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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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Comments (175)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Yelba Zoe Osorio's picture
Yelba Zoe Osorio
Drama/Language Arts Tutor/ Yoga Teacher (all ages)

I have to say in considering going into teaching, the summer off thing has never even entered my mind. What has are the low wages in comparison to that amount of education and degrees one must acquire and the lack of belief (in and out of the field) that this is the most important profession in life.

Most teachers are women, and women still get paid 77 cents to the male dollar. Teaching seems like a thankless job, and teacher salaries should start at around $50,000. I believe a huge problem is that women do not demand what they are really worth, and since most teachers are still women it just follows that we are not getting fired up about really demanding what is just.

It's just too bad that the woman in the scenario felt that she had to defend her time-off - what are we not doing that we feel we do not deserve more as teachers and woman - as nurturers? Is it not about time we ask for what we have given?

Kim - 46662's picture

[quote]This will be my first summer off as a teacher. I work at a school district that just changed from year round to 9 months. I am interested to see if I will enjoy having my summer's off.[/quote]

I agree, Jake. My second year. I enjoy the respite in the summer and you will, too. Sure I do professional reading, planning, and teach a week-long course in August but, to be honest, it doesn't feel like work at all. It's far less stressful than the things I did when I had only a 2-week vacation working in the business sector. Far less. So when someone says, "summers off must be nice" I just say, "It is!"

dennisar's picture

[quote]
Let's just say, that I never chose my profession based on the time I spend away from it. I chose it because of the time I get to spend IN it.[/quote]

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

It is impossible to "prepare well" for the following year while teaching in the previous one -- especially if the following year brings sweeping changes in curriculum or scheduling. My school requires all teachers to sponsor a club and also to have Professional Development goals which involve outside training. We are also required to arrive before the students and stay for office hours after the students leave. I do not know what grades or subjects you teach, but I teach English and bring a lot of paperwork home as a result. It is not because I am wasting time during my work day. I do not, cannot grade papers while I am teaching. I also cannot prepare for new novels one year that will be taught the next. I only get a prep every OTHER day,and usually spend that time running copies (no secretary to do that for us), calling parents, typing up an IEP report or a College recommendation, coaching a speech student, covering for another teacher, or attending a meeting, etc. This means that my planning, grading, and keeping up with online lesson planning, online notes to parents and students, and next year, an online course, all takes place after school hours.

Samantha's picture

I'm not denying that teachers work hard, but there are plenty of non-teachers who also come in early, work late, work weekends and take work home without compensation, and receive 2 weeks of vacation every year.

Jay's picture

For me teaching is fun and I love to do it. During the school year many of my weekends are spent at the school in my classroom. Many days I don't leave work until six or seven. I am okay with that. That's what it takes for me to do the job and do it well. But summers are mine.

The first two weeks of summer I sleep until 11 or noon each day. Get up fix a cup of coffee and read a good book that has nothing to do with work or kids literature. I do all of my required doctor visits and car repairs......all scheduled for late afternoons. I go out to dinner with friends because I don't cook. I accept all social invitations that come along. By the third week I begin to travel. This summer I will explore Italy with a side trip to Jordan. For several summers I volunteered in Ghana, West Africa with Cross Cultural Solutions. I volunteer in schools if I get there early enough or in the villages when I get there after school is finished. This summer I am going to Costa Rica but haven't decided if I will volunteer when I am there or just lay on the beach for three weeks. After my vacation I return home and do some more relaxing and reconnecting with friends and family. I am an Oprah junkie so I read all 9 of the Oprah magazines that have piled up and gathered dust on my desk during the school year. I read trashy novels or self-help crap that I will never be able to follow through on but it's mindless reading. I overeat and exercise to fight off the effects of all the overeating. It's about this time....eight weeks into the vacation that I actually allow myself to start thinking about work. But if it's still July I simply force myself to think about something else. I am not allowed to think about school until August 1st. That is a rule I never break. No school work or even thoughts of school until August. August is when I start preparing for the upcoming school year. If I can't prepare in three weeks then it is time to quit.

My philosophy when it comes to summer vacations is that I can't take care of the kids unless I take care of myself. I have to refresh and renew my mind. I don't want to whine and complain about how I can't have a regular summer because it will make me bitter......even if it is subconscious bitterness it will flow into my work. When school starts on August 20 something I will be there with a smile on my face with genuine excitement and happiness ready for a new group kids and a new set of problems. My energy will be renewed and my mind will be rested.

I have been in teaching long enough to see what happens when teachers don't "take care of themselves first". They become what we jokingly call "venemous veterans". VVs have nothing good to say about the kids, the school or the parents. They are just bitter. I will quit before that happens to me! The only way to fight off the VV status is to take good care of yourself and manage your time wisely.

So when someone says "It must be nice to have summers off" I give them a huge smile and say "YES IT IS LOVELY". When the kids ask about my summer I have a nice slide show for all to see! Then we are off to another fast paced crazy year!!! I LOVE IT!

Andres's picture

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.

Yelba Zoe Osorio's picture
Yelba Zoe Osorio
Drama/Language Arts Tutor/ Yoga Teacher (all ages)

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.

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