The Myth of Having Summers Off | Edutopia
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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.

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Jenn's picture

Enjoy your summer!! Hope you're refreshed for September. Kindest regards.

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

I really don't like the complaining that teachers do. It gives the profession a bad name.

One of the many reasons I went into teaching (as a third career) was because of the summer vacations--I think it's important as a parent to be able to spend quality time with my children while they're still of an age when it makes a tremendous difference.

Sure, I continue to do things relating to teaching during the summer. For example, this summer I'm finishing co-authoring a lab for the AP Chemistry lab manual, which the College Board will publish next spring. I also just (this week) announced and set up a wiki where AP Chemistry teachers can collaborate to write additional inquiry-based labs beyond the ones that will be in the manual. I'm starting work on a book about motivating and engaging students in the classroom. I'm upgrading my MOODLE online courseware site, which was four major software releases out of date. I'm editing 350-400 pages of class notes because my department head arranged for me to be able to use them instead of the textbook (because my students find the notes to be much more useful), and they need to be ready for the copiers. I am also revising my assessments to make them a little easier to grade. (This is because I'm going to have 165 students next year. If I can cut the grading time down to 3 minutes for each test, that will cut my grading time down to 8 hours per test. Yes, I could just give machine-scored multiple choice tests, but I get enough additional benefits from seeing how my students approach free-response problems and using that to inform instruction that it makes it worth the extra grading time.)

However, truth be told, I am enjoying all of these tasks. Every single one of them is something I have voluntarily chosen to do. I could easily have said no to any that I didn't want to do, or if I had been concerned about how much time they would take. As it is, I am enjoying the flexibility to be able to work on a few long-term projects for a couple of months. If I felt the need to complain, that would be a symptom of the real problem, which is either the choice of the tasks themselves or paying inadequate attention to the cumulative workload.

I also don't like it when teachers complain about money. Yes, I made significantly more money in industry; yes, it would be nice to make more money than I do currently; and yes, I think teachers are compensated less than many other professions for the quality and quantity of work that we do. But I have what I need, and the job satisfaction has proven to be worth much more to me than the additional money.

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Gwyneth Jones - The Daring Librarian's picture

Is the title of my recent blog posting about this same topic! (Google title, first hit) ...Yet mine was more of a LOVE FEST than a defensive diatribe. Just sayin.
I can be an amazing educator, international speaker - presenting in San Diego & invited to go on a 3 city speaking tour of Australia, Tweet every (or every other) day, blog, and still relax, read, re-charge, and re-invigorate my practice enjoying my summers off! See? We have the liberty to choose how we spend it. I also spend great time pampering myself. I get a weekly massage, visit friends, go out to lunches, shop, and READ.
We have the BEST profession in the WORLD if you've answered a calling and are committed and passionate! If you're defensive and prickly...you'll be doomed to be bitter, unhappy, and stressed. Sad, really. Teaching is a joyous experience!...and SO IS SUMMER!
Cheers!
~Gwyneth Jones
The Daring Librarian

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

Sometimes I get defensive, but I would not agree that that means I am doomed to be all the things you mention. I think I'm just human and was motivated to respond to Jenn's many posts about her general dissatisfaction with teachers. I certainly do a manage some worktime over the summer, but mostly I use it as a time to re-charge, refresh and enjoy family and friends. I am passionate and put a lot of energy into making math accessible and engaging for my students. I love what I do and certainly need the breaks. I don't feel I'm underpaid or overworked. But, the school year is consuming and I let a lot of things go in order to do the best I can. Hopefully, that best is under continuous improvement. :)

If you're actually responding to the blog post, I would agree that this blog gives an exaggerated picture of summer work activities for most teachers. Truly, most people I meet are very positive and complimentary when I say I'm a teacher. Plus, we get discounts at bookstores and craft stores. What a great perk!

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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