The Myth of Having Summers OffJuly 8, 2009 | 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!