teacher so my classes adhere to ELA standards in addition to performing arts standards. By May, I'm exhausted and that month long vacation I have planned, is what keeps me going. I also travel to see my parents for a month.

However, I do come back for a week to go to a non-paid, week long journalism workshop with my students. But if I don't make the time to take care of myself, nourish my soul, fire up my spirit, I wouldn't be able to make it through the school year. So when people say, "It must be nice having summers off." I reply "It is, and Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc."

Slemteacher's picture

I loved this piece! I could have written it myself if I weren't so exhausted from teaching summer school for the past five weeks! I am also a career changer. I teach middle school English in an urban school district. I have taught summer school for the past eight summers, but I will be taking next summer off to "sharpen the saw" and recover. My students will benefit from having a well rested teacher and I will find ways to get by without the extra money. People who resent our "summers off" are ignorant to the daily realities and pressures that career teachers face - the long hours, the high level of vigilance required in a school, the physical and mental exhaustion, and I could go on and on. The clever posters who want to nitpick grammar errors make me laugh! Part of the reason our job is so hard is because many children do not learn to value and respect teachers at home.

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