In April, I attended an all-day writing retreat held at a regional university. About three-quarters of the people in attendance were teachers; the other quarter, writers and poets. The writing prompts were standard fare for these sorts of retreats – explorations into the past, clarifying values, cultivating gratitude.
As I looked around the room, the writers seemed engaged and serious about their art, but the teachers looked like they had just been rescued from a deserted island. They were writing furtively as if their notebooks were dinner rolls about to be snatched out of their hands. They were, to quote Annie Dillard, writing as if they were dying.
“Will I be able to scrape together enough of myself together over the summer to go back to the classroom again in the fall?” one teacher shared.
“Teachers are in a constant state of existential crisis. We want to feel alive again,” another teacher read.
“Wow,” said one of the writers on the other side of the room. “I knew you teachers had it bad. I didn’t know it was that bad.”
Perhaps he had caught us on a bad day. It was, after all, about 25 days before the end of the school year. We were in the midst of the testing season. Pink slips were flying about. Nerves were frayed.
Now school is out. The languid days of summer are upon us. We are given this gift of time in the summer. How do we scrape together ourselves? How do we feel alive again? How do we spend this gift?
Let me give you a single suggestion: Spend it on yourself. The master teachers I know spend these precious eight weeks by investing in their selves, renewing and regenerating their personal and professional lives. These investments might include participating in a hobby that renews their patience and peace, such as painting or cooking or it might include taking a class on a fascinating subject they want to teach next year.
Spending time on yourself is ultimately the greatest gift you can give your students. Most teachers I know can’t help themselves. We’re nerds. We will be researching, studying, and becoming better at our craft. Or reading the professional material we’ve been bookmarking all year. A teacher who had called to tell me she had slept all day on her first day off also told me with delight and excitement about the Holocaust Educators Network seminar she would be attending next week.
Take a yoga class. Pick up your dusty tennis racquet. Read all day. Build a pond. Write some poems. Build a nuclear reactor.
Yes, teaching is a physically and emotionally demanding career that requires hours and hours of unpaid time spent developing instruction, assessing data, connecting with parents and students, but those sweet, sweet days of summer are important too for the longevity and the ultimate effectiveness of the greatest in the classroom.