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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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Jenn's picture

To Jeff and all disgruntled teachers near and far who are like-minded,

You just don't seem to get it so I really do give up :)

I would like to end on a pleasant note - so here's to all you amazing teachers out there and here's to your summers and Christmas breaks and Spring breaks off. Cheers!

The Teacher's Oath

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:* I will respect the hard-won gains of those educators in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

* I will apply, for the benefit of my students, all strategies known to be effective, avoiding busy-work in favor of work with real meaning to the students and their families.

* I will remember that there is art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the textbook reading or the multiple choice test.

* I will work with my colleagues to inspire one another to achieve excellence. I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed to help my students.

* If it is given me to enhance a life through teaching, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to cast a shadow over a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.

* I will remember that I do not teach a lesson plan, or a reading deficiency, but a human being, whose skills may affect the person's future family and economic stability. My efforts will aim to teach the whole child, and help that child develop in mind and spirit.

* If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of teaching those who seek my help.

Apposite's picture

Jenn -

"Dear School Administrator,

For the past 13 years I have observed and interacted with and sought out ... "

Complaints all legit in my eyes:) Just don't paint us with one one brush!!!

Apposite's picture

Jenn!

Get yourself a teaching certificate. You seem to know what's wrong. - We need you:) Come in and set the example!!! We can learn from you!

Jenn's picture

This brilliant student hits the nail on the head...though sadly I bet it changed nothing for the lady sitting at the head of the room. Hope I can get the right youtube link here. If I lose you, it's called High School Student Wrecks Teacher. My 14 year old was shown it by a school mate and passed it on How pleased I am they recognized the importance of the message. http://youtu.be/xsoLIpRmQTw

Emily Edwards's picture

This blog post completely resonates with me today. Last night the panic attacks started with the thought of, "Holy Cow I have one 3 weeks until school starts.... I have so much to do!!!" And then the long list of random thoughts poured out onto a notepad making me even more anxious for the start of school.

I do know teachers that have summers off and I just don't understand how they do it. I don't like teaching the exact same thing every year. I would get bored and become a mediocre teacher. I need the summer to rejuvenate myself. I teach art so I spend my summers making art, visiting art museums, taking art classes and visiting with other art educators. I need this sharing to get inspired. If I am not inspired, how can I ask my students to be?

A couple of points in this post that really made me go... "OH YEAH! I do that!".... were:
1. Every bookstore or shop I go into I seem to be looking to add to my library or random boxes of supplies.
2.I try to reflect in the school year as much as I can, but there really isn't enough time revamp those lessons unless you work in the summer too.
3. I too feel like I am crawling towards the finish line by the end of the year with all of my energy completely spent from performing all day long for ten months.

And most of all... I'm sick of that comment that says, "Oh, you are a teacher. Must be nice to have summers off."

Thanks for sharing and thank you for reminding me I am not alone.

worried's picture

It's not "summer's off." It's not possessive or a contraction. It's just plural.
It's not..."is there really a 'them?'" The question mark goes outside the quotation mark if the question mark applies to the whole sentence.
I was searching the web for encouragement to become a teacher, but now I'm discouraged again. Every teacher essay I've encountered just seems to point out how beleaguered they feel and how superhuman they are. Sorry for the nit-picking, but bad punctuation drives me crazy.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal

Hi worried-
Don't despair. Teaching (like many jobs in the service professions) CAN be exhausting. It's also exhilarating and joyful and the best way to change the world. Check out these links for a more positive outlook:

Young People: Don't Be Afraid to Become a Teacher!
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/young-people-dont-fear-teaching-career-elen...

Why We Teach
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teacher-appreciation-why-we-teach-margaret-...

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.

Pooja Patel's picture

Before commenting it is important to clarify that teachers do not get paid for doing "nothing" over the summer. Our salaries are pro-rated, so we are getting what we make in 10 months over a 12 month period.. As for the hours you quote that you work, let's break down the teaching hours. Most teachers are in school well before the children's school day begin, for me that is close to 7:15. Most don't leave until 5 or later. Regardless of when they leave, they are grading and planning in the evenings, weekends, and holidays. As for your comments on freelance work, I know many people who double dip and do their private work during their full-time company hours. It is important to not slander our profession unless you know the facts and use truth in your argument. It seems it me, as you say, you are a bit jealous of the holidays...why not get over the exhausting notion and consider doing it full time. But, I ask that you only do so if you are good at it and it your heart is in it. There are many subpar teachers out there and we don't need anymore of those. This because this job is the most important one.

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