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

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night

"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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Sarah's picture

I think that you mistake the word vacation. We are contract workers. We are contracted to work for 185, 190, 200, 170... days. Vacation is paid. If you mean time off, than yes we have more time away from our jobs. Please become a teacher, if you think it is so easy.

Sarah's picture

How can you say that they don't work hard, gain experience and sacrifice a lot of time. Yes, they have summers, but that doesn't mean that they don't work hard.

Laurie H's picture
Laurie H
High school math teacher from California

If we worked those hours and didn't make at least 150K we'd just be in a silly world. Most people do not work from 7am to 6pm. Get real.

Jenn's picture

You see that is just it, and I speak only to those teachers (not the level-headed ones who have responded calmly in this forum) who so obviously have their knickers in a knot - the very fact that you can't conceive of people in this world making under 150k and still working long hours SPEAKS VOLUMES about the insular society you've created for yourself, seemingly thought-wise and socially-speaking. You have dug yourselves so deep into a hole of self-pity that it seems you have no care to get yourselves out. The very fact that at least twice it has been mentioned that teachers are "human beings" too again SPEAKS VOLUME. Who indicated otherwise? Point out one statement or reference made that would depict a teacher as being less than a human being? Again, that is the problem - blatant over-sensitivity because your position is rightly being scrutinized by the people whose children you teach and who pay your salaries.

I sat with a group of friends the other day - a clinical psychologist, a human resourses person, a small business entrepreneur, and myself a writer - all who are highly educated, work long hours, make under 150k, and WHO DON'T GET THEIR SUMMERS OFF. One of them said "too bad to have so little time off in the summer". Another replied, "Oh, to be a teacher." Everyone there agreed. I just smiled.

Jenn's picture

P.S. Here is a small list for you of people in Canada who work at least 7-6 and don't make 150k:

1. Assistant Crown Attorneys (one we know personally - his crime scene photos hit the kitchen table before the kids are awake - and that same day he gets out of court at about 4 and heads back to his office to summarize).
2. His wife the Accountant.
3. Small Business Entrepreneurs
4. Plumbers
5. Truck Drivers
6. Executive Secretaries (and some not so executive)
7. Real Estate Agents
8. Graphic Artists
9. Bakers
10. Chefs
11. Day Care Workers/Early Childhood Educators

Is that enough for now?

Laurie H's picture
Laurie H
High school math teacher from California

Sorry, Jenn. I was wondering how you'd respond. You are clearly very entrenched in your own perspective with little room other points of view or opinions. My comment seems to have caused you to do some research. I should have mentioned that I live in a high income area in California where 150K won't get you a mortgage. Median home values here are 750K and cost of living is very high. That number was relative. I don't make what I used to make when i worked in the finance industry. However, I also don't have to work year round. So, again, I'm not complaining about my pay or my hours. I think I've just been trying to get you to understand that teaching isn't easy and there's an art and a passion to it. I agree that all teachers aren't great, but I don't think they deserve the amount of criticism and scrutiny that you are handing out. But, I give up, your mind is made up. I will put my energy into a more positive exercise.

Jenn's picture

No research was necessary, Laurie. That's because I keep abreast with the "real world" and try not to insulate myself with a woe as me attitude. I have never before on an online forum seen such a number of responses that collectively miss the point of the argument they were opposing and indirectly prove the argument at the same time. When all is said and done, I am not sure that your profession was done any great good by the range of responses I've seen. I'm sensing something akin to hysteria.

I know fabulous teachers. Two live around my corner. I recall several from my own school days. I think of them with utmost fondness. So I'm far from a teacher basher as you and your online colleagues would like to paint me, but woebegone teachers have irked me for a long time now. I have also learned that another very bad thing to say to teachers in early to mid June is something along the lines of "I guess things are starting to wrap up now in the classroom". Smile on your face or not, they do not like that one either.

My only interest in this matter is the fact that the writer of the original article (whom we've not seen hide nor hair of in this discussion) espoused the same baloney that myself and many others are tired of listening to. I know it was just a spur of the moment type of article but it was really irritating..... So you're a teacher. That's great, now teach and don't lament your many abuses. One writer had the audacity to say that teachers are "attacked" on a daily basis. Really? Come on. Listen, I have two bright daughters that depend on teachers. I know little boys with autism who depend on teachers. So what riles me as a parent and as a tax payer are teachers who not only complain about their injustices, but teach poorly or at a mediocre level on top of that. Invest your time more wisely.

Teachers, if you cannot take feedback, opposing opinions, criticism even, you are in the wrong profession. You should see the "abuse" I take from my lit agent except my response is to tell her thank you for taking the time to notice.

Can we put this one to rest now?

P.S. As a writer (despite research and preliminary draft work, etc., etc., ) I'm loving another summer off - sitting out by the pool with my girls. The pay is lousy but the water is fine. No shame in the matter. I don't even mind if you mention it. :)

Laurie H's picture
Laurie H
High school math teacher from California

I really like what you've written. I think you capture the spirit of summer vacation for the reflective teacher.

Laurie H's picture
Laurie H
High school math teacher from California

I'm going to go enjoy the rest of my summer now. ;)

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