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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Myth of Having Summers Off

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night

"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.

Originally Published April 13, 2014

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Jean Taraba's picture

Teaching is not a nine month job just like it doesn't end when the 3:00 bell rings. As an elementary teacher, I do not have a planning period ever day. I get 3 a week if the elective teachers aren't absent. I spend an hour to an hour and a half every day clearing off my desk because I never sit at it. Anything that gets handed to me gets put on the pile until I can deal with it. Then I have several hours at home grading papers, preparing lessons, etc. I realize that other jobs are stressful, but most other jobs get to leave the job at the office when they leave for the night or for the weekend. This summer I am revamping my math curriculum, learning a new curriculum (English), and taking two on-line courses. Mind you, I love what I do or I wouldn't do it. But we need to stop treating teachers like glorified babysitters and treat them like the professionals they are.

Barbara's picture

This blog reinforces my worst stereotypes about teachers. I wish teachers realized how much they seem like children, always comparing themselves to other professions and whining about the unfairness of it all. Lots of professionals spend their time off in professional development and they only get two weeks a vacation a year PERIOD. If teachers biggest problem is that people erroneously think they get more time off than they actually do and actually have the nerve to say this to a teacher, well, I'm afraid to say (amidst all the defensive responses on this blog) they are pretty lucky indeed.

Suzy Brooks's picture
Suzy Brooks
Grade Three teacher, Dreaming Big on Cape Cod

I was late entering the teaching profession, so I've spent as much time working in the "business" world as I have working in the "education" world.

I think someone should report on the divorce rate for teachers, because teaching can be ALL consuming if you allow it to be. Even if you are working hard to find the balance between obligations at home, and what you feel is necessary to do a good job at school, teaching still feels paramount! My students need me! I have a responsibility to do all that is necessary for each of them to work towards their potential while they are in my care. I take my job very seriously, sometimes at the expense of other things I should consider equally. I never faced these obligatory feelings when working outside of teaching.

With school ending in three weeks, I am constantly hearing how stressed-out everyone is. We have to give the kids countless required assessments, fill out report cards (42 grades for each 8-year-old) place the 100 kids in this group into balanced groups for next year, thank our amazing volunteers, adjust our packed schedule for end-of year activities, pack up classroom materials (I'm changing rooms again this year), find meaningful closure for our current students, and prepare for the incoming students by arranging summer trainings, etc...

I have to admit, typing this list stressed me out a little, as I still have more to add, but think I've made my point.

Parents are letting us know how crazy things are at home, and we hear them! Most of us are parents, struggling with the same endless parade of after-school events. Spring has sprung, and Summer is swooping in faster than I'd like it to. I'd like another 10 days of school, please.

Please!

I am extremely thankful for my job. I am thankful for having received a raise each year, while my husband, who works in the business sector, has received no raise in three years.

I am thankful for my time off. I pour so much of myself, and my energy, into my teaching, that I think I would completely lose my balance if I had to go full-throttle year-round.

In an unstable economy, I am able to provide for my family, and for that, I am thankful.

My summers are the envy of my friends. My time commitment and obligations are more transparent (less obvious) during the summer. I have more down-time, and my schedule is more flexible. I can have more than a 25 minute lunch, and restroom visits are plentiful. Doctor, dentist and other necessary appointments fill many summer days, as I try SO hard to avoid these during the school year. My beach reading selections are teaching-related. My vacations often center around trips to workshops, or educational destinations. My teenagers LOVE those, ha ha.

I work VERY hard during my summer, but those 10 weeks are certainly a welcomed respite from my non-stop-go-go-take-no-prisoners school year. Finding that Elusive Balance during the summer is easier, which hopefully makes up for the rest of the year! My vacation is wonderful, but certainly not the wide-open expanse of bon-bons and bonfires that some prefer to portray.

Let's just say, that I never chose my profession based on the time I spend away from it. I chose it because of the time I get to spend IN it.

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

Day one of "Summer Vacation" -- Had my oil changed (I do not have time to do this on school days b/c I do not leave my school building until after "Express Lube" closes; culled my online book selling inventory and reorganized the books that I sell (for much-needed extra income); began my online course -- one of the courses I am teaching next year, a Junior English course (British and World Literature) needs to be placed online for non-traditional students in our district, which meant I needed to "plan out" my first lesson on The Kite Runner; looked up web-sites for SAT Preparation -- I am teaching a new SAT elective next school year and need to create my Curriculum Map and identify the "Big Ideas" for this new course; began reading "Life Of Pi" -- I read this novel once for pleasure, but I have added it to my A P Literature curriculum for next year, so I now need to read it "to teach" which is a different animal, altogether; made dinner for my family -- I have not done this in weeks as I have been attending student drama performances, senior banquets, baseball playoff games, and proms in the evenings,instead; read Part I of "The Hunger Games" -- I am introducing this novel in conjunction with 1984 to a General level of Seniors next year (I also need to reread 1984 -- haven't read it since college); signed up for E-Chalk and Blended training at the end of June in my district; contacted my Supt. Office to make sure my Master's Course grades from last semester were received; read the latest Newsweek to see if any of the articles can be used next year for PSSA Remediation classes that I will also be teaching (there is an article on Climate Change by Sharon Begley that I think I may be able to use!); logged into this site to see what was new -- found this article, and decided to share the first day of my "vacation" with you. And yes, after a full year of teaching, coaching students for Rotary Speech contests, PA State testing, SAP (Student Assistance Drug and Alcohol / Mental Health Referral Team participation), Advanced Placement rigor, and 3 different levels of Juniors, over 45 IEP reports, Team Teaching of Special Needs students, Writing-Across-the -Curriculum goals, and 2 grad classes during the year, involving an elaborate research proposal and project, I found my first day of "vacation" quite relaxing and enjoyable! ;-)

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

Day one of "Summer Vacation" --

Had my oil changed (I do not have time to do this on school days b/c I do not leave my school building until after "Express Lube" closes;

culled my online book selling inventory and reorganized the books that I sell (for much-needed extra income);

began my online course -- one of the courses I am teaching next year, a Junior English course (British and World Literature) needs to be placed online for non-traditional students in our district, which meant I needed to "plan out" my first lesson on The Kite Runner;

looked up web-sites for SAT Preparation -- I am teaching a new SAT elective next school year and need to create my Curriculum Map and identify the "Big Ideas" for this new course;

began reading "Life Of Pi" -- I read this novel once for pleasure, but I have added it to my A P Literature curriculum for next year, so I now need to read it "to teach" which is a different animal, altogether;

made dinner for my family -- I have not done this in weeks as I have been attending student drama performances, senior banquets, baseball playoff games, and proms in the evenings,instead;

read Part I of "The Hunger Games" -- I am introducing this novel in conjunction with 1984 to a General level of Seniors next year (I also need to reread 1984 -- haven't read it since college);

signed up for E-Chalk and Blended training at the end of June in my district;

contacted my Supt. Office to make sure my Master's Course grades from last semester were received;

read the latest Newsweek to see if any of the articles can be used next year for PSSA Remediation classes that I will also be teaching (there is an article on Climate Change by Sharon Begley that I think I may be able to use!);

logged into this site to see what was new -- found this article, and decided to share the first day of my "vacation" with you.

And yes, after a full year of teaching, coaching students for Rotary Speech contests, PA State testing, SAP (Student Assistance Drug and Alcohol / Mental Health Referral Team participation), Advanced Placement rigor, and 3 different levels of Juniors, over 45 IEP reports, Team Teaching of Special Needs students, Writing-Across-the -Curriculum goals, and 2 grad classes during the year, involving an elaborate research proposal and project, I found my first day of "vacation" quite relaxing and enjoyable! ;-)

Laureen Hunt's picture
Laureen Hunt
Fourth grade teacher, San Jose, CA

I'm not sure why teachers feel a need to defend their summers off. We do our 12 months in 10. We work like crazy in the evening and on weekends. We deserve the time off, and I think it should be seen as "comp" time.

Laureen Hunt's picture
Laureen Hunt
Fourth grade teacher, San Jose, CA

I'm not sure why teachers feel a need to defend their summers off. We do our 12 months in 10. We work like crazy in the evening and on weekends. We deserve the time off, and I think it should be seen as "comp" time.

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

I have to say in considering going into teaching, the summer off thing has never even entered my mind. What has are the low wages in comparison to that amount of education and degrees one must acquire and the lack of belief (in and out of the field) that this is the most important profession in life.

Most teachers are women, and women still get paid 77 cents to the male dollar. Teaching seems like a thankless job, and teacher salaries should start at around $50,000. I believe a huge problem is that women do not demand what they are really worth, and since most teachers are still women it just follows that we are not getting fired up about really demanding what is just.

It's just too bad that the woman in the scenario felt that she had to defend her time-off - what are we not doing that we feel we do not deserve more as teachers and woman - as nurturers? Is it not about time we ask for what we have given?

Kim - 46662's picture

[quote]This will be my first summer off as a teacher. I work at a school district that just changed from year round to 9 months. I am interested to see if I will enjoy having my summer's off.[/quote]

I agree, Jake. My second year. I enjoy the respite in the summer and you will, too. Sure I do professional reading, planning, and teach a week-long course in August but, to be honest, it doesn't feel like work at all. It's far less stressful than the things I did when I had only a 2-week vacation working in the business sector. Far less. So when someone says, "summers off must be nice" I just say, "It is!"

dennisar's picture

[quote]
Let's just say, that I never chose my profession based on the time I spend away from it. I chose it because of the time I get to spend IN it.[/quote]

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