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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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Courtney Callahan (not verified)

Summers Off

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I really enjoyed reading what Heather Wolpert-Gawron said about how people outside of the teaching profession think we have it so easy. I just completed my first year of teaching pre-school in an urban area and my family said how great it must be to have a couple months off. But actually I have started my Master's classes online which takes up a lot of time. I have professional development that I have been attending on Friday's for the last month. Like many of you said, I am thinking of my first couple of weeks in the classroom, working on lesson plans, and thinking about what I want to do differently. Teachers are not done at the end of the day when the students walk out the door. I know that I am reflecting on my day and am taking work home with me. People don't understand how draining this profession is and we do need a little break to get ready for the next year so we aren't burned out.

Britney (not verified)

I get so annoyed when I hear this

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Being a recent graduate in the field of teaching I am already worrying about how I will find time to plan for my classroom. Some days I find my mind racing wondering how I will be able to successfully juggle lesson plans for math, English, science and social studies. I envy the teachers who do it so calmly and smoothly. I'm sure that this of course will come with practice.
I absolutely cannot stand when friends and peers say that teaching is so easy and that they envy my vacations. Many people do not realize the amount of time, energy and effort that goes into being a successful teacher. Not only are you in charge of teaching these students, but you also have to deal with behavior issues, interruptions and school wide activities. I found myself getting tired and worn out during my internship and I didn't even have the class 5 days a week.
Many people view the job of a teacher as someone taking the easy way out. Sure there are those who put no effort into their job and do the minimum, but every job has this kind of a person. However, for those of us who actually enjoy the job we understand that the job becomes a part of our life. This may mean lesson planning on the weekends, giving up summers and grading papers till late hours. For those of us who enjoy our job we find happiness when we are in the classroom and we watch as our students explore a new topic and begin to learn.
Teaching is a career you do because you are passionate about it and because you enjoy working with the children.

shila Tharp (not verified)

Summer Vacation

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This article was so true, you hit the nail on the head. I believe this is the mind set of many people that when June rolls around we are off until mid August. I do agree that the 2 months gives us time to reflect, regroup, and reenergize ourselves for the following year, but so much time is spent on getting things ready for the following year. I know I have been in my classroom this entire week from 7:30 until 5:00(since our floors were waxed and ready) trying to make sense of the set up, organizing centers, buying supplies, etc. I have worked on long range plans since I am changing grades this year. I believe that there is so much planning, finding & creating materials that people who aren't doing it just don't understand. Thanks so much for the article. It is great to converse with other educators who feel the same way.

MH (not verified)

Well said!

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Well said!

Liz (not verified)

How is your summer?

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So often I hear the same remark. You’re a teacher? Must be nice to work a 9-3 job and have summers off. First off, who works 9 to 3? You have to get to work early, you have to get set up, and then you have to wind down for the day, and get ready for the next day. You have to attend meetings after a long day of teaching.
My summer has consisted of two weeks off during this time I had a 2 day training to go to. Then I had to go and set up for summer school. Summer school is over this week then we get three weeks. This will be spent buying supplies and preparing for the fall.
I really enjoy teaching summer school. It is a shorter day and great for those students who would have been completely lost in the fall. I also like the extra paycheck but I would go crazy if I didn't work all summer. So yes it can be frustrating when you hear from people that your job is so great. Let’s face it, when I leave work I am still thinking about my teaching and how the day’s events went.

Kristen (not verified)

Teaching 360 days a year

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Well i couldn't agree more that teachers do work 360 days a year. (even though our job is only 10 out of the 12 months) As a kindergarten teacher, I have to always think of new lessons to create to keep the kids engaged and moivated. It takes a lot to hold the attention of a 5 and 6 year old. The point is, that if teachers did have to work all year round, we would go insane. We need the 2 months off to recourprate mentally and think of ways to improve our teaching teniques. Over the summer, I personally teach a summer literacy academy for needy children who are going into first grade. I get out of work in the middle/end of June and have about a week until the summer program begins. When it is over, I only have about 3 weeks before I need to go back and start to set up my classroom again for September. Not to mention in those 3 weeks, I am plannig new lessons, thinking of new ideas, shopping for supplies and making new decorations to welcome my students into a warm feeling classroom and positive learning environment.

Christina (not verified)

Summers

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I really enjoyed reading your article. I to, receive many of the same comments. People always say, do you do anything all summer, must be nice to not work, I wish I had your job. But what these people don't realize is the amount of time, effort and work you do complete over the summer. I personally also teach summer school, tutor and am always completing or thinking about work for the fall. I am always shopping for school supplies, books and classroom accessories. I truly believe some people do not understand how hard teachers work and do not give us the credit we deserve.

Napoli (not verified)

summer vacation

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It was so nice to read what you wrote about summer vacations. Too often I get the same rude remarks from friends about my summer "vacation." Many people seem to think that is the major perk of entering this profession. WRONG! 2 months off is very little compared to the hectic lifestyle we live throughout the school year. Plus, we don't have those two months completely off. I agree, a huge amount of that time is devoted to letting go of all the stress of the past year. However, not a day has gone by this summer where I haven't thought about my next years class. I am organizing my monthly lessons, buying new supplies and library books, creating my writing folders for each kid, and making endless amounts of name tags, record books, and entering my new students names into everything that I may need for next year. Also, I am mentally preparing for them. It is so hard saying good bye to all the students I finally got a handle on only to welcome in a new group of strangers.

TIffany (not verified)

What Break?

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I couldn't agree more with what Heather wrote in her initial blog about summer! I'll admit, my first year as a teacher, I was ecstatic to have my summer off; however, that didn't go as planned. I was offered a summer school position teaching migrant children and, being a new teacher, I wanted to take it all in, even if that meant teaching through the summer. I figured I would just do it for my first summer to gain experience and then I wouldn't do it anymore. I was wrong! I absolutely fell in love with teaching the migrant kids, just as I did with my regular school year students. This is now my third year teaching summer school and I plan to teach during the summer for as long as I can! Even without teaching summer school, though, our job as teachers does not end on that last day in June when the school year ends. For example, last summer, I decided to spend countless hours developing a writing guide to use within my classroom. I compiled about 300 pages of lesson plans, organized them by topic, typed them out, and assembled them into a binder for myself to use for the upcoming school years. The district in which I teach does not have a writing curriculum and I wanted to be prepared for teaching writing within my classroom so I spent the time to do so. On top of that, summers provide a great opportunity to attend professional development seminars and conferences. I am currently working on a school-improvement plan with fellow colleagues. As Heather mentioned above, although we are teachers and are "supposed" to have summers off, we never do. We are always learning, developing new ideas, creating lesson plans, and preparing for the upcoming school year. I share your frustration, Heather, with so many people making comments to you about having summers off!

Julie Klein (not verified)

I, too wish that I made more

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I, too wish that I made more money teaching but I can't see myself doing anything else. I love what I do even though it burns me out at times. I get so caught up in all of the deadlines, lesson plans, meetings, projects, etc. that my head hurts. Even though I spend my summers and other vacations working on school work I still have to have time to relax. If people outside of education really knew all that we did maybe they wouldn't comment about our time off. Maybe they would understand how exhausting our job can be and that we earn those vacations!

Good luck with the floral arranging. My father-in-law is a florist. He is very good at it and really seems to enjoy it.

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