Teachers Get the Summer Off
In my 24 years of teaching (has it really been that long? Whoa (in Neo's voice from The Matrix!)) I must have heard that statement a billion times. I always would smile or say "Yeah." But now that I have had many summers behind me, I realize that while one could argue that summers are time "off" it is, like most things in life, a bit more complicated than time "off."
I have always tried to convey to my students the importance of the process of learning, seeing the forest and the trees, emphasizing thinking over facts. So while technically the summer time is time where teachers are not in front of students and we don't have to go into work, being "off" is not necessarily accurate either. So here is how and why the summer is such a vital part of the teaching process for teachers.
I'm thinking....I'm thinking.....
As teachers we are always saying that we want our students to use critical thinking skills when they are engaged in the material. But when we say that, do we take the time to think about what that really means? Do we give them the time to process their thinking? I know we are all pressed for time with the content we teach, but if we truly want our students to be thinkers that are critical of the world around them, we have to give them the ability to process what they see. Content is content. The skills to use that content is what matters most.
So....for teachers, for me, the summer is that time to process what has happened during the school year, what you want to do in the next year and anything and everything in between!! Summer is that processing time for teachers to not use their brains and to allow them time to process their own learning. I think it is vitally important for teachers to realize that, yes, you are or ought to be learning while you are teaching. I do all the time. Students are marvelous for teaching us about learning and teaching.
Another reason why the summer is vitally important for teachers is we are always constantly learning ourselves. Whether it is an inservice, a PLC meeting, or a simple conversation or email exchange that spurs ideas, thoughts, lessons, or ways to improve our art, teachers are never really in "off" mode. Our brains are wired in such a way that we are constantly thinking about how to make our students learn about the world around them.
The summer adds that much needed time to reflect and think about how you do what you do in the classroom with your students. That processing time for me is such a key component of how I do what I do in my class. Yes, we as teachers have the summers "off" but that off time is so so vitally important for what we do when we get back into the classroom. It is a part of the process of teaching.
One of the aspects of teaching that no one can really prepare you for is how much energy that students have and can take from you. Sure, you have the weekends to recoup from that energy exchange, but as the year goes on, I find it harder and harder to replace that energy. Remember, teaching and learning is a process, and the energy you give, take and exchange with your students is a big part of that process. It helps you to build relationships with your students too, a very important part of teaching.
The summer is a time, not to just go on vacations, but to replace and store that energy that you will need during the school year. You are not sitting at a desk in a cubicle working on papers and/or a computer. You are working with people, constantly, and those people will sap and take your energy. That does not mean it's a bad thing, but the nature of teaching means it will just happen as a matter of fact. The summer is a good time to reflect, think, replace that energy and time you spend during the year. You will need it as a part of your job, so while I am not in front of my students it is vitally important that if I want to give my students a positive experience (which I do) that energy replacement and storage is a part of what I do.
Decompression: what day is it?
If I may, one of the greatest feelings in the world for a teacher is waking up during the summer and not knowing what day it is. Total bliss. I think this bliss comes from the fact that for teachers, their lives during the school year are completely regimented by the 48 or however many minutes are in a class period. So scheduled. Eat in 20 minutes or less because you have so much to do. I think that regiment which is so strict makes the days and weeks go by so fast that when you have time to not do that, you get lost in the hours and days. The 48 minutes blurs into hours and days and weeks and before you know it, you have lost track of time.
That losing track of time during the summer is truly needed. You spend so much of your school year thinking and reflecting and thinking some more and while you get some breaks, you are really never truly "off" until you know you won't have students for a few months. It's engrained in a teacher's brain. Cannot be helped. It's a good thing too....you learn to learn and find things that will be helpful for you and your students. I also make the analogy of parent-teacher conferences where you get home after a 12-14 hour day and you are surely tired, but you cannot sleep. It's like your brain won't stop and you have to find a way to decompress, to stop your teacher mode from working....it is always present when it knows you need it.
Even when school is out and you know for a fact you won't be back with students for a longer period of time, it still takes about 2 weeks to unwind and pack the teacher mode for the fall. So while the summer may appear to the outsider that it is "off time" for teachers, it is, but it isn't. I honestly think that the "off time" is a very crucial and necessary part of teaching. You must decompress or it will seriously impact your teaching. You are better for it, a better person and a better teacher.
Planning: still need to implement
You ask any teacher and they will tell you that if they could have one thing they would tell you this: time. More time to plan more time to think, more time to have conservations with their colleagues. It is the very nature and paradox of the job: you need more time so in-services are planned and attended and you find new ideas and methods. However, they still have to be implemented. One way to get more time is to attend summer PD sessions when you have the "time off" to go to them. I love summer PD when you are more relaxed, more not in teacher mode but the training gets you into teacher mode in a very relaxed way. But just like most things, there is a catch.
Here's the catch: as much as PD is great and summer PD is even better, you still have to implement what you have heard and learned. You still have to do. No matter how good the PD is and how wonderful the ideas may be, you still have to work it out when you get to the classroom. Even if the methods are tried and true and have worked in other classrooms, they have not necessarily worked in your classroom and you have to make it work. This is the beauty and dilemma in teaching: there are so many great ideas in education, but the implementation of them is the other half of the equation.
So with the "time off" I find that I read a lot, I plan a lot, attend PD when I can, but in the end, it sometimes can be too much and you say to yourself (at least I do) "Okay this is great, but I need to just teach!" I can see the great potential in ideas and PD and chats with others who think the same, but it's the implementation of all of that which makes teaching such an art. You learn, you adjust, you craft it so it works for you. That is the art of teaching and the summer, the "time off" is a crucial part of the process of that art. You cannot make that art if you don't have the time to process, to think, to craft, to make it work for you.
So yes! I have the summer's off. But this time is just as important as my time in front of the class with the students. Probably more important if I think about it. The time away the time to process the time to not be in teacher mode all the time is what makes teachers better. So while it may appear that we are "off" for the summer, please understand that the time is much needed, valued and vital to the perfection of our craft.
Leave any thoughts or ideas in the comment section. Make it a great year!!