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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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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Hi Jeff-
I think the most important thing to remember is that you only hear a small slice of perspectives online and (in my experience) it skews negative sometimes. :-) I've worked in and with schools since 1993 and the vast majority of teachers I've worked with are committed, satisfied, and happy in their work. I *will* say, though, that the secret is in finding a good match for your first position. The folks I've known who are unhappy (including myself, at different points in my career), typically felt trapped in a school setting that didn't fit their philosophies. If that happens to you, "divorce your district" and find a position that suits you better. Teaching is a great gig- good luck in your new field (and in your MEd)!

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Jeff, I also made a career change after 15 years in management and marketing. I've been very happy in my career change and have even used my business undergraduate degree and experience to work in my education career. The one thing I held on to was that I always had that undergraduate degree and career experience to go back to if for some reason education was not for me. My best advice echoes what Laura said. If you find yourself in a situation that isn't complimentary to your career development look elsewhere within education for a better fit. Just like any career, some places are a better fit than others. Good Luck!

Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA's picture
Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA
Advocate, Lawyer, Teacher and Founder of Beyond Tutoring

Hi Jeff,

I also changed my career from litigation to educational consulting after ten years. I have never looked back. I also got my masters. I find education a total pleasure and so completely rewarding after litigation. Although there can be downsides, ultimately it has been wonderful!

I am Bullyproof -Lessia Bonn's picture

What's up with the whole "I need to be working ALL THE TIME!" attitude Americans have? Teachers work their fingers and toes off, then summer arrives in its full glory. What they choose to do during summer is their own business. As the French say, "I work to live, not live to work." We could all learn something from this attitude. I vote: think French! Work if you want to or need to. Don't if you can pull it off . But don't EVER apologize for enjoying a minute in the sun.

Kathy Teel's picture

Are you sure you commented on the right discussion? This has nothing to do with anything being talked about on this thread.

Trobaugh's picture

Summer to me is just the time that teachers get to focus on their practice while they are not in the middle of the practice. Many teachers are great at reflective practice while it is happening. Teaching high school on a 4X4 block means that if I am teaching the same class in both semesters then I get the opportunity to make changes when one semester ends before I start all over again. If that is not the case then as a teacher sees the need for change the summer is the time to make that happen. Very few teachers do not work/think about the next year during the summer. This is the time for possibly the greatest amount of innovation that occurs in our curriculums. I can in no way confirm this but I would guess that blogs and the like get more reads and comments during the summer when teachers are evaluating their practice and curriculum than any other time. I believe that if more professional development money were available than teachers would be willing to do more workshops and trainings during the summer. Teachers that are not preparing, thinking, working on their craft are probably not the teachers that people who think teachers don't need summers off would want their children to have.

SW's picture

Most of my friends work in cancer research and other fields after completing their PhD. They work many more hours (and all weekend and holidays) than teachers and barely scratch the $40k line. Teachers come in to the profession from a bachelor's and immediately complain about the "long" hours, the low pay, etc. They even get tenure! I can only speak for the state I work in (NY) but teachers are paid a decent salary and DO have more time off than most people, especially if you consider the parents of the low income kids they likely teach in public school. People in working-class jobs or working 2-3 jobs to feed a family with no benefits! So you have to take some work home, and your starting salary is $50k with no experience. If course it's a tough job and it should be paid well, but you are hardly struggling. Look around and stop the whining.

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