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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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Sarah's picture

First, to clarify, We don't have summers off (paid vacation). Summers off is a dream. Summers off are a choice. Can I afford not to work over the summer: maybe, if my husband makes enough money. Or, if the daycare costs more than the money that I will make working. We have have a contract for the school year. In some districts, teachers are laid off every year (but they can't collect unemployment due to the promise of a possible job in the fall, if the budget passes on July 31st). So, whatever a teacher choses to do or not do is their choice. They are not paid for this time.

When did teachers stop being human beings? We aren't perfect. We are going to make mistakes. Teachers are people, too.

Teachers are often defensive: Generally, we put a great deal of time and effort into what we do. We have a personal investment in our students and in our classrooms. Caring about something deeply often makes one defensive. We are tired. We work hard. We work in a giving profession. Teachers bond with our students: "in loco parentis". Our students are our children. We care about what happens to our students. We want them to succeed. We are personally invested and are therefore often defensive. We are attacked daily by individuals, the government and the press. The negativity is oppressive. The anger is schocking.

On the different levels in the classroom: they exist. We have full inclusion. Pull outs are not allowed, per parent and state mandate. Plus, there are many more students needing special ed, Ell and other services. This is real. This is not every class or every classroom, but it is most in public schools. You also have to remember that this is only the academic level. The emotional intelligence and social intelligence levels are also divergent. Divorce, death, poverty, transience, trauma and society all have an impact on our children.

I am a teacher of 18 years. I love teaching. This is my first summer off since I began teaching. Every year, I have either worked two or three jobs, including summer school. I have chosen to take this summer off to teach my own children, childcare costs more than I can make. I will also be working on my curriculum and planning for the school year.

Sarah's picture

It sounds like you are very fortunate. Our gifted program was cut. We also don't have an individual aid for a student with special needs.

"retest teachers periodically": Why? I have taken and passed the PSATs, SATs, GREs, WV teacher test, NY teacher test, MA Math teacher test, MA teacher test, MA Engineering teacher test, etc... How many more tests must I take to prove that I can teach?

"let them be held accountable to their students, their peers, the school board, and us parents at a high standard.": We are held accountable: every day.

Business versus teaching: try having your products talk back to you and have an opinion the next time you are creating them.

"receptive to feedback": remember, we receive feedback from everyone. Many of the parents are not skilled in the education field or knowledgeable. Plus, people are generally out of the field of education for at least 20+ years prior to having a child in the school system. Do you think the ideas of someone who sat in a classroom years ago, a person that may or may not have had an interest in education, might be out of touch with how to educate a child?

Sitting in a classroom doesn't mean that a person knows how to teach or what it takes to educate a child. This goes for former students that are now parents and teachers.

Sarah's picture

Sometimes I think that we should change our day from 7 to 3 into 9 to 5. It would take away the perception that we don't work a full day.

Sarah's picture

The teachers are not paid for any of the vacation time that you mention. They are not contracted to work those hours.

Yes, they leave at 3:30 or 4, but in most districts they are there at 7 or 8... sometimes even 6:30. I am personally at school from 6:45 until 2:45. I leave at 2:45 so that I may pick up my own children. By leaving at 2:45, I will be spending time at home on school work.

Also, they are leaving, but where are they going? How big is the bag they are carrying? Are they coaching? Are they going to PD? Are they working on a curriculum team? Just because they are leaving doesn't mean that they are not done working.

Hefty pension? I pay 11% of my salary into that hefty pension. This would go down to 6.2% of my salary if I paid into Social security, I would save 4.8%. Plus, my district currently pays 2% into my pension. If I move to Social Security, they have to pay 6.2%. This is a difference of 4.2%. So, in essence, we save the taxpayers money by having a pension system. I also am unable to collect my husband's social security because I have a pension.

Sarah's picture

Teachers are not paid for vacations. They are only paid for the days that they work. It is a huge bonus to have summers off, but we are not paid for it.

Jenn's picture

Or perhaps change your hours to 7am - 6pm and join the real world. 9 to 5 is a factory worker's mentality.

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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.

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