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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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LloydXmas's picture

Woah, woah, woah... sounds like somebody needs a summer vacation! From reading the posts on here it seems like it's getting a bit heated (pun intended). Is it so wrong to be happy to have summers off? I think not. I love having my summers off. To be quite honest, I probably wouldn't be a teacher if I didn't have summers off. It would be way too hard. After I graduated from university, I bartended in a coastal California town for a few years, then 'got serious' and became a paralegal for 3 years. I made more money at both jobs.
After leaving law school because of the parasitic, narrow minded, money grubbing culture that I was surrounded by- not to mention the obsession with comparing oneself to others- I went to Vietnam to teach ESL. Long story short... I have taught overseas and in public schools in California for about 7 years now and refuse to apologize for having summers off. I don't get paid enough to feel bad about it. I was in Paris in August and the entire city was shut down because everyone- waiters and janitors and bus drivers, the whole of the city it seemed- was gone for a month of vacation. There weren't any "sorry" signs on the windows.
I enjoy my summers off and I have a much better life because I enjoy them. No one should apologize for this. My brother works special ed in San Francisco and, with his rent, lives month to month. The man is close to sainthood. The least he can get is a couple months to recuperate.
As for this grammar debate on this post, if you are that serious about the nuances of grammar- don't teach! No kid is going to be inspired to write if you come back to them with their grammar mistakes. If you are interested in a thesis, a plot, developing character, getting kids to fall in love with the writing process- then teach. If you are interested in where a comma goes, get a job as an editor at a newspaper.
Have a great summer everyone.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

@LloydXmas - thanks for your comment. It makes me reflect more about what I wrote and I realize I need to clarify that I did not mean to sound negative! I meant to say that though I am out of the classroom for the summer, I am not just laying around doing nothing. I use that time to do the many things I listed. Personally, I have had a great time this summer doing all those things I cannot do during the school year. I love going to the conferences, teaching workshops, working with other teachers, and building my curriculum for the new year. If I didn't have that time away from the classroom, my work would suffer and my lessons would be much less rich in content. So, you make an excellent point.

And, you are also right that we are paid what we are paid - i.e., for the months we are in class, not for the time away. There is a need for a good discussion about what education should be worth in our society, and what we are truly willing to pay to get the world class education we seem to expect to get. Hopefully, that debate will surface sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, the original post was intended to help people understand that most teachers, though they are out of the classroom over the summer, are using that time for many good and professional purposes. It seems that there are a great number of people who think we use that time to do little to nothing as if it were vacation. Sure, we do take some vacation time, or at least we should, but we also are working on job-related tasks, The public needs to know that, so the myth about summers off is dispelled.

Wishing everyone a health, happy, productive last few days "off" and a great new school year!



Rashida Outlaw's picture

Hi Alicia,

If you want paid summer vacations, try teaching overseas. Most international schools pay your salary during the summer.

Montana Teacher in Training's picture

This is not a Myth! Teachers have summers off if they wish. Not sure why it is so hard to admit. Teachers get a lot of time off that most people do not. It is just a fact. Does that mean all the time is spent just laying around no but it does give a great deal of flexibility most people don't have. You can pursue other passions, travel, make extra money, relax, and whatever else you would like to or need to do. Why can't teachers just admit that this is a really nice perk of the job and say it proudly? I don't understand it. It's insulting to be told it isn't. It is a nice perk please just admit it and enjoy it.

happyteacher's picture

Oh but they do. I worked in corporate america for 20 years and I certainly did NOT make anywhere near 150K, nor did anyone around me. THAT is a fantasy world indeed! Also, my days averaged 12 1/2 hours with commute. Please do get real.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Manager

I don't think this is a game of who works harder. If you look at the labor statistics, everyone's working harder now-a-days, with a lot less downtime and vacations all around. The point, I think, is that this is true for teachers too, and that "summer vacations" aren't necessarily that.

Farah Najam's picture
Farah Najam
Teacher Trainer and write on education

It might be easy to believe that students enrolled in summer school will be disinterested troublemakers. I as a teacher have really found the opposite to be true. With a little care, even the most otherwise troublesome students can be pleasant. Not only do the teacher teach the content, but you also strive to inspire good learning habits and self esteem in students.

Mrsdoos's picture

Excellent article! Thank you, Edutopia, for writing REAL articles for teachers! What teacher hasn't gotten the "you are so lucky that you get the 3 month summer vacation off" comment??!!
As frustrating as it is, I always "school" people in the realities of a teacher's "summer vacation"! With all the PD and planning we do over the summer, who has time for a vacation???! ;)

gleggio's picture

Teaching is all encompassing. I am always thinking about or doing school work. I have never had a summer "off" in my 26 yrs. Getting extra credentials and degrees or doing all the work you don't have time for during the school year. It is Saturday and I am tweeting to get materials from DonorsChoose. And I LOVE every minute. I am still excited to go to work in the morning and see my students. How lucky are we?

Alicia Woody's picture

Where are there teachers getting three months of paid vacation time? I would love to teach there! All kidding aside, in reality full-time teachers do not get paid during the summer. Each of their previous paychecks were reduced so they could get pay in the summer. Essentially, we loan the district our money interest free during the school year and receive it in the summer.

I appreciate your thoughts on teaching being one of the only jobs where the employees have to work at home after work hours. I would also like to add that since working at home is a almost required part of the job, that teachers do receive miserable salaries. I make $30k a year. A career high is in the range you are talking about in my state. So, considering that teachers (conservatively) work 60 hours a week for 180 days we work about 1542 hours a year (not including summers). So, I make $19/hr before taxes. At the height of my career I will make $38/hr. I often work more hours so my wages are actually lower than that.

I would like to reiterate that teachers are not paid in the summer; that they are receiving money they already earned. I spent hundreds of hours this summer preparing to teach the completely new curriculum I was handed this year due to the Common Core Standards. This further reduces my $19/hr. I know other teachers around the country have done the same. I did not demand to be paid for that time and chose to do it myself. I do enjoy a few days a week to relax and actually spend time with my family. We are practically strangers for 10 months a year.

JudyB's picture

I have been teaching for 15 years. It is my second career. After the first year I swore two things to myself. One, I will never teach summer school again. I need that summer break to recharge and learn new things. I typically have some sort of PD and usually start setting up my classroom in early August, but still make time to escapes somewhere with my husband. Second, take as little home as possible. Teachers are horrible at balancing their life/work and as a result we burn out faster than most people in other careers. The next time some yokel makes a comment about "Must be nice ...", just smile and ask if he or she would like to come spend a day with you. Oh, and he or she must show up by 7:30 a.m., bring their own lunch, be ready for maybe one break during the day, deal with 30 curious and active kids, and be prepared to leave at about 6 or 7 p.m. I haven't had a single person take me up on my offer yet.

Mike H's picture

I'm in my 10th year of teaching and have become one of those teachers that takes the summer off. About four years ago, I made it a plan for each summer to go somewhere different, to experience new cultures, food, drink, and points of interest. This is my way of taking care of myself before each school year. I teach journalism and drama. I'm the adviser for the yearbook and newspaper. I am the director of an arts academy on my high school campus, and I oversee the performing arts auditorium and direct three shows per year. I don't leave campus till after 6 and sometimes I'm working with students on Saturdays. I am an English teacher so my classes adhere to ELA standards in addition to performing arts standards. By May, I'm exhausted and that month long vacation I have planned, is what keeps me going. I also travel to see my parents for a month.

However, I do come back for a week to go to a non-paid, week long journalism workshop with my students. But if I don't make the time to take care of myself, nourish my soul, fire up my spirit, I wouldn't be able to make it through the school year. So when people say, "It must be nice having summers off." I reply "It is, and Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc."

Jenn's picture

The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate "apparently ordinary" people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people. ~K. Patricia Cross

There are three good reasons to be a teacher - June, July, and August. ~Author Unknown

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.

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'll be doomed to be bitter, unhappy, and stressed. Sad, really. Teaching is a joyous experience!...and SO IS SUMMER!
~Gwyneth Jones
The Daring Librarian

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.

TaughtThemNot's picture

I've heard this argument before, but in all due respect to friends of mine who are full-time educators, I still think it's a flaw in our education system that teachers have three months of paid vacation time built in to their contracts.

I've worked as a teacher--just part time--and it is indeed EXHAUSTING. I think most people overlook that. It's also one of the few jobs that truly requires you to take your work home with you. It's emotionally training, challenging, and doing it right isn't easy. But the fact that teachers are "lifelong learners" or that they attend seminars doesn't change that. Journalists or doctors or engineers who are good at their job no doubt attend seminars voluntarily or read books to better themselves in the field without being directly paid for it. It's troubling, too, to hear dear friend of mine who are teachers complain about their "miserable" salaries of $50K or $60K a year, while I have just as much experience but work in a much less lucrative field that requires just as much education and consistently make a mere fraction of those amounts, all the while working from about 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on average, frequently including weekends and holidays. This is reality these days, folks. With that in mind, naturally it's also hard to sympathize with the sentiment that "we work ... because who doesn't need extra money?" Tons of professionals do freelance work in addition to their other job. But they're not doing it while still receiving a paycheck from their full-time employer unless they allotted personal days to their freelance work just for that purpose.

It was such a relief to meet a young educator who went out of his way to acknowledge that having summer off has been one of the sweetest benefits of his young career--receiving a paycheck while he drove cross country. I do not resent him for it. In fact, I envy him. At times I just wish more educators would own up to the reality that while his or her job may not be perfect for innumerable reasons, having 90 days + personal days to do what you want is a really, really nice benefit of the profession.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Manager

I don't think this is a game of who works harder. If you look at the labor statistics, everyone's working harder now-a-days, with a lot less downtime and vacations all around. The point, I think, is that this is true for teachers too, and that "summer vacations" aren't necessarily that.

RWM Librarian's picture

If it makes people feel better, they don't have to think of it as a paid summer off. Instead, think of it as a 10 and 1/2 month job whose payments are spread out over a year-long period (except where teachers don't get a paycheck in the summer--we don't always, you know). And let's be honest--we basically get a 10 and 1/2 month salary. When I calculate my part-time salary based on the 43 weeks a year for which I'm contracted, it comes out to about $24 an hour--on par with similar jobs requiring a Master's degree.

So, noone's getting overpaid here--our salaries are exactly right for the amount of time we're contracted. We are grossly underpaid, however, when one calculates the amount of work we do outside the classroom and beyond the school day (10-20 hours a week based on research).


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