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Teachers: Are You Taking Time Off This Summer?

| Elena Aguilar

When people ask me if I'm taking some time off while school is out, I respond, "a little," being intentionally vague. I'm embarrassed, actually, that I'm taking so few days off this summer (a total of eight, really).

"It's my choice," I add. "This is self-imposed." But is it, I wonder?

My "choice" to work straight through the summer conflicts with some of my core values: that people should prioritize down time, vacation, rest, fun and play and non-cerebral activities, with loved ones or alone. I believe in time-off. I have never felt guilty about time off. I wasn't indoctrinated into a Puritan work ethic; my family valued summers on the beach, happy hours, dancing, and planting tomatoes.

Recently I read Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. He explores what happens in the brain when insight and imagination are sparked and what kinds of external conditions foster creativity. This was a good read with interesting applications for education. What stuck in my mind most was how critical rest, sleep, vacation, and down-time is for creativity. I know this already -- I know that in order to be creative I need to do things like take long walks alone and disconnect from the audiobooks that I obsessively consume. But I seem to need validation from New York Times best-selling authors. I also like knowing what's happening in my brain -- the neuroscience -- when I spend hours sitting on my deck staring at the sky.

In this opinion essay in the New York Times called "The 'Busy' Trap," Tim Kreider writes,

"Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration -- it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

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Here we go again with why we need to rest in order to work. But maybe that's exactly the dilemma I'm trying to find a way out of: the argument that we rest so that we can work or be creative -- not rest for its own sake. What would that be?

The summer after my first year teaching, I did a four-day training and took the remaining two and a half months off. Although I was completely broke and in debt, I knew I desperately needed a rest -- that first teaching year had consumed me. And it was a lot of fun and when school started again, I was reenergized.

The Reality

Something has happened since then and I'm not sure I like it. My summertime has dwindled every year and now I'm down to eight days off. This is my choice, I keep telling myself: I've been on an 11-month work contract for a few years, I'm finishing my book on instructional/school coaching, preparing to take on a new role next year, picking up a little work on the side, and there are books that I'm committed to reading this summer (like Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, by Victor Rios, which is an extremely important book). But when I'm lying in bed on a Saturday morning, highlighter and sticky notes in hand, and my husband wakes up and looks at what I'm reading, even though he refrains from commenting, I know what he's thinking. I know he wishes I would read trashy Chic Lit. Or that I'd just sleep in.

Why can't I stop? Here's what I tell myself:

#1. I need the money. There's the mortgage and kid expenses, I should have a savings account, I would love a vacation next year, I like my iPhone and kitchen appliances and I like to buy lots of books and organic fruit. I live in the expensive San Francisco Bay area, my husband is a teacher, and I have chosen a lifestyle with a certain price tag.

Last week I thought: If I could forego the money I'm making this summer, if I didn't need it, would I be working? Easy answer: No. So do I really need the money? Or is this my choice? It's both, but this year the "need" feels like it outweighs the choice.

#2. I'm ambitious. I want to share my work, what I've experienced and learned and the conclusions I've drawn and the ideas that I have about how we can transform education. Writing the book is about this commitment -- the financial reward is pathetic -- I am writing it because I think it could help, it could be a contribution.

I scan myself for ego involvement, but really what I keep ending up at is that I think I do have some test-driven, effective strategies for making our schools more humane places, for impacting the lives of young people, for helping adults find happier ways of working together in schools -- and I yearn to share those ideas. In fact, I've often been tempted by the idea of publishing under a pseudonym -- and not because I want to publish stuff that a school teacher shouldn't be associated with, but because I don't really need to be personally associated with my ideas. "Ambition" is a term I don't like; maybe I'll find another frame to use like "commitment" or something else.

#3. I'm insatiably curious. I can't stop reading. I go on vacation with triple the number of books I can reasonably read. I've always been this way.

But I need a break. I do. I can feel the fatigue spreading inside my being like invisible mold. Ew. That's a gross metaphor.

The Goal

Here's what I can do this summer: I can make my eight days (two, four-day chunks) really count. I can be really off for those days -- no reading about anything related to education or social justice, or about children, no email or blog reading or tweeting. And I can plan for a full two weeks off in December. And I can continue reflecting on the choices I've made and the way I spend my time.

I guess right now that's all I can do aside from quitting my job, selling my house, and moving to an artist's colony in southern France. Or maybe Costa Rica where at least I have family and speak the language. Actually, that doesn't sound so bad.




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Comments (6)

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2nd Grade Teacher

Interesting information on

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Interesting information on what to do when we (teachers) are out for summer vacation. During the first two weeks of our two months and a half of summer vacation, I do not worry of anything that is related to work, and wake-up late. However, from the third week and beyond, I beging to catch-up with home chores and errands. When it is time to go to sleep, I read two or four chapters from my text (fiction/interpretive literature or expository text)and then I go to sleep. The next day, I continue with whatever chores and errands I have to do. If I travel, I do not carry books to read or check my e-mail, but, if possible, read the local newspaper. I only read books (of different genre)and check my e-mail when I am at home (strange habit, I do not read the local newspaper). In addition, I do go to my local YMCA club to swim every other day. There are always things to do, even though they are not related to work, in my case.

Special Education Professor from PA

Even when I am on vacation,

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Even when I am on vacation, work goes with me. Planning for the next year, reading books such as "Readicide" and books about learning and the brain, and doing as many webinars as I can. And ignore email??? I would come back to a nightmare--as it is I have to spend way to much time on email. We leave for Alaska next week - I have been trying to find out which places have wireless! I have advisees and students who email with "urgent" issues - I am trying to decide what is truely urgent and what can wait. And I get journals and organizations (i.e., Edutopia) that I like to keep up with. So most of the problem is me and learning how to relax. I think I will make some "rules" for myself for the trip--only check email every___ days......, read the mysteries on my Kindle..... I guess I will see if this works.

Seventh grade social studies teacher from Parsippany, New Jersey

I agree!

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I also can relate. I find it difficult to actually turn-off! I feel like I spend my summers planning, reflecting, and looking for more successful ways to become a better teacher.

5th Grade PYP Teacher from Killeen, TX

Great Intrapersonal Reflections

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You're very honest with yourself and with your readers. You must be one who journals frequently :)

I had similar thoughts for my summer. I just finished my 1st year teaching and had opportunities to do summer school or teach guitar to some students but I knew I just wanted to take a break from education. I made myself a summer goal list, mainly because I knew if I didn't, I would end up wasting time watching youtube videos from 9AM until 2PM , wondering where the day went.

Unlike you, I'm not a huge reader. I like reading books when I actually do it, but it doesn't happen much. My summer reading list had mainly fiction books I've wanted to read for a while, some books on theology, and a couple on creativity and education. Exercising has been a great way to spend an hour or so a day as well.

Everyone on our grade level had a unit planner assigned to them to kind of revise from last year and I didn't look at mine until about a month into my summer and a lot of ideas came to me in just a couple of hours of working on it. It was great!

It sounds like you had a good post-first-year-summer as well. I'll keep this in mind as years progress and perhaps I find myself wanting to lot myself less and less down time.

Great observation on resting for resting sake, and you have a very strong awareness of yourself to see where your ego and motivation are in what you're doing. Many people don't ask those questions. I've wondered 'Do I want to be a great teacher so everyone around me will think I'm a great teacher, or for the sake of the students in my classroom.'

This response was lengthy, but I just resonated with your entry.

High School Art teacher in Philadelphia, PA.

You'll work those 8 days, too.

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It sounds like you love what you do! That is great. Don't feel guilty for your commitment. Being a teacher and doing what you do is so rewarding and creates such a rush that you can't take a break. If you give yourself some down time each day, like take a walk at lunch, or sit in the garden and look at the sky after dinner, 30 minutes each day, will give your brain some rest. It will help you refuel & mull things over. A little time each day may make more impact. After reading your statement above, I can't imagine you taking a month doing nothing. (If you really want extended time, plan a trip somewhere far away for a couple weeks or more.)

English Teacher and Educational Technology Coordinator at CCBEU-Franca

Great post - I agree with you

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Great post - I agree with you 100% and I feel pretty much the same - quite difficult for me to turn-off completely but I've been trying to learn how to say some "no's". Enjoy your few days doing "nothing". Best wishes from Franca-SP-Brazil

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