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The Myth of Having Summers Off

| 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!

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Comments (172)

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Jenn, It was not my intention

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It was not my intention to come off whining; we wouldn't do it if we didn't enjoy it. It's a labor of love!:)

Are you kidding me? Cry us

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Are you kidding me? Cry us all a river with your tales of prep and planning. Join the real world of employment where people start work at 5 or 6 in the morning and do not get to hightail out of the parking lot at 3:30 or quarter to 4 every afternoon (I see it every day as I pick up my grade 11 student). Two weeks at Christmas (trust me my kids' teachers aren't marking or prepping during that time and have admitted as much to the kids as they are away in Mexico!!), a week or so off during March break, and yes, two flipping months off in the summer. I know enough teachers to know they are on vacation (if you are doing all those things you've listed you are by farrrrrrrr the exception to the rule). Now let's talks about the nice hefty pension you get upon retirement on top of what is a pretty nice salary in the interim. Try being a writer, a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a garbage person....then the work never stops. Not to mention the fact that the educational career has become a catch basin for anyone and everyone who isn't quite sure what they want to do in this life and thinks teaching college is the way to go. The result of that are sub-standard teachers who are guiding children from text-books and the internet, without a clue what the art of teaching requires. A good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold, but even still they get a lot of holidays. Truth be told.

And let's not forget the

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And let's not forget the hours spent before and after school plus week-ends that are put in just to keep up with grading, plan a new project, participate in a pilot program, sponsor a club activity after school, coach a sport, and of course the list goes on and on. That said, those "off summer hours" and during school vacations are logged during the school year. People who make such comments have never sat on the teacher's side of the desk. The classroom takes on a whole different look from that perspective. As was mentioned in the article, even if people did that as a sub I think they would be amazed at the 360 degree bombardment to the senses at every given minute of the actual school day. Of course that part of it we signed up for and knew what we were getting into with our eyes wide open. Most of us thrive on that aspect once we acclimate to it.

Pamela glad I could make

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Pamela glad I could make someone laugh. You don't sound like someone who would get the VVs........that's the disease that causes one to become a VV. LOL!!!!!!

I love the comment "it is what I choose to do while life goes on"!!!!

Being a special ed teacher I know exactly what you mean by looking at anecdotals etc to see how to help the students the next year. I do all of that.....I just do it in August. I think that's part of the reason I can wait until August is because we have 24 hour access to the school. While most teachers have to lug work home and work at home we can work at school. It's quiet and I get more accomplished and don't have to wait in line for the copy machine!! If it's a rainy Saturday you can find me in my classroom. Sunny days? NEVER. My church is right around the corner from the school so many Sundays after church I can be found at school. I actually enjoy my time at the school on weekends. I blast my music (if no one else on my hall is there), I bring lunch or snacks......oh my goodness it suddenly occured to me that maybe I don't have a life!!!!!! LOL!!!!!! Just joking, I do have a life but I choose to be most active in life during the summer.

I forgot to mention that I haven't lived in America for the past 11 years. So a lot of my summer time is also spent reconnecting with family and friends back in the states. With everyone fighting for my time I never have time to think about work. It'll be there in August which is when I work 60 hours plus for the three weeks before school opens. It is all worth it to have the summer to myself.

It seems like our summers are just what we want them to be. For the others out there who can't seem to find the joy in your summer or those who feel you HAVE to work I hope that you can find some quiet time to reflect and rethink your strategy for summers. For all teachers out there I wish you a summer that will leave you refreshed and ready for a new year filled with fun and surprises. J.

Excellent philosophy!

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Excellent philosophy!

Jay, There are parts of your

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There are parts of your response that I really like. At first I thought that your comment about not thinking about school until August 1 was pure genius. I'm going to try to remember the "venomous veterans" bit! That made me laugh. I have to say that we teachers shouldn't do anything that we HAVE to do during the summer, like taking on other teaching jobs, painting our own rooms, taking or teaching more classes/seminars, or learning new technology.

But I have to admit that the first thing I do during summer break is peruse my anecdotal notes to consider changes for next year. I worry a little over the student who didn't make as much progress as I hoped she would... and I begin to wonder what I can do to provide more help next year.

I gather my stack of the latest reading on best practices and new research. I read a LOT of other books during the summer (trashy romances, griping murder mysteries, and on...), but my MUST read list is mostly geared toward teaching.

My summer is never JUST for me... I take that back! I've wanted to be a teacher since about my second week in Kindergarten. No lie! This is what I love. It isn't my LIFE, it's just what I choose to DO while my life goes on. I work during the summer... when the spirit moves me, and don't consider that to be an imposition into my "real" life.

So I can't just put teaching on hold during summer vacation. Yes, it is a vacation. I don't have to be anywhere on time, I don't have endless meetings to attend, I don't have playground duty.

I DO have to attend to where my next year will take me. Two months is just enough time to prepare for 10 months of work with a bunch of 12 - 14 year old students; it is just enough time to think about it all in a leisurely way, on my schedule. Which allows me some time to travel, read, listen to baseball games, cook, hang out with my grandkids, and watch nature outside my window.

I think the writer of the original article was trying to make some kind of point. I've been teaching for 27 years, and I've NEVER known a teacher to take on as much summer work as the writer described. That seems crazy to me! I agree that I have to take care of myself in order to be good for the kids. I just don't agree that that means I should NEVER think about my job during the summer.


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I worked hard, went to college, had a great time, graduated and worked in my field for 2 years before getting into a severe car accident that left my whole right side paralyzed. Now I'm forced to live on disability. Thats 9,000 a year. Live off that, pay your bills, then come to me and complain about your 35K. I'll trade you lives and salary!

Drama/Language Arts Tutor/ Yoga Teacher (all ages)

I don't think there is upward

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I don't think there is upward mobility in teaching -- unless you change your track and become an administrator, and then you are no longer teaching. I think $38,000 is a pretty crappy salary -- I have read that studies show that people are happiest at around $50,000/year after that increases in salary don't increase happiness that much. I think your friends are right, if you envy them so much, why don't you take up the cause and become a teacher.

3rd Grade Teacher and Founder of Luria Learning

What I do before summer starts . . .

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Summer is when I plan for next year and take stock of what has worked and not worked. I get ready to do that my thinking about where I am. Here is an article I wrote about getting ready for the end of the year and organizing things before packing up!


Myth-interpreted Myths

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I disagree.
*I don't work summer school because those years that I did, it left me too frazzled when the new year began. It's not about the money; I've learned to live within my means.

*Please. I've worked curriculum in the summer as well. We ran on banker's hours and we only met for about a week.

*I am going to rewrite some lessons and course work over the summer, too, and I am going to love sitting around, drinking, and working at my own pace. I love the fact that I have the summer off so I can take my time.

*I don't train new teachers. That way I can have my summer off. Sounds like you have taken on work and are trying to make it sound like your workload is typical. It's not. I help new teachers during the school year, not during the summer.

*If you explore your own professional development, that's great. That's a choice. My school district gives us a list and we are expected to pick from it. I don't have a choice, but I also have the summer off.

*I don't stagger into the summer. Most teachers don't really barely survive the school year. Now, this is a myth. All I need is about 2 days' worth of sleep and I'm ready to go again. There are no wounds to lick. I think most teachers make excuses about what a chore it is to move desks and shelves around. I moved my desks around every week the entire year. When I walk by teachers' rooms, they have 2 setups. Groups and rows. I have 15 different set ups. When the school year begins, I love going into my room to see what I'm going to come up with.

I think any job is stressful. Ours is no different or more unique. We are no different than anyone else; we don't get to call ourselves teachers and everyone else a civilian. When I was in the military, we were soldiers and you all were definitely civilians. Huge difference.

I take the summers off. Yes, I do a few things that are school related but I do more that is not. I read for pleasure; I garden; I ride my bike; I take my dog on hour-long walks at state parks; I play my guitar; I go out drinking and dancing with friends; I stay up really late; I get up really early; I spend hours watching the clouds roll by in my hammock. People would kill to have what I have in the summer. Yes, I'm a teacher, and, yes, I get summers off, and, yes, I love it.

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