The catfish are jumping, the cotton is high, and teachers everywhere are spreading towels on the beach and by the pool, popping the seals on fresh bottles of SPF 30.
If that first paragraph sounded credible to you, you’re not a teacher, the spouse of a teacher, or a teacher’s summer employer. While it’s true that most teachers take time off in the summer, so do most Americans. But the misapprehension that teachers enjoy three months of leisurely bliss was likely conjured by parties eager to keep a lid on the teacher-salary schedule.
Recently, I asked members of the Teacher Leaders Network, a diverse sampling of accomplished U.S. educators, this open-ended question:
So tell us—quiet times or great adventures, professional or playful pursuits, or some of each—what will you do this summer?
The 40-plus replies filled nearly 30 pages when I ran them through my printer. The most popular subject line was: “Vacation? What vacation?”
Here’s my fair and balanced summary of all I read.
First, a picky detail important to several responders (and, no doubt, some teachermagazine.org readers): The school term is not yet over for everyone. A New York State teacher wrote: “I am still in the thick of finalizing this school year. It’s not yet time to breathe out completely; my last day of school is June 26th.”
Furthermore: Like more and more U.S. teachers, some TLN members work in year-round schools and have only a short summer break between sessions. These mini-vacations can also include some professional activity. One year-rounder wrote that for half of his three-week respite, he’ll be in Denmark “participating in a program that takes groups of teachers abroad to study cultures in the interest of seeing global education and awareness seep into our state’s classrooms.”
Teachers on a more traditional calendar will admit to spending some days relaxing in the sun or pursuing other recreational activities. TLN members mentioned gardening, sailing, building a get-away cabin, hiking, camping, traveling, family reunions, getting married, and spending time with children and grandchildren. Most often, these plans match the down-time most families try to arrange during the months from June to August.
Alas, some of our younger members, struggling to live on beginning teacher salaries, will seek out summer employment in both education-related and more menial jobs. This could be anything from camp counselor to waiting tables in high-end restaurants (the more lucrative option).
The Summer Work Schedule
Most teachers (in TLN and everywhere else) will spend uncompensated time during the summer reviewing teaching results from the previous school year, reflecting on the impact of their lessons, and thinking about ways to improve. Teachers who will have a new subject or grade assignment this fall will also be scrambling to develop LOTS of lesson plans. Most TLN’ers will read several professional books over the summer, from the latest brain-research reports and “what works” bestsellers by influential authors like Robert Marzano—to important new works in their own content or age-group specialties.
In an activity that’s definitely a sign of the times, several TLN teachers told us they will serve on summer committees to help decide (in the words of one) “how to preserve the things most important to our students and staff while staying within our ever-dwindling budget.”
Other common work-related activities include extended professional development workshops, summer school teaching, and stints as graders for high-stakes writing assessments and Advanced Placement examinations (in a variety of subjects, in a variety of sites around the nation). About half of TLN members are National Board Certified Teachers, and many will spend some time in the summer helping new candidates learn more about the certification process.
Here’s a sample of other specific activities mentioned during our virtual conversation:
• A science coach will spend two weeks “picking up science kits from every one of 61 elementary schools across the city” so they can be refurbished during the summer.
• One special ed teacher will spend the month of July at the Boston Writers Conference. A language arts teacher will be in five days of school-based training with the California Writing Project. Another TLN’er will direct a four-week summer writing institute for teachers in Virginia.
• A high school teacher will devote three weeks to teaching beginning English language learners.
• Nearly a dozen of our TLN members will meet face-to-face as they continue working on a book about the future of teaching.
• Four teachers plan to finish up professional book manuscripts, and several others will be developing and submitting book proposals.
• Two teachers mentioned the need to move their entire classrooms from temporary free-standing structures into permanent buildings.
• Many TLN’ers will participate in new-teacher mentoring programs prior to the beginning of school.
• One technology teacher will finish up several documentary videos of robotics classes and write a grant to expand the school technology program
• A 62-year-old teacher, still trying to balance his family budget, will spend six weeks in summer school with kids “who have already failed the state exam several times” and “must complete several supervised projects to graduate.”
• Several TLN’ers are members of teacher teams developing new instructional units in math, science and other content areas—for district, regional, or state systems.
• In Michigan, where high-stakes testing takes place in early fall, a TLN teacher will co-author a “quick-start” test-prep curriculum titled “The First 10 Days of School.”
• Most teachers will participate in school-based leadership team or PLC activities over the summer break.
• The geeky teachers among us (and that’s quite a few) will offer technology training to other teachers and/or upgrade their own classroom websites, blogs, wikis, and other web-based teaching tools.
‘Flicking the Switch’
TLN members will also be analyzing newly-reported student test data; attending training on revised state standards; leading online discussions with school colleagues about professional books; teaching graduate school courses, and completing doctoral studies and other advanced degrees.
Many will prepare for presentations at summer education conferences, including those sponsored by the National Education Association, the National Staff Development Council, the National Middle School Association, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
There’s nothing all that special about these highlights from the summer lives of teachers in our virtual network. Teachers all over the nation will peruse this summer duty roster and nod—seeing many things they are doing, have done, or will do on “summer vacation.”
Teachers like to stay busy. And all the hackneyed banter from non-educators about “that great nine-month job of yours” may actually prompt some teachers to spend TOO much precious break-time in work-related activities—just to make a point. If so, they might want to consider these thoughts from one of our newest TLN colleagues, urban educator Elena Aguilar, who has taught English and history at the elementary, middle and high school levels and is now an instructional coach in Oakland, Calif.
Elena told us:
“My summer vacations are critical to my sanity and health during the months of school that follow them, so as much as possible I try to have no work-related obligations. I love my work and I get completely consumed by it during my 11-month school year. It’s not that hard for me to shut it off for a month, and I really, really enjoy it. Two more weeks of work-related obligations, and then I’ll be flicking the switch and checking out for awhile.”
No doubt Elena will spend some time indulging in the summer activity most often mentioned during our week-long vacation chat—SLEEP. We hope you get some, too.