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The Myth of Having Summers Off

| Heather Wolpert-G...

"So, you're a teacher, huh?" says the umpteenth Joe Know-It-All. I know the tone, and I know what's coming next: "Must be nice having summers off," he sneers. I don't know what mythical job this guy thinks I have, but I have never had a summer off.

And I'm not sure who these teachers are who are supposedly lying around all summer sipping 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, I have seen some of the busiest summer months of my life.

This is for many reasons:

  • I work summer school. Hey, who doesn't need the moolah? And it's not just about the hours I spend with students; it's also 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 have for only a month or so.
  • I attend or lead department and curriculum meetings scheduled during July and August.
  • I develop and improve the curriculum that may, or may not, have worked over the school year. Summer is the only chunk of time to reflect and tweak those lessons.
  • 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 packed full of high-energy, tightly paced, overscheduled days.
  • I learn the new technology or new curriculum programs I've been given. Once again, summer is the only time to learn them. Case in point: my interactive whiteboard. I received mine in the fall, right at the start of school. I have been learning it as I go, but what with that little full-time gig I have that's called teaching, I have had time to explore only the tip of the iceberg. Summer will, hopefully, be my chance to revisit the training modules, explore the online assistance, create better flip charts, and further integrate the board.
  • I train new teachers.
  • I explore my own professional development. After all, those units also bump me along on the pay scale. And currently, my only option to get a raise is by spending my own money first, right?
  • I lick my wounds. It's true. By the end of the year, teachers are limping toward "vacation." And do the math: If you teach summer school, you have only the weekend between the end of school and the beginning of summer school to take a breath. By the end of summer school, you have only three weeks or so until the start of the new school year. And those weeks are filled moving your students' desks from the pile in the middle of the room, putting up your bulletin boards, shoving shelves back into place, and planning, prepping, preparing, and scabbing over.

Back to my pal Joe Know-It-All: I really should've asked him whether he wanted to spend his year doing what I do. I spend my days, my hours, and my minutes existing at the pace of a middle school student. 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 still seek out the New York Times to use as a primary resource to refer to in upcoming years. You pick up props and realia to supplement your lesson plans. You attend conferences or seminars to learn new strategies in order to fill in gaps that might exist in your current curriculum units.

The fact is, we need the breaks we get in order to do the job that we do ten months of the year. And the other two months are spent doing other parts of the job.

Civilians don't realize the toll teaching takes on a person -- on their energy and on their appearance, even. You ever see the pictures of a president before his term began and after his term ended? Well, teaching is kind of 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, and 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 summer camp, giving them a break from parenting, we intend to do what we always do: be teachers.

How are you spending these summer days preparing for the next school year? We'd love to hear from you!

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Comments (172)

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Stacey deVries (not verified)

I am also familiar with the

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I am also familiar with the comments that other people make about teachers' schedules. How we have it so easy and what a great job! While I do agree that it is a great job, there is so much about it that people don't understand. We put in so much time and energy into our job. We spend time before and after school and many times on weekends and vacations. Our summers are used to get refreshed and recharged for our high energy career. It is also time to work on curriculum and work on organizing for the next year. A teacher's job is never done! There is so much time spent behind the scenes that people don't know about. We know how hard we work and our goal is to see our students succeed and we will do whatever it takes to see them do that!

Tahnee Maness (not verified)

As a brand new teacher just

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As a brand new teacher just finishing my first year, I have to admit I fell victim to the summers off fantasy as the end of the school year approached. Much like you stated, I quickly realized that was not the case! For one, I started on my masters degree over the summer. I have also started looking closely at the kindergarten curriculum I am teaching and trying to map out a more effective design. The rest of my time has been spent doing a majority of the things you mentioned. Collecting egg crates and toilet paper rolls for class projects, researching new techniques and strategies, and designing lessons that integrate several state standards are among the few things that have been occupying my time. My husband, a high school math teacher, is doing the same, minus the egg crates and toilet paper rolls! I smiled when I read your comments, because I have been getting that question a lot this summer and my feelings have been similar to yours. Unless somebody is a teacher, I don't think they will be able to understand what having a "summer off" really means!

Lesli (not verified)

What summer?

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Non-teachers really do not understand what we do. It's not a 2 month vacation, it is a time to refresh for the upcoming school year. We have to plan, analyze and tweak what was/was not effective, restock our supplies, decorate, etc. The list never ends for a teacher and neither does the school year. Not to mention, we do all this with budget cuts, furlough days, and then spend our own money that we do not have to supply our rooms. On top of all that, we are expected to further our education by going back to school or taking professional development classes. I love teaching. I love seeing the children grow from the beginning of the year to the end. And, just knowing that I hopefully made some kind of impact in their life so that they can be successful.

Jamie Jerew (not verified)

Summers Off!

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As I started my first year teaching in Metro Atlanta, GA, I thought how nice it would be to enjoy my summer by relaxing at the pool. Boy, was I wrong! After completing my first year with my first graders, I was excited for the summer but once the summer got rolling all I could think about was the following school year. I am constantly thinking about what I need to do differently, new lesson plans, curriculum maps and what I need to purchase to get ready. All summer I have been reading new material, looking online, thinking about my classroom and my students. Teachers are constantly working even when they are unaware of it. I go to school before the students arrive and leave well after the students are home. Being a teacher is mentally draining. We need the summers off to rest and get ready for the following year, eventhough many of us are still working. Teachers work hard and it is aggravating to hear others think otherwise.

Jamie (not verified)

I can not agree more....

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This is my first blogging experience and I was very intrigued by everyone's posts. I have just finished my first year of teaching and just starting my Master's program. Being a first year teacher is draining, exciting, scary and fun but teachers do need a break. I was looking forward to having three months off to lay at the pool, enjoy a book but wow, how that changed. After the year ended I have constantly been thinking about what I can do for the next year, how to set up my room, what I need to purchase and thinking about next years students. The summer has kept me busy working on new ideas and strategies for my room. Also being a teacher does not mean arriving with the kids and leaving when the bell rings. Teachers put in many hours of their own time at school and eventually we just need a break so that we are able to mentally and physically rest and get excited for the next year to come. Being a teacher is a year round profession!

Lauren Hoover (not verified)

I agree! I arrive at school

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I agree! I arrive at school each day at least 1 hour before school starts and stay at least 1 hour after school ends. I also take work home each night. I would not be able to get everything done or be an effective teacher if I did not put in the extra hours. I have already been to school several times this summer and I am making lists of what I need to do to get ready for the upcoming school year. Having the summers off, I wish!

Roxanne Martinez (not verified)

Having Summer's Off

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Well, I am glad to hear that I am not the only one that feels this way. As I write this I am on vacation in Hawaii but I am constantly coming across new things and trying to look at them through the eyes of the First Graders, wondering what I can take back home to Texas to make this a better and more engaged year, I am thinking of lessons and activities to provide the children with while I am looking over to Waikiki Beach. Also, I have begun to take graduate courses to continue my learning as well and I keep thinking that everything that I come across has to benefit my upcoming students somehow, especially when they see just how Intrigued I am with new information, that I too am a learner.

A couple of years ago my best friend was wondering why I was so tired and drained, it was like my 2nd year of teaching, and he tells me, "I thought that all teachers did was just give lessons and sit at thei desk and grade papers. I gave him one look to show him that this was far from true. We do so much planning and prepping and analyzing and re-analyzing and managing and cooperating and nurturing...you get the picture. So after I explained this to him he never said another negative word on the matter.

In Robert J. Garmston's journal article from the Journal of Staff Development, one of the 6 knowledge areas that I feel stuck out and touched my heart was the 4th area...Self-knowledge (including values, standards, and beliefs). He mentions that knowledge of one's own patterns and preferences supports informed decision making and the overcoming of egocentric teaching choices. (Garmston, R.J. 1998). A teacher with self-knowledge is more aware of what she believes to be neceassry to teach the students in order to give them a better chance to succeed. And this is why we do what we do, right, to help the children see a better tomorrow.

Garmston, R.J. (1998). Becoming expert teachers (Part One). Journal of Staff Development, 19 (1)
Copyright 1998 by National Staff Development Council. Reproduced with permission of National Staff Development Council in the format electronic usage via Copyright Clearance Center.

Laura Townsend (not verified)

Yes your right and some

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Yes your right and some people that I told that they could be teachers too responded with a big no thank you. My mom was a teacher so she understands that it is never over in the summer. She is retired no but when she was still teaching she stated that it was hard for teachers to have summer jobs outside of school since they had to spend a lot of their summers advancing their education. I feel people need to be more educated on what a teacher actually does over the summer, then maybe they wouldn't say "It must be nice having the summer off"

Kendra Yaddof (not verified)

Summers off!!

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I am sharing the same sentiment as most of the people who posted their opinions. I know that my summers are filled with summer school, classes, working in my room, and dealing with IEPs. My response to the person who posted that teachers don't have to do extra things in order to be a teacher must not really be a teacher. There is no way that you can stay on top of the teaching profession by never doing anything extra. There is also no way that school districts will pay for all these extra things and always allow you to take a professional day each time you decide that you want to go to a conference. Some people may be lucky enough to arrive and depart from school grounds in their actual contract hours but most don't. There are always things to do and phone calls to return and students to work with. I don't know how a good teacher is only doing their job from 8-4 or 7-3, M-F and August through May.

Courtney Callahan (not verified)

Summers Off

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I really enjoyed reading this article by Heather Wolpert-Gawron. I have heard many comments about how I am lucky to have the summer off and that my job is so easy. I would like to see those people in the classroom and do what we do. I takes a lot of time and dedication to be a good teacher. I have just completed my first year of teaching pre-school and this was my first summer "off." So far I have started taking classes towards my master's degree and have been going to a professional development class on Friday's for the past month. I am always thinking about what I want to do this next school year and working on lesson plans. I have spent weekends and after school hours working on lesson plans and paper work. People think that once the children walk out the door for the day, that a teacher's job is done. That is so not true because like I said, I am staying after hours working on lessons, paper work, or have to attend some type of meeting. I agree with you that teaching is about the children!

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