What I did on my summer vacation

“There are three reasons why I love being a teacher,” goes the joke. “June, July, and August.”

I, and numerous other teacher bloggers, have written about the myth of summer vacation. In this post, I’m not going to rehash what I think about this myth, where I suspect it comes from, or vent my frustration at it’s continuation in the face of mountains of contrary evidence. Instead, as millions of kids come back to school and write their theme, “What I did on my summer vacation,” I will join them.

I actually got some vacation time

Late June, I drove to Florida to visit family. Grandma is 97 now, and I do my best to make the twelve-hour trip as often as I can. Grandma lives in an assisted living facility in Ft. Myers, near my Aunt and Uncle. She has her own apartment where she can relax and make her own cup of coffee. She also has plenty of medical and living help, too.

When I visit, I usually stay with my Aunt and Uncle, however, this trip happened to coincide with a washing machine malfunction that left their house floating in about four inches of water. When I got there, about twenty-five industrial dryer-fans were positioned all over. The carpet was pulled up. It was a mess. The guest bedroom was one of the two nearest the washing machine, so I needed new digs.

I found myself at Grandma’s, in the bedroom where my Grandpa slept before he passed away last Winter.

In spite of the difficulties, it was a wonderful visit. I spent a lot of time with family. Best of all, I left my computer at home. Other than checking and responding to emails on my phone, I did no work for almost a whole week.

This was my true summer vacation.

Wonderful Workshops and Meetings

Before I left for Florida, I was in Durham, North Carolina for a weeklong workshop.  My partner and colleague, Wendi Pillars, and I applied for National Endowment for the Humanities grant to attend this training.

The theme of the training was “Crafting Freedom.” It focused on Thomas Day, Elizabeth Keckly, and other African-American entrepreneurs in the pre-war South. Keckly was familiar to me. I had learned about Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker in college. However, Thomas Day and the other so-called Freedom Crafters were unknown to me, which got me excited to learn.

I’m not going to go in-depth here about Crafting Freedom, the experience was rich enough to warrant it’s own post. Suffice enough to say, I walked away with several new books, a new unit if study for my American History classes, and a new favorite poet.

After I got back from Florida, I had a short time to rest before Wendi and I were traveling again. This time we were off to Washington DC for the year-3 launch of the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI). Wendi and I have been working with TLI since the beginning.

During the day, we met at the NEA national offices. We reunited with old friends, seen mostly on-line, made new friends, and dived deep into the TLI curriculum.

After we got home from Washington, I had a day to do laundry and repack for Philadelphia.

I’ve written before about how much I love AVID and AVID trainings. Philadelphia was no exception. I spent three days in their “Tutorology” strand. The tutoring aspect of my AVID elective class is by far the weakest link, but I suspect no more.

In addition to learning how to upgrade my tutoring time, I also learned a new technique to help my students use words and images to solidify a concept and relearned one of my favorite activities, Socratic Seminar.

Writing curriculum

The summer started and ended with curriculum writing. It’s a tough job, but one I love.

As the school year was wrapping up, I was reading biographies by Kechly, William Singleton, Harriet Jacobs in preparation for the Crafting Freedom week. I knew I wanted to model this unit on the primary-source analysis that my students have been exploring for years. I’ve used and loved Dr. Wheeler, et. al.’s Discovery the Past series. Each evening, I worked on a new chapter about resisting slavery that I thought might be more fun for my students than the Slave Narrative chapter in Wheeler’s Discovering the American Past. Now, don’t get me wrong, I got a nerd-crush on Dr. Wheeler. However, I found that his chapter on slave resistance was too subtle for my kids to really get their minds around. I thought the resistance stories of Day, Kechly, and the other Freedom Crafters would be more obvious for them.

Now that August is here, and I’m done with my travels, I’ve been inspired to work more on my classes.  As soon as I got back from AVID training, I bought three desk-sized calendars so I could map out American History 1, American History 2, and my AVID class.

The next day, I started a routine, which I am continuing right now. Each morning, I make coffee. I’m a dedicated teacher, but priorities, people, priorities! Coffee in hand, I sit down at the computer. I spend a couple of hours on my new American History 2 curriculum, reading the chapters and taking notes as if I were one of my students. After that, I make breakfast and shower. Then, I spend a coupe of hours reading through the materials for the two separate PD’s I’m helping to facilitate this year, TLI and another where I’m helping train other teachers to be virtual trainers like me. I’ve got three notebooks, one for each of these jobs. Once I’m done hand-writing my notes, I type them up.

When I’m done, it was time for lunch and relaxing for the balance of the day. It was summer vacation, after all!

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