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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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Chiwon Sadler (not verified)

Summers Off!!!!!

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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.

Lisa (not verified)

I'm in full agreement! My

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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!

Claudia (not verified)

Summer time

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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.

Dina (not verified)

Summer's Off!

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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! :)

Ragan (not verified)

There are many people who do

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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.

Jackie (not verified)

I have heard the exact same

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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."

silbestre hernandez (not verified)

Agree!!

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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!

silbestre hernandez (not verified)

I also agree with you Debbie.

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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!

Cheryl (not verified)

I wish I had summers off! Or

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I wish I had summers off! Or even a typical 8hr work day. Teachers spend so much time preparing that they work well over 40 hrs a week. If anything, teachers work more in those ten months, then most do all year long! Summers are spent planning and preparing for the following years. Yes, there may be more time and flexibility in the summer, but the hours are definately still put in!

Katy (not verified)

Yeah, right!

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I am more exhausted from the work I've done this summer than I was during the school year! Granted, I did allow for one week of vacation, but I've been working other than that; some at school, and some at home. I am teaching a new class this coming year, in addition to what I already do, and I've been planning all summer, planning with other teachers, buying supplemental books, mapping out my year, not to mention being a part of our levy committee (what has 10 community outreach activities this summer...all of which I've been attending). I've also attended different trainings, and I'm working on my 2nd Masters degree. With less than a month to go, I'm starting to panic that I won't have everything ready!! And to think I had the summer off.....HA!

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