Heather Wolpert-Gawron

The Myth of Summers Off

By on May 29, 2009

“So you’re a teacher, huh?” says the umpteenth Joe know-it-all.  I know the tone, and I know what’s coming.  “Must be nice having summer’s off,” he sneers.

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

I don’t know who these teachers are who are supposedly laying around all summer sippin’ sangrias without a thought of prepping for the year before them.  But I’m not one of them.  

In fact, is there really a “them?”

Bottom line is that every year since entering teaching I have seen some of my busiest summer months of my life.  This is for many reasons:

1. I work summer school.   Hey, who doesn’t need the moo-la?   And that’s not just about the hours I spend with students, but the hours I need to spend prepping for them.  I develop the lesson plans and set up my learning environment for summer school, and we are only given one paid day to do that.  Anything else is on my own time, and of course, there will be more lessons needed then one day can cover.

2. I attend or head up Department or curriculum meetings that are scheduled during July and August.

3. I develop and improve the curriculum that may or may not have worked over the school year, and summer’s the only chunk of time to reflect and tweak those lessons.  

4. I build a library of new lessons because, let’s face it, I sure as heck don’t have a lot of time to do that during a year that is packed full of high-energy, tightly paced, over-scheduled days.  

 5. I learn the new technology or new curriculum programs I’ve been given. Once again, summer’s the only time to learn them.  Case in point, my Interactive Whiteboard.  I received mine in the fall, right before the start of school.  I have been learning it as I go, but what with that little full-time gig I have called teaching, I have only had time to explore the tip of the iceberg.  Summer will hopefully be my chance to revisit the training modules, explore the online assistance, create better flipcharts, and further integrate the board.

6. I train new teachers.

7. I explore my own professional development.  See, I’m still in the process of taking classes towards my master’s degree, and those units also bump me along the pay scale.  After all, currently my only option to get a raise is by spending my own money first, right?

8. I lick my wounds.  It’s true.  By the end of the year, teachers are limping towards vacation.  And do the math, if you teach summer school, you only have the weekend between the end of school and the beginning of summer school to take a breath.  By the end of summer school, you only have 3 weeks or so until the start of the new year. And those weeks are filled moving your own student desks from the pile in the middle of the room, putting up your bulletin boards, shoving shelves back into place, planning, prepping, preparing, and scabbing over.

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 my days, my minutes, and my hours existing at the pace of a middle schooler.  Frankly, I deserve some time off after that.  But the fact is, not only do I not get it, 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 in every store to replenish your classroom library.  When a big news story comes out, you still seek out the New York Times to use as a primary resource to refer to in upcoming years.  You pick up props and realia to supplement your lesson plans.  You attend conferences or seminars to learn new strategies in order to fill in gaps that might exist in your current curriculum units.            

The fact is, we need the breaks we get in order to do the job that we do 10 months of the year.  And the other 2 months are spent doing other parts of the job.

Civilians don’t realize the toll that teaching takes on a person, on their energy, their appearance even.  You ever see the pictures of a president before their term began and after their term ended?  Well, teaching’s kinda like that.  Adult humans aren’t built to spend their days with hundreds of children each day.  It takes a lot out of an adult to have their antennae up so high, so often, so consistently.

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

The least those civilians can do is acknowledge that while their children are at camp, giving them a break from parenting, we intend to do what we always do…be teachers. 

Have a great summer.  


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