What They Did on Their Summer Vacations

By Theresa Johnston — August 17, 2001 2 min read

As they unpack their markers and roll books this fall, many teachers will have left behind lab rats, sheet music, Army fatigues—trappings of double lives they lead as researchers, musicians, and military officers during the short summer months. Certainly it’s more common for educators to spend their “vacations” teaching lanyard-weaving at camps or gritting their teeth through baby-sitting, house-painting, and waitressing jobs to supplement less-than-satisfying teaching salaries. But some see the June-to-September break as their chance to slip into new identities and take full advantage of it, hailing the opportunity as one of teaching’s unheralded perks.

Their Stories

An Officer And An
“It is an ideal second job for an educator,” says teacher Teri Coles of her job as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.
A Binary Lifestyle : Self-taught webmeister Kenneth Wong swaps the classroom for Silicon Valley.
Taking Care Of Business: English teacher Amy Stevens parlays her interpretive skills to manage an art gallery every summer.

“It’s a change of scenery, absolutely,” says Susanne Cousineau of her summer fellowship at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “And I’m learning things that I can use in my own classroom.”

As a special education teacher in Campbell, California’s Westmont High School, Cousineau rarely gets to sit down during the school year. “Usually,” she says, “I’m maneuvering around a classroom, or speaking with colleagues, or having my time cut into pieces.” But when summer comes, Cousineau jets off to an entirely different universe: the NASA/Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, where she works on a Web site to promote aviation careers. “It’s so nice to sit at a computer station and be able to concentrate,” she marveled this July. “The adult world is OK.” Plus, says Cousineau, the job “gives me what I call my ‘mad’ money, so I can go on trips and [do] other things besides living from paycheck to paycheck.”

Though it’s difficult to find up-to-date figures on the subject, the National Education Association estimates that, for teachers, switching careers in the summer may be as common as switching on the air conditioner: Approximately 20 percent of teachers surveyed held non-school summer jobs between 1971 and 1996. We tracked down some of these career chameleons to find out how they spent their summer vacations. Along the way, we discovered a curious phenomenon: Educators’ alter egos have a funny way of seeping into the classroom come fall.