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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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Leanne Ferreri's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard this comment, I might be able to retire from teaching after only 9 years. Of course, I wouldn't, because I love every single heart-warming, frustrating, exhilarating, achingly satisfying moment that comes with doing what we do....preparing our youth to stand on their own.

I know that those of us reading this blog are nodding our heads in agreement about the irony of the phrase "two months off". I bet that if we compiled a list of all the summer duties mentioned in the comments to this blog, we'd have to re-fill the paper tray, because there wouldn't be enough in it to print the list. But, I am preaching to the choir.

The fact is, we (teachers) spend our summers getting better at teaching. I don't know that I've ever heard a business-person say, "I'm taking some time off so that I can improve my marketing skills". This is not to knock business-people, but to put in perspective what our jobs entail. Most (if not all) of my non-teaching friends clock out each day at 5:00 pm and do not even think about their jobs until the next day at 9:00 am. Meanwhile, I am still struggling with how I handled one of my brightest students (I teach at a community college) telling me she was pregnant and leaving school four months ago. (Should I simply council and not advise? Should I let her know my true, real feelings....that she shouldn't leave school, that she is way too smart to give up her education, that I wasn't disappointed in her and I wanted to help her make the best of her situation???) Caring, worrying, and life-touching doesn't end every day at 5:00 pm.

So, yes, I might spend a little more time "depositing" into my "sleep, rejuvenation, and self-care" bank this summer, but believe me, I will already be overdrawn a few weeks into the semester.....and I'll still have hundreds of students who need me to help them stand on their own.

Brandi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are no other professions where vacations are treated with such contempt from others.

No one else in my family is in the teaching profession. When I say that I am off to a summer class, or am talking about work for graduate school, or discussing meetings I've recently attended, I get the unsympathetic "boo hoo" from MY OWN FAMILY who feels as though I have no right to complain. It's funny, though, that when I compare my salary to theirs, they wouldn't trade their much-higher pay for the lesser pay I receive for "dealing with other people's kids all day"! How amusing is that?!?!

We are teachers because we love what we do, not because of having our summers off! Although, it is nice... ;-)

Dana's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Don't forget all the strangers' children whom we reprimand at the store - "watch your mouth", "take off your hat inside the building", and "use your words". :)

Scott's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teachers are whiny babies! You are always crying that you don't make enough money, yet you work 8 months out of the year. (2 weeks off at Christmas, 1 week of at Easter, plus other assorted holidays) Average salary for a teacher in my areas is 40k per year, which is pretty good for 8 months of work. Also, you are always crying about having to work more hours and grade papers. Boo hoo! Do you know how many people have to work overtime and don't get crap for it. Suck it up!

Maria Kontogiannis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first blogging experience as well. I think we definitely need the time off to relax and get our energy back for September. Our summers are kept busy with us trying to prepare for the new school year. We develop new ideas and projects, get the classrooms ready in August, buy school supplies and furniture, and attend workshops. I also started to pursue my Master's this summer.

Eric's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree, summers are not off. Since I have become a teacher I have worked harder in the summers than ever before. Not only am I spending time gathering information for a new year, and attending required and voluntary workshops, but I am also working a summer job. It is ironic however, that in a teachers vacation, it is not unheard of for administration to set up and require a training or workshop. In any other profession that would be an outrage. All you teachers know what I am talking about. We just go and participate. We understand that it will be better for the students if we better ourselves. Teaching is the love of learning after all.

E's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I want to live in the area that you are. I don't know of any district that only works eight months of the year. In my area, we work ten months of the year (student contact days), plus, during our "vacations," spend several weeks in workshops and trainings. Most of the teachers in my building work a minimum of ten hours per day during the week, plus spend one of the days during the weekend planning and prepping. You are welcome for teachers wanting to create the best environment for your children. If you are still thinking that teachers have it made, maybe you should make a career change. It will be the most difficult, yet rewarding career you have ever attempted.

Laurie Chvatal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with those who are the teachers. Let's not forget that the last day of school is not our last. We need to stay and take down our clasrooms, label everything and move them out. I am lucky enough to have a closet in my room and don't have to take everything home. The first day of school is not our first day, in Maryland, we report a week before the students, have professional development and have two days in our rooms to prep if we are lucky. Most of the teacher at my school go in before the required day to set up on our own time. Don't you just love how the students get a four day weekend, and teachers get a two or three day weekend depending on what is scheduled. For Yom Kippur, the students just had a 4 day weekend, fri and mon off, and teachers had to report on fri for professional development, and we got monday off. One of my students came back all excited because he went to Disney World in Florida for the four day weekend. I wish I could go to Disney World! I don't know about you, but I spend most of my weekends bringing work home and grading it, or planning for upcoming projects, etc. We now have an online grading system in my district and it is pain, we have all kinds of kinks and problems. So, I basically end up inputing grades on the weekends as well. I spend my summers cleaning up things in my classroom, and then cleaning up stuff in my house that get neglected during the school year, and travel with students for 3 weeks in the summer. When it comes down to it, I only have about 2 weeks total vacation. I don't know about your area, but it seems that our summer vacations keep getting shorter and shorter. We seem to start school earlier and get out later.

Mildred Y. Faison's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I realized a while ago how limited time is for teachers and how overwhelmed they are, so I'm doing an Action Research on prep time. Feel free to e-mail me with your response.

My name is Mildred Y. Faison. I'm a graduate student enrolled in the Master's of Arts in Teaching at Stony Brook University. This survey is for a student presentation in the Graduate course: Foreign Language Acquisition-FLA 540. The course fulfills one of the requirements for The Secondary School Initial Teacher Certification. FLA 540 is being taught this fall of 2009 by Professor Sarah Jourdain at Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY.
The purpose of this survey is to find out whether there is a correlation between the amount of Higher Education teachers have, the number of years they've been teaching, and the length of time they spend daily preparing for lessons.
1-This is an anonymous survey.
Gender
a- Male
b- Female
2- In which state do you teach?
__________________________
3- What is your highest level of education?
__________________________
4- What is your teacher preparation background?
Check all that apply:
a- Associate's degree
b- Bachelor's degree
c- Master's degree
d- Post-master's degree
1-Amount of credits
i. Less than 15 credits
ii. Above 15 credits
iii. Above 30 credits
e- Doctorate
f- Provisional Certification
g- Initial certification
h- Dual certification
i- Specialized training
Do you teach in primary or secondary schools?_____________________________________________________
What grades do you/did you teach? _________________________________________
_________________________________________
5- Amount of teaching years __________________________
6- What subject(s) do you teach?

7- How many preps do you do daily?

8- Do you see a difference between the amount of time you spent doing preps at the beginning of your teaching career and now?
If yes, how different is it now?

If no, state why?

9-Do you have any time for personal leisure activities during the school year?
a- No
b- If yes, how often are you able to engage in these activities?
1- Several times a week
2- Once a week
3- Monthly
4- Several times a year
5- More than once a year, but rarely
10- Does prep time limit your time spent with friends and family?
a- No
b- Yes, how often?
1- Almost always
2- Often
3- Sometimes
4- Rarely
11- When it comes to lesson plans, what advice would you give to people entering the teaching field?
1-__________
2- __________
3-__________
The following questions refer to time spent in your school building preparing outside of school hours.
12- How often do you prepare for lessons before classes begin?
__________________________________________________
13- How early do you come to school to prepare for lessons?
a- An hour
b- Two hours
c- More than two hours
14- How often do you stay after school hours preparing for lessons?
____________________________________
15- How late do you stay after school hours preparing for lessons?

Please feel free to add additional comments pertaining to job responsibilities done outside of school hours.

Jennifer Pawlitsch's picture

I couldn't agree with this sentiment more. As my school nears the holiday break (13 days-but who's counting?!?), I cannot wait to take the small amount of free time that I will have to regroup and prepare for second semester. Not all that break time will be mine and mine alone-I have a basketball team that needs their coach in order to practice, my Walden University coursework to focus on, 75 book projects to grade, etc. etc.
Summer vacation is even more hectic what with teaching summerschool, language arts curriculum mapping meetings, grad. school, and a part-time job at a retail store to try and make a bit of extra money. If I am able to sneak away for a long weeked it is a miracle. The truth of the matter is, though, I wouldn't have it any other way. I thrive on a full schedule-I have too many ideas, and too much energy and passion for my career to be just a bystander and not an active participant. I suppose I just wish that others not in the education field could see this and not think of us as 8-3PM, 9 month employees but instead as the hardworking, 365 day a year professionals that we really are.

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