Talking About Summer

My last day of school was June 17. In the days leading up to summer vacation, the majority of hallway conversations that I had with colleagues revolved around summer plans. At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice a few snarky “Wow, it must be nice to have the summers off” comments from non-educators and even from one parent.

For years, I have felt the need to justify my summer break to my non-educator friends. I sometimes feel guilty that they have to go to work while I can sleep in (as long as my 2-year-old lets me), read the paper, and hang out with my kids. I have always felt the need to explain all the ways that I was still working (and not just taking a two-month vacation). At a recent get-together with friends, I caught myself saying that I didn’t think I could do my job yearlong. It is too consuming. In other words, I was providing yet another justification for a long summer break.

I have decided that starting now, I am going to change the way that I talk about summer.

Of course, there are plenty of logical defenses for the summer break:

  1. Many teachers work extra jobs during the summer to supplement their income. This is a necessity in single income households.
  2. Many teachers work several unpaid days after the school year ends cleaning and organizing their classrooms. And then they return in August to start preparing curriculum for the new school year. That leaves about 4-6 weeks (not three months) of real (unpaid) vacation.
  3. Many teachers take courses (and pay for them) in the summer to maintain certification and to learn new skills.
  4. Many teachers work 15-20 extra unpaid hours a week during the school year planning, grading, sitting in meetings, and responding to emails. While the summer break is unpaid, at least it creates some breathing room at the end of an exhausting school year.

But I’m tired of feeling defensive. Here is how I am talking about my summer now:

  1. I get to parent my own children during the summer. During the school year, I often get home just in time to eat dinner and put my kids to bed. During the summer, I’m not limited to an hour or two of family time. I spend many hours with other people’s children at school. It’s only fair that my own two kids have some quality time with their dad. This summer we will go camping, play ball in the backyard, and visit local spray parks and wading pools.
  2. I have time, with fewer distractions, to improve my craft. During the summer, I take advantage of workshops and seminars and when possible, international travel. I can fully immerse myself in learning without worrying about papers to grade or lessons to plan. I am currently in Guatemala, traveling with 36 high school students.
  3. I use the summer to work on my own professional projects. I write, do a little consulting work and I design and lead some professional development workshops. This August I am co-facilitating the second annual Global Leadership Summer Institute in Seattle.
  4. I am going to RELAX. I am tired. I am going to take a well-deserved vacation. Ok, a cross-country trip with two kids to visit relatives isn’t the most relaxing experience, but it’s still a vacation. We are heading out to Connecticut and Philadelphia to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

I am grateful to have the flexibility in the summer months to set my own schedule, to work at a different pace, to travel, and to spend time with family and friends. And I am done feeling guilty about it.

How are you talking about your summer?

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  • SandyMerz

    Never understood this

    Hey Noah, I know I’m in the minority here, but I think teachers should embrace and proclaim how great it is to have 2 – 3 months we can call our own. I’ve never said anything, but “Yes! Summer break is great!” and then, if it flows in the conversation, describe what I’ll be doing. Maybe I’m lucky, or interpret remarks differently than you, but I’m more likely to here that I deserve the time off after a year teaching. Yes, many teachers do seem to work all summer – many out of need, which I think is a shame. But many out of desire to participate in conferences and professional development. Is that work? Maybe, maybe not. All of what I do in the summer is my choice and it’s almost all a pleasure and often compensated – sometimes very well. Once in a while I think about taking off the entire summer – last bell to first bell – like I used to, but since I like what I do so much, it’s hard tell work from play and I don’t know that such a summer would be more pleasurable that what I do now. 

  • NoahZeichner

    I love summer too

    Thanks, for the comments, Sandy. I also love summer break. You raise an interesting question when you ask do summer workshops and conferences count as work? I have always thought of anything that connects directly to my teaching as “work.” Even if I love my job, which I do, I feel the need to separate work from play in the summer. I make sure to reserve a good chunk of time when I can unplug completely from work-related thoughts. So yes, I guess I categorize the conferences and workshops as work, but it’s at a very different pace than work during the school year.

    Have a great summer! 

  • KarenK

    Summer time is yours

    I agree with the points in the blog, but also with those in the comment from Sandy.  As a veteran teacher whose children are now grown, I remember how much I relished the uninterrupted time with my own kiddos during Summer Breaks.  That being said, I love teacher and love to learn, so I was always ready to squeeze in a couple of new books about teaching and/or learning and read lots of blogs about exciting things in education.  To me, that wasn't really work, but it definitely helped me tremendously in my job.  Once my kids were grown, I went back to school for my doctorate in education.  So, for the last 4 years, my summers have been filled with classwork and more recently writing a dissertation.  I enjoyed that work, but summer's weren't anywhere near restful or recharging!  

    Now, I have my summer to myself again.  I worked for a couple of weeks on creating presentations for an inservice to our staff and teaching a summer enrichment camp.  Both were fun, but definitely work.  Now, I'm kicking back and reading lots of non-school related books for a couple of weeks.  That's fun for me, relaxed pace, outside time, reading books of my choice!  But, I'm looking forward to next summer when I might go back up to the University of Connecticut for Confratute, a week-long conference for those in gifted education.  I guess work and fun do mix, sometimes!  The best part of summer is the chance to choose what I want to do again, even if that means going to an ed conference!

  • Katie Deakins

    Alternative School

    As a contracted employee, I am not paid for the snow days or summer days I am not in school. Like most educators I know, summer break provides me with a chance to recharge, reflect, and attend professional development sessions. It is nice to have a break. I have earned it. 

  • MarciaPowell

    Boundary Issues

    It has always struck me that teachers have difficulty because they are bombarded with issues regarding boundaries.  If you see a doctor on the street, you don’t ask him or her to justify why s/he is not in surgery.  In fact, it’s poor taste to do so.  But when it comes to teachers, it seems that everyone assumes they are expert because they have put time into a school building.

    My stock answer for naysayers:  “I’m sorry you feel that way.  Your viewpoint doesn’t reflect my reality.”

    If they are really intrigued, you can have that conversation.  If they are whining, this usually perplexes them enough that I can walk away.

    #Teachingis not about us.  It’s about the kids.  That said, self-care is one of the important pieces teachers absolutely must keep in mind, and the summer is a way to rejuvenate.

    Noah, I understand tired.   I would take three days at the end of the year and just vegetate.  It was how my brain put it all together and let me refocus. 

    Whatever it takes to reboot, that’s what you should do.  You deserve it–and so do your students.

  • wjtolley

    First of all, no one but a

    First of all, no one but a teacher understand the challenges of teaching dozens or hundreds of students. I served in the 101st Airborne Division (during peacetime) as an Infantryman, eventually leading squad and platoon-sized groups in month long, 24-hour-a-day, field exercises involving exhausting labor, monotonous downtime, awful food and sleep deprivation caused by mission parameters, prickly heat and mosquitos. 

    Sometimes, usually halfway through the second semester each year, I yearn for those easy-living Army days. 

    Very few people understand the thought and devotion that teachers put into developing youth. It is the quintessential “can’t leave your work at work” career and teachers deserve–no, require–downtime to continue operating at the levels they do throughout the year. 

    That being said, I’ll echo others by admitting that I’m at my happiest in the summer when I am doing PD, writing or refining my work. When you love what you do, the line between play and work is hard to discern. 

    And for all those grumblers who want us to trudge on throughout the year like coal-miners in a tunnel–ask them if that’s who they want teaching their kids–and if so, what kind of education is that going to inspire and create? 

    People chuckle about doctors’ golfing Wednesdays, because they want good doctors and they see a doctor’s life as one well-earned version of the American dream. The same people want high-quality education, but aren’t willing to consider it takes more than indentured servants to get what they want.  

  • Karen Dickinson

    Summer Break

    The conversation has gone from discussion about teachers' summer break to indentured servants. Summer break for me is a time when I unwind.  It is a time when I reflect on all the things that have gone on during the year and feel perplexed because I know that things will be much the same when I return. I value my summer break because I know that I can try to create solutions for the problems that I know students have with learning.  What makes me sad is that summer is too short.  We began summer break on June 4 and will be back at school on July 24.  So my break is just about over and I've just begun to understand what I need to do as a teacher leader.  Many blessings to you teacher leaders this year and the years to come.

  • JoyKirr

    Try My Profession

    I get snarky when I hear that we have summers “off.” I tell them that they can always get a job in teaching if they’d like their own summers “off.” Take my job for one week and see if you can survive. The summer will not be enough for them to recouperate! ­čśë