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The Myth of Having Summers Off

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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"So you're a teacher, huh?" says the umpteenth Joe Know-It-All. It's late spring, and I know the tone, and I know what's coming. "Must be nice having summers off," he sneers.

I don't know what mythical job this guy thinks I have, but I've never had a summer off.

9 Education-Related Summer Tasks

I don't know who started this legend of the well-rested teacher who sits around all summer long sippin' sangrias without a thought of prepping for the year before them, but I've never met those teachers -- if they even exist.

Bottom line is that every year since entering teaching (I am a second-career teacher, having come from The World Beyond), I have seen some of the busiest summer months of my life. For many of us, this is for a variety of reasons:

1. We work summer school.

Let's face it, who doesn't need the moola? So that’s a few hours a day that we still spend with students, as well as the hours we spend prepping for those classes. There are enrichment classes to be taught, as well as credit recovery classes and RTI classes that are high stakes to many and often filled with students who resent having to be there. Not relaxing. Furthermore, you generally are displaced from your own classroom and your own toolbox, so we set up a new learning environment for a whole new slew of students that we'll only have for a month or so.

2. We attend department and curriculum meetings.

This summer, many of us are working on developing or revising the grade level mock-Common Core Performance Tasks for our districts. We might be finding multimedia text sets and developing a choice of prompts in an attempt to prepare our new students using current teacher-developed assessments.

3. We improve on our curriculum.

Lessons and units that may have proven to be dusty, clunky, or just downright "meh" get reworked, revised, or dumped altogether.

4. We curate and develop libraries of new lessons.

We spend time finding inspiration for new lessons, researching resources that will work for the students to come. For instance, all year long, from Sept to June, I fill a file on my desktop of resources, headlines, and links that I plan to sift through over the summer for lesson inspiration. I go through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, readers, and blogrolls. Summertime is when I develop project-based learning units to save myself much-needed time during the actual school year.

5. We learn the new technology or curriculum programs purchased by our schools.

Sometimes, we leave for summer laden with newly-adopted curriculum that we want to understand before the start of school. Additionally, many of us are now being asked to pilot or adopt anything from a class set of iPads to a class set of Chromebooks, and it takes brainstorming procedures ahead of time for these newly adopted technologies to be used as deeply and efficiently as they can be.

6. We write, blog, or comment.

We maintain our 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. We continue our own professional development or help run others.

We take classes, attend webinars, and develop PD to share our expertise. I, for one, find myself participating in more Twitter conversations or Google Hangouts during the summer months. It's a 24-7-365 education conference out there!

8. We set up our classroom environments for the next year.

Remember that kitchen scene in Poltergeist? The one where the table and chairs are stacked to the ceiling? Well, that's what greets us when we arrive in August to set up our rooms. Needless to say, that's not what greets the students days later. A great classroom that's ready to go by the first day of school does not magically happen. And it rarely happens during the day or two before school starts for which we are contractually paid. Nope, we have to come in over the summer or come in early (assuming the office staff will give us the key) to make our classroom the awesome place it can be. Those days are filled with you moving student desks from the pile in the middle of the room, putting up your bulletin boards, shoving shelves back into place, and tracking down furniture that somehow ended up in some other teacher's room.

9. I heal and recharge my batteries.

It's true. By the end of the year, teachers are limping toward vacation. And by the end of summer school, the mythical two months suddenly really only amounts to three weeks to plan, prep, learn, tweak, scab over, and (yes) rest.

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 every day existing at the pace of my middle school students. Frankly, I deserve some time off after that! Nevertheless, if I were being honest with myself, 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 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. You pick up props and realia to supplement your lesson plans.

Truthfully, we need the breaks we get in order to do the job that we do ten months of the year. The other two months are spent doing other equally important aspects of the job.

Civilians don't realize the toll that teaching takes on a person. Ever compared pictures of a U.S. president before his term began and after it ended? Well, teaching's kinda like that. Adult humans aren't built to spend their days with hundreds of children. It takes a lot out of an adult to have his or her antennae up so high, so often, so consistently.

And yet we have troops of people willing to return to the classroom year after year and willing to join their ranks, with no summer break, just for the honor of calling themselves teachers.

Hope you have a productive summer, a summer filled with learning, and a summer with a few moments of rest.

How are you planning on spending your summer "off?"

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Kathy Teel's picture

Are New Jersey teachers making 75K a year? That figure is a bit high, but consider also that NJ has one of the highest costs of living in the country. That's incidental, though. This article was not a complaint and included no complaints. It is simply refuting the claim that teachers get summers off. We don't. We work all summer. It may not be the same work that we do in the classroom all year, but it's work. We're not complaining about it--it's just life. But to say that we don't work is inaccurate, and the article was correcting the inaccuracies. No complaining involved.

Kathy Teel's picture

Why doesn't your district have you on a year-round pay schedule, rather than a 9 month? I didn't know any districts did that still.

Kellie Nuttall's picture

I have been teaching for over 17 years and when summer comes I need to take the first 10 days to just zone out and reconnect with my family. The last few weeks of school are very busy with graduations, field trips, last minute grades, open house, etc. Not to mention the very messy class party and dispense yearbooks. I spend my summer trying to enjoy my family. I get 12 checks here in CA. my summer is short, we do 3 weeks at Christmas due to a large segment of our population head south to Mexico to see family. It works better for our attendance. We also take a whole week for Thanksgiving too. so summer break starts June 3,4,5 ?? and starts back up Aug 10, 11, 12 . so July is a treasured month.

Josh Carlyle's picture

Well, that is a side effect of a seasonal nature of education established in the Western countries. We can debate on whether it is a right approach or not, but, in the end of the day, that is just how things work. And while students and pupils have their breaks from studies, teachers have to take on some organizational moments that can not be reached while the studies are taking place. Should teachers be compensated? Definitely yes. If they are having 1-2 weeks off in the summer they are absolutely no different than other workers in any sphere.

miamirealestate's picture

Everyone deserves to enjoy summer. Always find a way to spend time with your family during summer season. Summer is cool :)

Teacherdude's picture

I am contracted to work 10 months out of the year. I choose to take a lower paycheck throughout the year so that I can get paid during the summer months. When someone says that I have a "summer vacation," they are technically incorrect. It's non-contracted time, and I often spend it working other jobs.

Virginia Petitt's picture

Great article! A few things to add, though: to obtain the (somewhat mythical) $75,000 salary, there is a huge expenditure for college tuition--and many of the necessary classes are taken during the summer months. Also, those with salaries towards the $75,000 amount have likely devoted many (as in 20 or more) years of service at much lower pay. Many community members are surprised to learn that teachers receive NO paid vacations. If they are paid on a 12-month plan, it is because their annual salary is divided by 12 instead of 10, thereby reducing their monthly income. Much time during evenings, weekends, and even holidays is spent preparing, grading, and--since the Great Recession--even cleaning their classrooms. If by chance teachers miss a day of work for something like a home repair emergency, teachers can be docked BOTH a day's pay (annual salary divided by 190 work days) PLUS the cost of a substitute teacher.

However, as a wise person once pointed out, teaching is not a career, it is a lifestyle. For the right person, it can be the toughest job you will ever love.

Kathy Teel's picture

Every single day I am tempted to just "put in the day" and pick up my paycheck. Why not? My pay does not increase to reflect harder work or higher outcomes. Every excellent, active, research-based lesson plan, project, or program I use--decided upon after dozens of hours of research on my own time--is thrown under the administration bus of testing, the state bus of paperwork, the student bus of I-don't-give-a-crap, and the parent bus of how-dare-you-fail-my-little-darling. I don't do it, but I can't condemn teachers who do. Every day I find some reason to try AGAIN, even though experiences has shown that that there's no use. I can't not care, I don't know how to make myself not care, but if I did know how, I really might.

Katherine's picture
Seventh grade language arts teacher from Knoxville, Tennessee
Just some information about teacher salaries in your state. I'm sure teachers in New Jersey have a similar 200 day contract like me and are not paid for the summer nor for the other days off through the school year. I am paid significantly less than $75,000, but then the cost of living is much higher in New Jersey than in Tennessee. That said, the author's point here was not to complain but to educate that many teachers spend some part or all of the summer either working or planning, prepping, and taking classes. This was in response to the often snide remarks about having the summers "off." I love the teaching and the learning part of my job, and I love my students-the other stuff, not so much, but it's all part of the job. I just wish everyone would stop criticizing that which they really don't know very much about. Please respect each other and the hard work that most people put into whatever job they have. Educate yourself.

Jeff Tetreault's picture

As I have already put, this is a difficult subject for me to read about. While I am not naive to think that all teachers are "Happy Go Lucky" and attack their jobs with a passion of a thousand suns, I also did not realize the level of defeat in others. I mean no disrespect to any of you, but I am in the middle of getting a Master's in Education (and attempt at a career change). While I will not say that I am having second thoughts, I am wondering how those of you who might, battle it?

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