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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.

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

Comments (172)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Leah Bucklen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Goodness, I loved reading and feeling your passion for teaching! As I am embarking on a new school year, it is always refreshing to hear other teacher's dedication to our profession (something that I do not get the chance to see daily). I can not tell you how many times I hear, "When schools out, schools out. I don't want to come think school, see school. I am going to enjoy my summer and not do anything school related until school is back in session." I hate hearing these comments, primarily because I love what I do. I love that I get to spend everyday with these children and I get to watch them grow. Yes, I believe we must enjoy our summer, however, in order to grow from a novice to expert teacher (if that is even important to some teachers) I believe that we must continue learning and be involved as much as possible not only in the school, but in the community. In the past, I can not look myself in the mirror and say that I have given 100% to my school and community. I can say that I have let the negative comments get the best of me, but as I am beginning my master's program my passion to help students is starting to rekindle. Thank you Heather for starting this wonderful blog! Thank you for helping me remember what is important.

Corie Biser's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading Heather's blog. Outsiders perception of teachers is so poor at times, especially when it comes to summer break. Another time outsiders feel teachers have it so easy has to do with the school's schedule. Many times someone will say, "It must be great being done with work at 3:00!" Is any teacher ever really finished working at 3:00? Between preparing for the next day, writing lesson plans, researching, and completing professional development activites a teacher's workday is rarely finished when the last bell rings!

Krystal Long's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I don't know about the rest of you but I get to the point, like most, that I need the time off when the summer months come around. I yearn for the morning I get to sleep in and then reality sets in. Being a mom, wife, and school teacher, the summer months leave very little time to sit around and do anything...back up (yeah, I wish).
At this very moment I am forcing myself to seek out things to keep me busy. If I don't then I find myself nit picking everything around me. I am a fast paced person to start off with and I need the constant motion in my day. I have found that once summer vacation comes around, I need about a week to learn how to sit down again. I need a week to learn there isn't anything worth watching from 10-4 and I need about a week to start playing school with my own children.
Even though I look forward to saying that I will take the time off to make myself fresh again for the next year, well, I wont try to fool anyone. I am ready to get back to teaching. Perhaps that is what it takes to keep me fresh. I never stop:)

Angela 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The second week of August it begins....
Put the classroom back together, organize the class library, put up the bulletin boards, buy school supplies, get out lesson plans, organize lesson plans worked on over the summer, create packets for teacher for Professional Development, file curriculum work from the summer, and start making phone calls to parents in my new class. These are just some of the tasks that I complete before the new school year begins. This takes up majority of my days and evenings until the first day of school, with the occasional dentist and doctor appointment thrown in for good measure. Not to mention the fact that I have been teaching summer school, taking classes for my masters and running a household.
Who ever said teachers "have it made" was sorely mistaken. I do not do this for the vacations! However they are a perk! The only problem is that they are never vacations! They are filled with work, meetings, or tasks that need to be completed for school. This is so that I can be as effective as possible in the classroom. Without this time, I would need to learn to function with zero hours of sleep to accomplish all I need to.
I have an answer for that "Joe Know-it-all": He can take a 45 minute block of time in my classroom. Lets see if he can keep control, teach a concept, answer questions, and keep them interested enough to actually listen and not talk to their neighbor. I bet he would not last 10 minutes. These so called vacations are needed just realize you are a human and to reflect on all that you have accomplished and need to accomplish in the near future.
I find myself back in the classroom/school the second week of August saying to my fellow teachers, "Where did Summer go? In reality, it is a luxury to have the option to do nothing, relax, soak up the sun, and read some books that have piled up in the corner of your house that people tell you are absolutely fantastic. However my reality is that those books my friends give me, won't get read unless they have to do with sixth grade or my masters program, and I do not know many educators who take advantage of the long break to relax. Let's face it, Teachers are workaholics and that is the bottom line!

KM's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I do not know how people can say that teachers get the summers off. We spend the entire year running around like chickens with our heads cut off and when it finally comes to the summertime we are picking up the pieces of our lives that have been neglected all year. This is our time to do the household chores that we kept pushing off, we have to follow around after our kids at home, make up for lost time with friends/relatives that we did not have any time to meet with since we were busy grading papers and we are working on our lesson plans for the upcoming year, attending trainings, cleaning our tubs of personal things that we brought home for the summer, going to stores looking for the least expensive necessities needed to start the following school year, and that is just part of the list. We are getting our oil changes, Dr. appts, fixing items that have gotten broken over the course of the year and most likely painting something. We need a break from our summer and the only break that we get is when school starts. Teachers are great at cramming 40 hours of work into 8 daily and only getting paid for a fraction of that time.

Crystal Cowen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sadly, it is true that many outside of the teaching profession view us as having this 8 to 3:30 job, 9 months out of the year. What they fail to take into consideration is the work we do every night as well as the weekends. Thanksgiving, Winter and Spring break may be spent with family, but we do find time to work on those much needed plans and try to catch up on paperwork. And summer break... while it may be a break from students (if you don't teach summer school), it is not a break from our neverending quest for knowledge. This includes professional development courses as well as individual research we partake in to learn new strategies and techniques to incorporate in our classes the next school year. Summer break is a great time to reflect on the previous years successes and failures. It is a time to develope new lessons to teach the same curriculum, keeping ourselves energized. I find myself thinking school during the times I am suppose to be relaxing with my family. Honestly, I believe I am in the profession that I was destined for because I live and breathe teaching. I do not want to stop bettering myself, I love summer break because it gives me the opportunity to become a better professional.

Carrie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

No, it is not unprofessional to not lesson plan in the summer. Do not get down on yourself. You are doing what works for you. Do not ever second guess yourself.

ZK's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Myth or Not!
It is true, if a teacher resumes teaching after the first two years then chances are, he/she loves teaching and is not doing it for the summer break.
As teachers, we really don't need to respond to any Joe Know-It Alls. They know it is not an easy task being a teacher or they would be doing it themselves right?

Laura Townsend's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am spending my summer going to school. Even though it is online it still requires my time. I also tell people that they can be teachers too if they want the summers off. That usually keeps people quiet. I need to take more time to preplan for next year but my mind is always thinking of what new things I want to try and what didn't work last year and what did.

Julie Klein's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Well said. I don't know a teacher out there that does not walk out the door with an armful (as well as bags full) of books to read, papers to correct, and lessons to do. Those people that make the comment that our job is easy truly have no idea or are intimidated by what we do. I have been in conversations with such people and it is very irritating. I get very defensive because I know first-hand how difficult my job is and how much time and effort I truly put into it.. To all of the people out there who truly believe that a teacher's job is easy and that teachers have all of this time off during the year, please feel free to spend some time in my shoes.

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