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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 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!

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

Rosemarie Schaut's picture
Rosemarie Schaut
English, ESL and A P Literature and Composition Teacher Ridgway, PA

I have scored 1,200 essays since my summer "vacation" started. I flew to Louisville, KY to take part in the A P Literature Scoring. Over 2,400 English teachers gathered there to score 1,300,000 essays in 8 days. Last summer I was required to creat an online "Blended School" curriculum that took me all summer. The summer before that, I was both finishing up my Master's in Curriculum and Instruction, and attending one of three week long A P Summer Institutes. The summer before that, I was getting ESL certified. And the summer before that I was working on my "Master's Equivalency" credits. I have only listed formal training.

I also have to continually update my Curriculum Mapping, Act 48 hours, plan and study the data for PA State Testing, learn what is coming with Keystone Exams, study the Common Core Standards -- always something new. In addition, I need to reread the new books added to my curriculum. There is a huge difference between reading "Life Of Pi" for pleasure, and reading it to prepare to teach. I also keep in touch online with next year's A P Literature students who are working on their Summer Reading/Research Projects.

In 23 years of teaching, I have only taken one "summer off" and that was the summer following my husband's death in an automobile accident when my son was 5. I spent that summer moving and interviewing for a new teaching position, instead. The following summer, I obtained my Vet. Assistant certification so that I could start my own Pet Sitting business to support my income. I love what I do, but yes, it is exhausting. It is because the career of teaching being so consuming that I chose to have only one child. Since my son is now in college, I am able to stay at school to get my work done unstead of leaving before I am really ready, to pick him up at day care.

I find myself putting in 10 + hour days in my classroom on a regular basis. Frequently it is dark out as I am leaving the building at 5:30 or 6pm. (We start school at 7:15am.) I have no regrets, but I do become angry when people think I leave at 3:30pm and that I "have my summers off". 1,200 essays before the end of June is not "free time". I plan to return to Louisville next summer to do this, again. Yes, it's work. Yes, it's exhausting. No, it's not a "beach vacation" . . . but it is what "good teachers do" and there are a lot of us out there.

N.Krauss's picture

Someone I know made a derogatory post about teachers and other civil servants. This was my reply:

Teaching is the profession that creates all other professions. It is the only situation I can think of where a parent will happily and readily hand their child over to a stranger and know they are safe, and mold their little minds in ways you can't.. As time goes on, teachers have as much influence over your child as you do and by around 12, more. Teachers must get their masters, and keep going and going and going. They must pass four state exams, take countless hours of classes in child protection, safety, and more. We spend summers in school or working. (Not everyone who teaches earns 100K- only those who have been teaching for years and years AND have post graduate degrees and credits and more) They are required to accumulate mega hours of professional development. The work day is not 9-5, if school starts at 9, we are in at 8 and out at 6. Why? Because we counsel, tutor, mentor, prepare lessons, coordinate after school, have department meetings, and more. When we go home we grade papers, research topics, draft lesson plans according to Bloom's Taxonomy (you try it) with the goal of facilitating higher order thinking skills so your little darlings will be able to face the countless challenges coming their way, We teach life lessons, content, concepts. A social studies teacher teaches: geography, geology, anthropology, archeology, sociology, psychology, literacy, criminology, economics, education, linguistics, political science and international relations, history, civics, and law. We are responsible for educating the future leaders yet you do not respect us...... We deserve more money, yes. And we deserve a little more respect for who we are and what we do.... just sayin...

Jenn's picture

Dear N. Krauss,

I find so much objectionable about your self-serving statements, I'm not sure where to start. My husband and I were my children's first teachers - the best ones, albeit, not the last. I have never handed my children over happily and readily as you suggest, but with hopes that the teacher we do hand her over to will espouse the same morals and lessons that I would teach them at home. As I have always maintained a good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold. That having been said, so many, are not worth even the salary I pay them. As my grade eleven student has so aptly figured things out, teachers are often mediocre though you can't always call them on it - because my 17 year old is not a cookie cutter kid and is a higher "out of the box" thinker, many teachers are not prepared for her. How unfair to so many students that they have to depend on the limitations of a teachers' perspectives, experiences, and overall knowledge, in order to grade their English papers, history papers, philosophy papers, etc. Because these aren't subjects of math where the answer is right or wrong, kids are subject to the whims of their teachers - both their personal whims and their teaching prowess. Accordingly, what I teach my girls is that people in authority to make decisions (or grade papers) do not always make the right decisions. I am digressing here, but my point is too many teachers when challenged start blowing their horns about their countless hours of research and prep and learning. Every position I know of requires a little extra commitment,paid or not, that is how our jobs advance on every level. Try being a writer. Don't get me started with the unpaid research and overtime. You don't wanna go there. And please don't refer to my child, your student, as my little "darling". That is derogatory, insulting, and speaks volumes of how you actually view your students, as undeserving pets you're hindered by. When they are in your classroom, they are your charges, yes, that is what we, taxpayers, pay you for. But please do not go so far as to try to compare your brief commitment to teaching my child with a lifetime of my mentoring (including the most crucial first five foundational years). Don't even dare. Yes, you get too much bloody time off. I'm not jealous of this fact. I'm just tired of you making excuses for this expensive (paid by me) perk. So get of your soap box about your unheralded commitment and hard work and all of your other merits. And by the way, the MOTHER AND FATHER, not the teacher, provide for all other occupations to exist. Don't ever get that confused again. As a mother, I am a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a scientist, a tutor, a mentor, a psychologist, a social worker,a taxi driver, a sports coach, a housekeeper, a lawyer, a referee, a police officer, a pharmacist...and in 17 years, I don't remember receiving one pay cheque in compensation and certainly not two months off in the summer. However, I have raised and mentored one heck of a good kid-- now get off your high pedantic pedestal and do right by her. Just sayin'

Kim - 46662's picture

Teachers are not in the "real world of employment"? Such an irresponsible statement to make in a forum of people dedicated to education. I used to think like you (well, not quite so much) during the first part of my career life at NASA...then I switched to teaching. Sure, there are good and bad teachers as with any other profession but I must admit, teachers, you certainly have a challenging job. I admire you greatly. Enjoy your summer! I certainly will.

Apposite's picture

@ Kim - I used to think that way too and believe it's more common than we want to admit. Talk about a reality check though when I did begin teaching!

Jenn's picture

Hi Kim,

I am sorry you perceived my response as angry. Perhaps that over-sensitivity is where the initial problem starts when people merely comment how lovely it is that teachers get so much vacation time. All the best.

Dawn Lynch's picture


You fail to think of the teachers who are also parents (like myself) that do all of those things you do (I stayed home for those first 5 yrs, worked 3rd shift AND instructed my children) and received NO PAY. And then, joined the ranks of teachers and do most of those things the writer mentioned for LITTLE pay. There are good and bad practititioners in ALL professions...teachers bear the brunt of crtiticisms because we serve all children (includng the ones from bad parents--there are those too) and any reasonable person would see it is very difficult to get into 180 minds on a daily basis....the BEST change comes from within. You sound like someone with lots of great ideas--how about joining instead of complaining?? You might be able to reach more than just your own.

Kim - 46662's picture

[quote]Hi Kim,

I am sorry you perceived my response as angry. Perhaps that over-sensitivity is where the initial problem starts when people merely comment how lovely it is that teachers get so much vacation time. All the best.[/quote]

A mere comment is easy to swallow...a tirade replete with insults is quite another. Anyway, no problem, you have a right to say what you want. I just felt the need to say that as a first year teacher, teachers don't deserve that kind of lashing, especially now that I've been in their shoes for a full year. I'm an upstander, what can I say? ;)

I have experienced what that job entails and I've never had a job where I had to make hundreds of split second decisions and detours with students and administrators at such a fast pace day after day. Safe to say, my stamina is kicking! Jenn, seriously, you should try it if you have the option. You've already indicated that you feel passionate about education. It opened my eyes so much to how students learn today versus how I learned in the 80s. I promise at the end of the year, you won't say, "Hey, I get too much vacation time".

Oh, by the way, you made a comment about having to pay for teachers' summer vacations. That's erroneous. See, they opt to get their 10-month pay out OR deduct income from their 10-month work schedule to cover a 12-month pay out. So we're only being paid for 10 months, no worries.

Jenn's picture


I don't mean to kick a dead dog, but I will respond yet again. What you consider a tirade was a rebuttal to some outlandish statements made by another writer. In a public forum of dialogue, that is acceptable. I am not anti-teacher. I took abundant time out of my schedule to nominate a phenomenal one for a national award (Canada). I will never not give credit where credit is due. What I cannot tolerate are whiny teachers who seem to think their positions are so much more demanding than others and who will not admit to their perks. Celebrate your summers and breaks off, just don't pretend they don't exist. Having an over-achieving honours student in Grade 11 who has to constantly challenge some (not all) of her teachers to get results, and a grade 8 student who has been in a self-contained gifted class for the last four years who has had to endure mediocre teaching presented as something much superior, I have a growing list of frustrations with teachers who are just putting in the day, the week, and then picking up their pay cheques and racing out of the parking lot so quickly at 3:45 I cannot reach them on the phone to speak with them. There are AMAZING and UNFORGETTABLE teachers who are commendable. And some...not so much. The list of examples I could provide of consistently inadequate behaviour and skills would be lengthy and depending on one's mood, also humourous. I find myself often having to pick up the slack for these teachers on my time with my kids. By the way, a pro-rated pay allotment for the summer months is still payment. Hey, we have a new show in Canada called Mr. D, a satirical look at an underachieving teacher. Can't tell you how many occasions my older daughter has commented with a smile on her face that the character's irresponsible behaviour mirrors that which she sees at high school on a consistent basis. All the best.

David's picture
Currently working on an MAT in Biology, Chemistry, and General Science

I just have few comments without getting nasty. 1) If you think teachers are overpaid AND mediocore, how do you suggest increasing teacher quality at the current pay scale? If you cut pay to what you consider a reasonable rate, there are a lot of teachers that might just opt to leave the profession to be store managers and such. We have to pay off those student loans somehow. 2) I appreciate that you have above-average kids. I do, too. The problem is that teachers have to find someway to reach a broad range of kids (literally from genius I.Q.s to mentally rretarded I.Q.s) in the same classes. At least that's the way it is around here. So, no matter how you present the material, some kids are going to be bored to death and some aren't going to understand it because its way over their heads. Project based learning is supposed to take care of that. However, in my experience that lands you right back in the land of subjective grading that you seem to have a serious problem with.

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