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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  1. CeleI stina
    May 29, 2009

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    I appreciated your blog. To be honest, I did not know that teachers were that busy in the summer. I am a student seeking a teaching degree. I want to teach middle school. I love that age where kids have so much energy and are playing with their personalities and who they will eventually become. I thought that teaching would be great since I have four kids. I wanted to teach anyway, but thought the schedule would be great. Well keep on keeping on.

  2. Tweenteacher
    May 29, 2009

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    Don’t let me dissuade you from being a teacher (especially one that wants middle school – you go girl!), but don’t fall for the myth of getting out at 3:00 and having vacations to yourself. It’s just not the reason to go into it. I have a son right now and we’re moving ahead with kid #2 soon, so I understand the need to find a profession that allows you to juggle all of your jobs, both in the home and outside of it.

    Teaching is, of course, family friendly in many ways. But know that it is far more tolerant of sacrifice for other people’s children then it is for your own.

    I tell you, however, what I believe that teaching has given me as a parent: a greater understanding of their development and growth, access to some of the best minds in education willing to answer my questions, and a knowledge of how to be an educational advocate for my own children.

    Teaching keeps me on my toes. It helps hone my home antenna. It allows me to have my home and work surrounded in literacy. It allows me to talk about education at home. I will be able to speak his language and have insight into the “nothing” that will one day be his description of his day.

    I love parenting, and I love teaching. But they compliment each other in ways I could not have predicted.
    Good luck with your search, and touch base again to let me know how it’s going.
    Take care,
    aka Tweenteacher

  3. Jeanie Robinson
    May 30, 2009

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    I appreciate your blog. You did such a good job of explaining just how we spend those summers “off”.

    I have been teaching full time and attending graduate school full time for the past two years. This will be my third summer in summer school. (I finish July 1.) As my reward, I am insisting on JULY off. I have a beach trip planned, vacation in the mountains, and some time with the family scheduled. Even in that month, I have to give on one day (that I know of) to host a football clinic that I was able to schedule with our Carolina Panthers. (I don’t even coach anything.)

    I am turning down all offers of free workshops, training dates, curriculum conferences, etc…for that entire month. This is the first time in YEARS that I have done that. Again, not the ENTIRE summer, just the middle part.

    Hope you have some rest time this summer. We ALL deserve it!!

  4. teachin'
    May 30, 2009

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    Nice post. When people tell me that it must be nice to have summers off, I like to respond with, “Yeah, and I don’t do much the rest of the year either.” I say it with a smile, but it gets the point across and the person is usually immediately apologetic and acknowledges how freakin’ hard teachers work.

  5. J.
    May 31, 2009

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    Teacher’s don’t get the “summer off” — teachers are paid for a certain amount of days. Holidays and summer are UNpaid days.

    I’ve never used this line before, but essentially we should say that we are LAID OFF each summer.

    BTW, does any ever tell a construction worker “must be nice that you don’t work a full year”?? There are weeks, if not months, sometimes that they don’t work due to weather (at least in the north).

  6. Erin
    October 5, 2009

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    I really enjoyed your post. I love when people say, “Cant beat having the summer off!” or my favorite, “Stop complaining, your day ends at three and you have the summer off!”. I always have a sudden urge to physically strike these people..lol. Yes, having the summer off is great, but we deserve it! I feel that some just don’t understand our workload and the amount of stress that comes with it. As, for leaving school at three…this is a rarity! On top of staying at school long after dissmissal, we then get to take home the work we didn’t finish and put in a few more hours at home! So again, I think we’ve earned the summer off!!

  7. Sean
    November 3, 2009

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    I couldn’t agree more! I teach 7th and 8th grade social studies and I also coach. My day usually ends at school around 6:30pm. I make an effort not to bring my work home with me, but even then, my mind is forever thinking about the next days lessons or how to help my players succeed. A teacher’s mind never rests. Even during summers or over holidays, we look for better resources and more interesting activities. I commend you, tweenteacher, for helping us voice our side with this website and your insight.

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