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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 (194)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

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. ;)

Julie Saunders's picture
Julie Saunders
Kindergarten Teacher

I just returned home after a week at the Constructivist Design Conference at St. Lawrence University in Canton NY. I go there every year to work with teams of dedicated teachers to improve education. I gather hundreds of ideas to use in my classroom and get inspired by the collaborative environment.

Apposite's picture

"You have dug yourselves so deep into a hole of self-pity that it seems you have no care to get yourselves out. " - Jenn

I suppose the adage "Don't complain; don't explain" applies here. This is all about explaining and trying to show where the errors in perception are. Of course it is taken as complaining; to explain is perceived as a digging hole.

Simplysaid's picture
School administrator

To Jenn and all those who have problems with the education system. Think of those summers off as that of seasonal employees. There are many out there that have time off during the year because that is what their job is, they don't get paid for their time off. Some will find other jobs to compensate for the pay they don't get, others will get ahead on what needs to be done for when they return to work, and others will enjoy their time off. Don't assume to know how easy or difficult a job is when you have never done it yourself. Those of you who have nothing better than to speak badly about people who educate "your" children, shame on you, take a look in the mirror, because you all are the very reason educators are so disrespected these days.

Jenn's picture

Dear School Administrator,

For the past 13 years I have observed and interacted with and sought out information regarding the "education system" as it pertains to my girls. 13 years of doing that with any subject would make a person if not quite an expert on matters, quite competent in offering a qualified opinion.

As well, I have volunteered extensively (no pay) in my kids' classes which also has provided me a bird's eye view from which to form an opinion.

Let me reiterate there are fabulous teachers out there (often too few of them who can be characterized as such - especially if you factor in the self-righteous whining). BUT THOSE WHO SHINE, REALLY SHINE (and they are usually not the ones complaining, they are the ones doing).

But.....I think a huge error in judgement teachers make when conducting themselves in the classroom is thinking what happens in the classroom, stays in the classroom. Teachers - we hear everything that happens, your antics, your moods, your fashion prowess, your weekend plans (for good or bad)....

Here are a few of the highlights from over the years....

- teachers consulting facebook during class time
- teachers texting during class time
- teachers checking out dating sites during class time (I just shook my head at that one but I was considerate enough to occasionally ask my daughter if the teacher had found a date yet. )
- teachers wearing visible thongs when the dress code calls for no thongs
- teachers microwaving their meals in their microwaves in their classes during class time
- teachers discussing children or their peers in a critical fashion within ear shot of their students.
- teachers putting on a whole new demeanour when they have a principal or guest sitting in observing for the day.
- teachers who lose their tempers, teachers who throw things, teachers who pick favourites, and pick on their least favourites.
- teachers who use classroom time to chat socially with other teachers who drop by

Okay, that was a glimpse of conduct now here's academic-based highlights...

- An English teacher who insisted the word "quote" could only be used as a verb and not a noun, insisted and marked wrong when used to the contrary
- another (the thong-wearer) who insisted my child should get a B- in reading. When I questioned this, pointing out that she was a highly proficient reader and was devouring her books and providing insightful responses to them, the teacher stubbornly refused to listen. That same year my daughter tested profoundly gifted, particularly in her capacity to read and conceptualize the text. I never addressed the reading mark with her again.
- another who thought "shribbled" was actually an adjective - we're pretty sure she meant shriveled.
- another who corrected my daughter's English composition, exchanging her word "vast" referring to expansive meadows (actually crossing out the word) to her own chosen phrase "lush, green". ???? My daughter turned to me and said, "But I wasn't referring to the colour or texture...I meant vast."
- another teacher who penalized my child for fulfilling 5 out of 5 elements of the available criteria on her science project, instead of the minimum "choose 3 and apply". My child didn't ask for a time extension, learned invaluable knowledge from researching two additional elements of electricity, and didn't think she deserved a better mark in light of having more. She just enjoyed giving it her all. The comment on the rubric "you did too much work". WOW!!!

And those are just the ones off the top of my head.

Having said all that - the parent also has some responsibility to her child's teachers.

Here is what I try to provide as a parent:

- a child who comes prepared
- a child whose assignments and homework are done on time
- a child with a support system at home.
- a child who wants to learn and be challenged
- a child who raises her hand to speak, takes her turn and gives others their fair turns, and a child who will go the extra mile or two with the hopes that the teacher will also goes those couple of extra miles and meet her at the other end.

Sarah's picture

I think that the thing that you are missing is that I am not that teacher. I didn't do those things to your child. I haven't done those things to another child. I don't text. I don't email. I don't facebook. I don't check dating sites. I am truly sorry that you had these experiences, but that doesn't mean that this is all or even most teachers.


Jeff Bigler's picture
Jeff Bigler
High school physics teacher in Lynn, Mass.

This is mostly a reply to Jenn.

One of the things I try to teach my science students is that "the singular of 'data' is not 'anecdote'". You give specific examples of the deplorable actions of a half-dozen teachers. I could give plenty of examples of parents who abuse or neglect their children, parents who spend their entire day out of the house, leaving the older siblings to care for the younger ones, parents who do their children's homework for them, thereby depriving the child of the opportunity to learn from the assignment, etc. However, a handful of specific examples is not a substitute for data and statistical analysis. All the examples would do is create an emotional knee-jerk reaction. That kind of argument is favored by people who are either not intelligent enough to know the difference between statistics and stories, or who are highly intelligent and want to mislead their ignorant audience in order to push their own agenda.

Our public school system exists to ensure that all children* acquire, by age 18, a common set of basic skills, including basic literacy, math, science, history, physical education, and in some schools, basic exposure to a foreign language, fine/performing arts, and/or practical arts. If your daughter already possesses these basic skills, you can homeschool her, unschool her, send her to a private school that teaches other skills, enroll her in college early, or leave her in the public school system anyway and complain about how the teachers are teaching things she already knows as if this is something they're doing deliberately to her. If you choose the latter, I'm sorry that this is her experience, and I'm sorry that this is your choice. (Perhaps all the other options are unworkable for you?) I understand the problem--I had a similar experience when I was a teenager in public schools. (Back in those days, people actually believed that IQ tests measured something beyond students' ability to take IQ tests--mine was 150.)

I believe that your daughter, assuming your claims about her giftedness are true, deserves a better education than the public schools are designed to give her. However, regardless of what we deserve, we get what we (1) work for, (2) earn, and (3) have the good fortune to stumble upon the opportunity for. If any one of (1), (2), or (3) is absent, we don't get the thing we deserve. It sounds like your daughter is missing the opportunity. As a parent, much of society believes that if your daughter deserves a better education, you have the responsibility to find a way for her to get it. Continuing to push against a system that, for whatever reason, is unable to provide it is not going to get her the education she needs. What it's going to do is take up your time and resources that could be better spent getting that opportunity for her in ways that are actually possible and available.

*except for those with severe disabilities who are unable to learn these concepts even at the most basic level

Jenn's picture


If you think teachers are only responsible for teaching the absolute basics - that belief in and of itself is the major root of the problem in the education system. That you would advertise that theory here is bizarre. I wouldn't want a doctor treating me to provide merely the basics, but superior care that would provide not just a satisfactory outcome but the most optimal one possible.

As for your comment on my daugher's dubious giftedness (although its really not central to the argument) n Otis Lenon test, a non-verbal Naglieri test, and a half day of one on one psychological testing would confirm my daughter's ability. But I never needed test scores to figure that one out....you see, Jeff, that was one of my points, if teachers would only go the extra mile.....but that one - as you've articulated - is lost on you but hopefully not too many others in your profession. All the best. I hope you have a basically good summer.

Jenn's picture

The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate "apparently ordinary" people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people. ~K. Patricia Cross

There are three good reasons to be a teacher - June, July, and August. ~Author Unknown


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