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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


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

silbestre hernandez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also agree with you Debbie. I just completed my first of teaching, and its been one busy summer for me. I am also working on my Master's program and this alone takes quite a bit of my time. I can't imagine how much more time I would take if I was getting my Master's degree at a regular on-campus university. I am constantly working online on my degree, or working in my classroom. I have to prep for next the school year, review/revise lessons, and get my classroom setup once again!

Also, when people outside of teaching mention that we have summers off, they don't realize that we also spend a lot of extra time working on school matters during the school year. I'm pretty sure we all spend countless hours of our time prepping for our classroom and students. Teaching is a 24/7 365 days a year profession!

Jackie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have heard the exact same line about being lucky to have the summer off from family and friends. Time off? Yeah right! I did take a week off to recouperate from the end of the school year, but since then I have been working hard for next year. I just finished my first year of teaching, and I have a million things that I want to create and prepare for the upcoming year. I having been working on new games, manipulatives, and lessons all while tutoring and working at a summer camp. I take my work to the pool or outside to pretend I'm enjoying summer if possible! I work so hard for my students sake. I work in a low income school where most parents do not particularly care too much about their student's education. Even if the parents do not care, I want my students to like coming to school and put their best effort towards learning. So when I hear people say, "Hows the time off treating you?" I just chuckle to myself and say, "Its great! I am getting so much done for next year."

Ragan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are many people who do not understand what a real teacher summer looks like. I know that my husband has learned a lot about it over the past three years. He was one of those "but you have the summer off..." kind of people. But he has seen first hand that my summer consists of professional developments, lesson planning, room set up, and college assignments. He has begged me to "take some time off" and get out of town. And teachers need that time to recharge. Each year is such an engrossing experience, one needs a beginning and an end. My summers are a time of renewal and I am always focused on next year and what I can improve.

Dina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am glad to read that others are working hard over the summer as well! If I had a dollar for every person who told me I was "soooooo lucky to be off, your job is cake!", I could retire at the age of 23!! I just finished my first year teaching and was looking forward to a relaxing summer. Although it is nice, I have not stopped working. I am researching ways to change some of the areas that went wrong and find new ideas to freshen up rather boring lessons! In addition, I began my Master's and am working hard at that!

We are the teachers who are the most effective in our classrooms! Hard work does pay off and it is evident in our careers! :)

Claudia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first experience with the blogging world. I agreed with your post. So many people tell me how great my summer "break" is. In my state, school is starting in about a week. As I look back on this summer break, I find that I have not really taken a break at all. This summer, I started my Master's program. I've created additional materials for my classroom. I looked for new furniture to go in my classroom. I have created mini-offices for my students to use in math, reading, and writing. I want to make sure I start my year of strong and I need the summer to get ready.

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm in full agreement! My summers are almost as busy as the school year. I also always teach summer school. Then, it's curriculum development, meetings, PLU classes, and working on lessons for the new year. During the year, I teach an after school program 3 days a week, and remediation classes the other 2 days.
I especially like your comment about some of the summer time healing from wounds. No one could keep up with the daily demands without a break. I never feel guilty when someone says, "Oh, so how does it feel to be off for two months?" I use it as an opportunity to let them know how I'll spend it doing more school work, and as for the little bit of time I'll have as actual vacation, how much I deserve it!

Chiwon Sadler's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I could not have said it better myself. I am a middle school teacher in Buffalo, NY taking graduate classes at Walden U. I work 180 days a year, at a trimemster school. We are in session September - November, January through March and May-July. Sounds nice huh? Well we offer intersession labs to prepare students for NYS ELA testing, sports programs and practice, as well as other labs to offer parents a place to bring their students when school is not in session.

So, as you stated, summers are spent reflecting and preparing for next school year, training for new teachers and a host of other non-instructional yet vital duties.

If you are an effective teacher, you are a reflective teacher. If your are a reflective teacher you lick your wounds, bask in your successes and keep your mind on what you can improve on for the upcoming year. Summer is relaxing in the sense that you don't have students all day but it is just as busy.

I love what I do. There is nothing I would rather do other than teach, however, it is a 365-day, 24-hour position. Summers off are just a small bonus, if you actually get them.

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". :)

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