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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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TIffany's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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!

Napoli's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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.

Christina 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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.

Kristen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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.

Liz 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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.

shila Tharp's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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.

Britney 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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.

Courtney Callahan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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.

Courtney Callahan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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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