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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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Victoria Thomas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I couldn't agree more with Heather Wolpert-Gawron. I have spent my summer developing new lesson plans for next year and researching ways to improve my skills. Although it's nice to be able to do these things from the comfort of my living room, I am still working. I have also attend a week-long workshop and several meetings held at school. I don't think those "Joe Know-It-Alls" out there would want to switch places with us.

Terry Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a 4th grade teacher preparing this summer by presenting a research paper on project-based learning in Ireland, then visiting teachers in England with whom I do Internet projects, to plan for the future of our classes working together. I'm reading The Hundred Languages of Children about the Reggio Emilia approach to educating children with sensitivity and regard for their childhood. I'm monitoring last year's kids in a 3D world called Quest Atlantis over the summer. Oh, I'm also pursuing a doctorate in learning technologies to be a better educator. The summer time off is fading quickly...

Jacquie Breedlove's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Love the blog posting...it is all so true. I work whenever I can squeeze time in between my kids needing to go here and there. I try to give myself a week off without doing any schoolwork, but it never happens. I always think about what I need to do, and end up back at my desk and laptop. These people that think our job is easy....follow me for a day!

Karen HUber's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that teachers do NOT have the summer off! I am taking several classes this summer, not to mention other workshops that I am involved in. I am going to be teaching anew grade this fall, so I need to spend time acquainting myself with the curriculum materials. Not only that, but I am learning how it implement web 2.0 tools for my new grade level. Most of the world has NO idea what it means to be a teacher!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Don't remind me! The only day when I don't see the end is the last day of school when all possibilities for summer are still open. But then the schedule starts to fill...Nevertheless, I get to spend my summer planning to be the teacher I want to be because when September sets in, the challenges will come a-knockin'; and if we aren't planning to be the teacher we want to be, we'll end up being the teacher who just settles. Thanks for the resources, by the way. I'm definitely going to check them out! Thanks also for checking into Edutopia and the Spiral Notebook Section. See, it ends up being professional development for us to read comments on our own articles as well. Take care!
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

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