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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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Jay's picture

For me teaching is fun and I love to do it. During the school year many of my weekends are spent at the school in my classroom. Many days I don't leave work until six or seven. I am okay with that. That's what it takes for me to do the job and do it well. But summers are mine.

The first two weeks of summer I sleep until 11 or noon each day. Get up fix a cup of coffee and read a good book that has nothing to do with work or kids literature. I do all of my required doctor visits and car repairs......all scheduled for late afternoons. I go out to dinner with friends because I don't cook. I accept all social invitations that come along. By the third week I begin to travel. This summer I will explore Italy with a side trip to Jordan. For several summers I volunteered in Ghana, West Africa with Cross Cultural Solutions. I volunteer in schools if I get there early enough or in the villages when I get there after school is finished. This summer I am going to Costa Rica but haven't decided if I will volunteer when I am there or just lay on the beach for three weeks. After my vacation I return home and do some more relaxing and reconnecting with friends and family. I am an Oprah junkie so I read all 9 of the Oprah magazines that have piled up and gathered dust on my desk during the school year. I read trashy novels or self-help crap that I will never be able to follow through on but it's mindless reading. I overeat and exercise to fight off the effects of all the overeating. It's about this time....eight weeks into the vacation that I actually allow myself to start thinking about work. But if it's still July I simply force myself to think about something else. I am not allowed to think about school until August 1st. That is a rule I never break. No school work or even thoughts of school until August. August is when I start preparing for the upcoming school year. If I can't prepare in three weeks then it is time to quit.

My philosophy when it comes to summer vacations is that I can't take care of the kids unless I take care of myself. I have to refresh and renew my mind. I don't want to whine and complain about how I can't have a regular summer because it will make me bitter......even if it is subconscious bitterness it will flow into my work. When school starts on August 20 something I will be there with a smile on my face with genuine excitement and happiness ready for a new group kids and a new set of problems. My energy will be renewed and my mind will be rested.

I have been in teaching long enough to see what happens when teachers don't "take care of themselves first". They become what we jokingly call "venemous veterans". VVs have nothing good to say about the kids, the school or the parents. They are just bitter. I will quit before that happens to me! The only way to fight off the VV status is to take good care of yourself and manage your time wisely.

So when someone says "It must be nice to have summers off" I give them a huge smile and say "YES IT IS LOVELY". When the kids ask about my summer I have a nice slide show for all to see! Then we are off to another fast paced crazy year!!! I LOVE IT!

Andres's picture

I disagree.
*I don't work summer school because those years that I did, it left me too frazzled when the new year began. It's not about the money; I've learned to live within my means.

*Please. I've worked curriculum in the summer as well. We ran on banker's hours and we only met for about a week.

*I am going to rewrite some lessons and course work over the summer, too, and I am going to love sitting around, drinking, and working at my own pace. I love the fact that I have the summer off so I can take my time.

*I don't train new teachers. That way I can have my summer off. Sounds like you have taken on work and are trying to make it sound like your workload is typical. It's not. I help new teachers during the school year, not during the summer.

*If you explore your own professional development, that's great. That's a choice. My school district gives us a list and we are expected to pick from it. I don't have a choice, but I also have the summer off.

*I don't stagger into the summer. Most teachers don't really barely survive the school year. Now, this is a myth. All I need is about 2 days' worth of sleep and I'm ready to go again. There are no wounds to lick. I think most teachers make excuses about what a chore it is to move desks and shelves around. I moved my desks around every week the entire year. When I walk by teachers' rooms, they have 2 setups. Groups and rows. I have 15 different set ups. When the school year begins, I love going into my room to see what I'm going to come up with.

I think any job is stressful. Ours is no different or more unique. We are no different than anyone else; we don't get to call ourselves teachers and everyone else a civilian. When I was in the military, we were soldiers and you all were definitely civilians. Huge difference.

I take the summers off. Yes, I do a few things that are school related but I do more that is not. I read for pleasure; I garden; I ride my bike; I take my dog on hour-long walks at state parks; I play my guitar; I go out drinking and dancing with friends; I stay up really late; I get up really early; I spend hours watching the clouds roll by in my hammock. People would kill to have what I have in the summer. Yes, I'm a teacher, and, yes, I get summers off, and, yes, I love it.

Yelba Zoe Osorio's picture
Yelba Zoe Osorio
Drama/Language Arts Tutor/ Yoga Teacher (all ages)

I don't think there is upward mobility in teaching -- unless you change your track and become an administrator, and then you are no longer teaching. I think $38,000 is a pretty crappy salary -- I have read that studies show that people are happiest at around $50,000/year after that increases in salary don't increase happiness that much. I think your friends are right, if you envy them so much, why don't you take up the cause and become a teacher.

Lorelei's picture

I worked hard, went to college, had a great time, graduated and worked in my field for 2 years before getting into a severe car accident that left my whole right side paralyzed. Now I'm forced to live on disability. Thats 9,000 a year. Live off that, pay your bills, then come to me and complain about your 35K. I'll trade you lives and salary!

Pamela Smith's picture

Jay,
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.

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