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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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N.Krauss's picture

Someone I know made a derogatory post about teachers and other civil servants. This was my reply:

Teaching is the profession that creates all other professions. It is the only situation I can think of where a parent will happily and readily hand their child over to a stranger and know they are safe, and mold their little minds in ways you can't.. As time goes on, teachers have as much influence over your child as you do and by around 12, more. Teachers must get their masters, and keep going and going and going. They must pass four state exams, take countless hours of classes in child protection, safety, and more. We spend summers in school or working. (Not everyone who teaches earns 100K- only those who have been teaching for years and years AND have post graduate degrees and credits and more) They are required to accumulate mega hours of professional development. The work day is not 9-5, if school starts at 9, we are in at 8 and out at 6. Why? Because we counsel, tutor, mentor, prepare lessons, coordinate after school, have department meetings, and more. When we go home we grade papers, research topics, draft lesson plans according to Bloom's Taxonomy (you try it) with the goal of facilitating higher order thinking skills so your little darlings will be able to face the countless challenges coming their way, We teach life lessons, content, concepts. A social studies teacher teaches: geography, geology, anthropology, archeology, sociology, psychology, literacy, criminology, economics, education, linguistics, political science and international relations, history, civics, and law. We are responsible for educating the future leaders yet you do not respect us...... We deserve more money, yes. And we deserve a little more respect for who we are and what we do.... just sayin...

Jenn's picture

Dear N. Krauss,

I find so much objectionable about your self-serving statements, I'm not sure where to start. My husband and I were my children's first teachers - the best ones, albeit, not the last. I have never handed my children over happily and readily as you suggest, but with hopes that the teacher we do hand her over to will espouse the same morals and lessons that I would teach them at home. As I have always maintained a good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold. That having been said, so many, are not worth even the salary I pay them. As my grade eleven student has so aptly figured things out, teachers are often mediocre though you can't always call them on it - because my 17 year old is not a cookie cutter kid and is a higher "out of the box" thinker, many teachers are not prepared for her. How unfair to so many students that they have to depend on the limitations of a teachers' perspectives, experiences, and overall knowledge, in order to grade their English papers, history papers, philosophy papers, etc. Because these aren't subjects of math where the answer is right or wrong, kids are subject to the whims of their teachers - both their personal whims and their teaching prowess. Accordingly, what I teach my girls is that people in authority to make decisions (or grade papers) do not always make the right decisions. I am digressing here, but my point is too many teachers when challenged start blowing their horns about their countless hours of research and prep and learning. Every position I know of requires a little extra commitment,paid or not, that is how our jobs advance on every level. Try being a writer. Don't get me started with the unpaid research and overtime. You don't wanna go there. And please don't refer to my child, your student, as my little "darling". That is derogatory, insulting, and speaks volumes of how you actually view your students, as undeserving pets you're hindered by. When they are in your classroom, they are your charges, yes, that is what we, taxpayers, pay you for. But please do not go so far as to try to compare your brief commitment to teaching my child with a lifetime of my mentoring (including the most crucial first five foundational years). Don't even dare. Yes, you get too much bloody time off. I'm not jealous of this fact. I'm just tired of you making excuses for this expensive (paid by me) perk. So get of your soap box about your unheralded commitment and hard work and all of your other merits. And by the way, the MOTHER AND FATHER, not the teacher, provide for all other occupations to exist. Don't ever get that confused again. As a mother, I am a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a scientist, a tutor, a mentor, a psychologist, a social worker,a taxi driver, a sports coach, a housekeeper, a lawyer, a referee, a police officer, a pharmacist...and in 17 years, I don't remember receiving one pay cheque in compensation and certainly not two months off in the summer. However, I have raised and mentored one heck of a good kid-- now get off your high pedantic pedestal and do right by her. Just sayin'

Kim - 46662's picture

Teachers are not in the "real world of employment"? Such an irresponsible statement to make in a forum of people dedicated to education. I used to think like you (well, not quite so much) during the first part of my career life at NASA...then I switched to teaching. Sure, there are good and bad teachers as with any other profession but I must admit, teachers, you certainly have a challenging job. I admire you greatly. Enjoy your summer! I certainly will.

Apposite's picture

@ Kim - I used to think that way too and believe it's more common than we want to admit. Talk about a reality check though when I did begin teaching!

Jenn's picture

Hi Kim,

I am sorry you perceived my response as angry. Perhaps that over-sensitivity is where the initial problem starts when people merely comment how lovely it is that teachers get so much vacation time. All the best.

Dawn Lynch's picture


You fail to think of the teachers who are also parents (like myself) that do all of those things you do (I stayed home for those first 5 yrs, worked 3rd shift AND instructed my children) and received NO PAY. And then, joined the ranks of teachers and do most of those things the writer mentioned for LITTLE pay. There are good and bad practititioners in ALL professions...teachers bear the brunt of crtiticisms because we serve all children (includng the ones from bad parents--there are those too) and any reasonable person would see it is very difficult to get into 180 minds on a daily basis....the BEST change comes from within. You sound like someone with lots of great ideas--how about joining instead of complaining?? You might be able to reach more than just your own.

Kim - 46662's picture

[quote]Hi Kim,

I am sorry you perceived my response as angry. Perhaps that over-sensitivity is where the initial problem starts when people merely comment how lovely it is that teachers get so much vacation time. All the best.[/quote]

A mere comment is easy to swallow...a tirade replete with insults is quite another. Anyway, no problem, you have a right to say what you want. I just felt the need to say that as a first year teacher, teachers don't deserve that kind of lashing, especially now that I've been in their shoes for a full year. I'm an upstander, what can I say? ;)

I have experienced what that job entails and I've never had a job where I had to make hundreds of split second decisions and detours with students and administrators at such a fast pace day after day. Safe to say, my stamina is kicking! Jenn, seriously, you should try it if you have the option. You've already indicated that you feel passionate about education. It opened my eyes so much to how students learn today versus how I learned in the 80s. I promise at the end of the year, you won't say, "Hey, I get too much vacation time".

Oh, by the way, you made a comment about having to pay for teachers' summer vacations. That's erroneous. See, they opt to get their 10-month pay out OR deduct income from their 10-month work schedule to cover a 12-month pay out. So we're only being paid for 10 months, no worries.

Jenn's picture


I don't mean to kick a dead dog, but I will respond yet again. What you consider a tirade was a rebuttal to some outlandish statements made by another writer. In a public forum of dialogue, that is acceptable. I am not anti-teacher. I took abundant time out of my schedule to nominate a phenomenal one for a national award (Canada). I will never not give credit where credit is due. What I cannot tolerate are whiny teachers who seem to think their positions are so much more demanding than others and who will not admit to their perks. Celebrate your summers and breaks off, just don't pretend they don't exist. Having an over-achieving honours student in Grade 11 who has to constantly challenge some (not all) of her teachers to get results, and a grade 8 student who has been in a self-contained gifted class for the last four years who has had to endure mediocre teaching presented as something much superior, I have a growing list of frustrations with teachers who are just putting in the day, the week, and then picking up their pay cheques and racing out of the parking lot so quickly at 3:45 I cannot reach them on the phone to speak with them. There are AMAZING and UNFORGETTABLE teachers who are commendable. And some...not so much. The list of examples I could provide of consistently inadequate behaviour and skills would be lengthy and depending on one's mood, also humourous. I find myself often having to pick up the slack for these teachers on my time with my kids. By the way, a pro-rated pay allotment for the summer months is still payment. Hey, we have a new show in Canada called Mr. D, a satirical look at an underachieving teacher. Can't tell you how many occasions my older daughter has commented with a smile on her face that the character's irresponsible behaviour mirrors that which she sees at high school on a consistent basis. All the best.

David's picture
Currently working on an MAT in Biology, Chemistry, and General Science

I just have few comments without getting nasty. 1) If you think teachers are overpaid AND mediocore, how do you suggest increasing teacher quality at the current pay scale? If you cut pay to what you consider a reasonable rate, there are a lot of teachers that might just opt to leave the profession to be store managers and such. We have to pay off those student loans somehow. 2) I appreciate that you have above-average kids. I do, too. The problem is that teachers have to find someway to reach a broad range of kids (literally from genius I.Q.s to mentally rretarded I.Q.s) in the same classes. At least that's the way it is around here. So, no matter how you present the material, some kids are going to be bored to death and some aren't going to understand it because its way over their heads. Project based learning is supposed to take care of that. However, in my experience that lands you right back in the land of subjective grading that you seem to have a serious problem with.

Apposite's picture

No doubt you have bright children and are an astute critic where you see imbalance Jenn. As you know, in any profession or trade there is a continuum of best to bottom level and most teachers that I know are like what Rosemary and N Krause describe. They may start out with only basic knowledge but move forward as experience is gained. I think you said you home schooled? I was home schooled through third grade and other members of my family went to school at home longer than that. My own mom was very similar to you and made some of the exact same remarks. When it came to teachers in the public schools, as long as she saw and knew that they were trying and communicating to her, she was okay with them. However woe be to the teacher who was careless and didn't let her know if there were issues. Also, even though she could be a potential tyrant she always expected us to show respect and do our best work. There was no excuse for discipline issues albeit she might admit the teacher was dull or we were bored but that was never an excuse for bad behavior. She would look at our report cards and then assess whether those grades were ours or the teacher's. Usually, we owned the bad grades because we were not working hard enough or were not telling her we were having problems with a subject. However we were generally good students and if both parties were working hard all was okay, not ideal, but mutual best efforts were acceptable. Now, I am not saying a teacher gets a job and takes a static approach to his/her career. The comments I see here are merely an effort to explain just what does goes into teaching when it's done with heart, mind, and soul. I also believe that some onus is on the student to go the extra distance and communicate that they are not challenged. In addition there are (as you would know) gifted programs and other community organizations to deal with students such as your children. When teachers get the "summers off" comment it is just natural to try and communicate it isn't always what it looks like. That is what all these responses are about and of course we all know it is human nature to defend what is near and dear to us when challenged by negative remarks. Many teachers travel abroad to various national seminars in their subject or research area. I don't mean to be patronizing or condescending here, but I think we are only human like anybody else and work to be as good as we can be. Curiously and without guile or gambit, how would you define a good teacher?

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