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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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Pamela Smith's picture

There are parts of your response that I really like. At first I thought that your comment about not thinking about school until August 1 was pure genius. I'm going to try to remember the "venomous veterans" bit! That made me laugh. I have to say that we teachers shouldn't do anything that we HAVE to do during the summer, like taking on other teaching jobs, painting our own rooms, taking or teaching more classes/seminars, or learning new technology.

But I have to admit that the first thing I do during summer break is peruse my anecdotal notes to consider changes for next year. I worry a little over the student who didn't make as much progress as I hoped she would... and I begin to wonder what I can do to provide more help next year.

I gather my stack of the latest reading on best practices and new research. I read a LOT of other books during the summer (trashy romances, griping murder mysteries, and on...), but my MUST read list is mostly geared toward teaching.

My summer is never JUST for me... I take that back! I've wanted to be a teacher since about my second week in Kindergarten. No lie! This is what I love. It isn't my LIFE, it's just what I choose to DO while my life goes on. I work during the summer... when the spirit moves me, and don't consider that to be an imposition into my "real" life.

So I can't just put teaching on hold during summer vacation. Yes, it is a vacation. I don't have to be anywhere on time, I don't have endless meetings to attend, I don't have playground duty.

I DO have to attend to where my next year will take me. Two months is just enough time to prepare for 10 months of work with a bunch of 12 - 14 year old students; it is just enough time to think about it all in a leisurely way, on my schedule. Which allows me some time to travel, read, listen to baseball games, cook, hang out with my grandkids, and watch nature outside my window.

I think the writer of the original article was trying to make some kind of point. I've been teaching for 27 years, and I've NEVER known a teacher to take on as much summer work as the writer described. That seems crazy to me! I agree that I have to take care of myself in order to be good for the kids. I just don't agree that that means I should NEVER think about my job during the summer.

Jay's picture

Pamela glad I could make someone laugh. You don't sound like someone who would get the VVs........that's the disease that causes one to become a VV. LOL!!!!!!

I love the comment "it is what I choose to do while life goes on"!!!!

Being a special ed teacher I know exactly what you mean by looking at anecdotals etc to see how to help the students the next year. I do all of that.....I just do it in August. I think that's part of the reason I can wait until August is because we have 24 hour access to the school. While most teachers have to lug work home and work at home we can work at school. It's quiet and I get more accomplished and don't have to wait in line for the copy machine!! If it's a rainy Saturday you can find me in my classroom. Sunny days? NEVER. My church is right around the corner from the school so many Sundays after church I can be found at school. I actually enjoy my time at the school on weekends. I blast my music (if no one else on my hall is there), I bring lunch or snacks......oh my goodness it suddenly occured to me that maybe I don't have a life!!!!!! LOL!!!!!! Just joking, I do have a life but I choose to be most active in life during the summer.

I forgot to mention that I haven't lived in America for the past 11 years. So a lot of my summer time is also spent reconnecting with family and friends back in the states. With everyone fighting for my time I never have time to think about work. It'll be there in August which is when I work 60 hours plus for the three weeks before school opens. It is all worth it to have the summer to myself.

It seems like our summers are just what we want them to be. For the others out there who can't seem to find the joy in your summer or those who feel you HAVE to work I hope that you can find some quiet time to reflect and rethink your strategy for summers. For all teachers out there I wish you a summer that will leave you refreshed and ready for a new year filled with fun and surprises. J.

Apposite's picture

And let's not forget the hours spent before and after school plus week-ends that are put in just to keep up with grading, plan a new project, participate in a pilot program, sponsor a club activity after school, coach a sport, and of course the list goes on and on. That said, those "off summer hours" and during school vacations are logged during the school year. People who make such comments have never sat on the teacher's side of the desk. The classroom takes on a whole different look from that perspective. As was mentioned in the article, even if people did that as a sub I think they would be amazed at the 360 degree bombardment to the senses at every given minute of the actual school day. Of course that part of it we signed up for and knew what we were getting into with our eyes wide open. Most of us thrive on that aspect once we acclimate to it.

Jenn's picture

Are you kidding me? Cry us all a river with your tales of prep and planning. Join the real world of employment where people start work at 5 or 6 in the morning and do not get to hightail out of the parking lot at 3:30 or quarter to 4 every afternoon (I see it every day as I pick up my grade 11 student). Two weeks at Christmas (trust me my kids' teachers aren't marking or prepping during that time and have admitted as much to the kids as they are away in Mexico!!), a week or so off during March break, and yes, two flipping months off in the summer. I know enough teachers to know they are on vacation (if you are doing all those things you've listed you are by farrrrrrrr the exception to the rule). Now let's talks about the nice hefty pension you get upon retirement on top of what is a pretty nice salary in the interim. Try being a writer, a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a garbage person....then the work never stops. Not to mention the fact that the educational career has become a catch basin for anyone and everyone who isn't quite sure what they want to do in this life and thinks teaching college is the way to go. The result of that are sub-standard teachers who are guiding children from text-books and the internet, without a clue what the art of teaching requires. A good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold, but even still they get a lot of holidays. Truth be told.

Apposite's picture

It was not my intention to come off whining; we wouldn't do it if we didn't enjoy it. It's a labor of love!:)

Rosemarie Schaut's picture
Rosemarie Schaut
English, ESL and A P Literature and Composition Teacher Ridgway, PA

I have scored 1,200 essays since my summer "vacation" started. I flew to Louisville, KY to take part in the A P Literature Scoring. Over 2,400 English teachers gathered there to score 1,300,000 essays in 8 days. Last summer I was required to creat an online "Blended School" curriculum that took me all summer. The summer before that, I was both finishing up my Master's in Curriculum and Instruction, and attending one of three week long A P Summer Institutes. The summer before that, I was getting ESL certified. And the summer before that I was working on my "Master's Equivalency" credits. I have only listed formal training.

I also have to continually update my Curriculum Mapping, Act 48 hours, plan and study the data for PA State Testing, learn what is coming with Keystone Exams, study the Common Core Standards -- always something new. In addition, I need to reread the new books added to my curriculum. There is a huge difference between reading "Life Of Pi" for pleasure, and reading it to prepare to teach. I also keep in touch online with next year's A P Literature students who are working on their Summer Reading/Research Projects.

In 23 years of teaching, I have only taken one "summer off" and that was the summer following my husband's death in an automobile accident when my son was 5. I spent that summer moving and interviewing for a new teaching position, instead. The following summer, I obtained my Vet. Assistant certification so that I could start my own Pet Sitting business to support my income. I love what I do, but yes, it is exhausting. It is because the career of teaching being so consuming that I chose to have only one child. Since my son is now in college, I am able to stay at school to get my work done unstead of leaving before I am really ready, to pick him up at day care.

I find myself putting in 10 + hour days in my classroom on a regular basis. Frequently it is dark out as I am leaving the building at 5:30 or 6pm. (We start school at 7:15am.) I have no regrets, but I do become angry when people think I leave at 3:30pm and that I "have my summers off". 1,200 essays before the end of June is not "free time". I plan to return to Louisville next summer to do this, again. Yes, it's work. Yes, it's exhausting. No, it's not a "beach vacation" . . . but it is what "good teachers do" and there are a lot of us out there.

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.

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