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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

Day one of "Summer Vacation" --

Had my oil changed (I do not have time to do this on school days b/c I do not leave my school building until after "Express Lube" closes;

culled my online book selling inventory and reorganized the books that I sell (for much-needed extra income);

began my online course -- one of the courses I am teaching next year, a Junior English course (British and World Literature) needs to be placed online for non-traditional students in our district, which meant I needed to "plan out" my first lesson on The Kite Runner;

looked up web-sites for SAT Preparation -- I am teaching a new SAT elective next school year and need to create my Curriculum Map and identify the "Big Ideas" for this new course;

began reading "Life Of Pi" -- I read this novel once for pleasure, but I have added it to my A P Literature curriculum for next year, so I now need to read it "to teach" which is a different animal, altogether;

made dinner for my family -- I have not done this in weeks as I have been attending student drama performances, senior banquets, baseball playoff games, and proms in the evenings,instead;

read Part I of "The Hunger Games" -- I am introducing this novel in conjunction with 1984 to a General level of Seniors next year (I also need to reread 1984 -- haven't read it since college);

signed up for E-Chalk and Blended training at the end of June in my district;

contacted my Supt. Office to make sure my Master's Course grades from last semester were received;

read the latest Newsweek to see if any of the articles can be used next year for PSSA Remediation classes that I will also be teaching (there is an article on Climate Change by Sharon Begley that I think I may be able to use!);

logged into this site to see what was new -- found this article, and decided to share the first day of my "vacation" with you.

And yes, after a full year of teaching, coaching students for Rotary Speech contests, PA State testing, SAP (Student Assistance Drug and Alcohol / Mental Health Referral Team participation), Advanced Placement rigor, and 3 different levels of Juniors, over 45 IEP reports, Team Teaching of Special Needs students, Writing-Across-the -Curriculum goals, and 2 grad classes during the year, involving an elaborate research proposal and project, I found my first day of "vacation" quite relaxing and enjoyable! ;-)

Laureen Hunt's picture
Laureen Hunt
Fourth grade teacher, San Jose, CA

I'm not sure why teachers feel a need to defend their summers off. We do our 12 months in 10. We work like crazy in the evening and on weekends. We deserve the time off, and I think it should be seen as "comp" time.

Laureen Hunt's picture
Laureen Hunt
Fourth grade teacher, San Jose, CA

I'm not sure why teachers feel a need to defend their summers off. We do our 12 months in 10. We work like crazy in the evening and on weekends. We deserve the time off, and I think it should be seen as "comp" time.

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

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!

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