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Summer Love

Amethyst Hinton Sainz Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Love, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership

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I love summer.

I have been wanting to write about loving summer for weeks! But I have been too busy travelling with my family to Costa Rica, shuttling my kids to swim team, water polo, and football camp, reading novels, preparing fresh food, swimming laps, switching out light fixtures in the dining room, deadheading the roses, watering the plants, having lunch with friends, catching up on doctors’ visits for me and my kids, getting my teeth cleaned, visiting the library and museums, reading the news, dusting baseboards, thrift-shop shopping, trying new recipes, binge-watching series, and going to my nieces’ and nephew’s birthday parties in southern Arizona. It is a demanding schedule. I don’t know how I have time to work.

Of course, I have also accomplished professional activities such as collaborative planning, meeting with my fellow bloggers, and researching future blog entries. I have dropped by school to handle placement issues for my English language learners next year. I have also curated lists of links with teaching ideas and resources for students, and surfed Twitter soaking in the inspiration from my broad professional learning network there. Thrift shops have provided some books for my classroom library. Next week I will attend three days of training to support National Board candidates in my district next year. In the past, I used my summers to get my masters’ degree in English Literature, something I wouldn’t have been able to do very easily with night classes or online courses. There just aren’t many programs for that, but the Bread Loaf School of English has a delightful masters program.  So I do work throughout the summer, but less than I used to, and definitely not full time.

When I hear teachers busting the myth of “summers off” by saying they work all summer planning and receiving training, or teaching summer school, I don’t doubt their personal experiences at all.  However, in my experience, taking summer off is a personal choice, or set of choices.  I have taught summer school in the past, but now that I have kids it makes no sense for me to put them in someone else’s care so that I can work more.  If I did, I would barely earn enough to pay the caregiver. Maybe it would be more tempting if I had a grandparent at my disposal nearby, but I also cherish the chance to spend more time providing a life for them at home.  

I still seek out trainings and leadership opportunities (there are so many great choices!)There are times when I feel that I am expected to complete a specific training, when I feel pressure.  Sometimes I do what I am expected.  At times I don’t, if it is not a requirement.  It depends. But when I sign up for too much, I end up resenting the time away from family and projects at home, or the time I could spend traveling or reading.  I need that time.  Maybe not everyone does.

I definitely get it that many teachers need to literally work all summer either teaching or at second jobs to pay the bills or try to get ahead. This essay is not an argument about teacher pay. For me, despite tight personal budgets, there have been very few summers where the math really added up to justify working summer school or another job, but there have been a few!

Nobody forces me to work during the summer; what I do is my choice. Some have wondered why we still have summer vacation at all, but from a teaching perspective I actually think these choices are essential to maintain. Teachers have a variety of personal and professional needs, and not all of them can be met satisfactorily through after-school trainings or online courses, or brief meetings stolen before school or during planning periods.  Given our current school structures, getting a substitute teacher to cover all these needs is not practical and would have a negative impact on student learning. I can only imagine that for those teachers working on Masters’ or PhD’s, those summer weeks are essential for diving deep into their work and making progress that would be difficult during the school year.  For teachers who are parents, or even artists in their own rights, that time at home to attend to whatever work is there may be essential to their longevity in the classroom.  For teachers who need surgeries or other medical attention, perhaps the summer gives them time to take care of procedures they have put off and have time to recuperate so that they can be fully prepared to help their students come August.

Teachers get summers off. It isn’t a myth. It is one of the best parts of the job. And seeing as how we need to attract more quality teachers to the profession, I think we need to start talking more about how we value these ten luxuriously dynamic weeks.

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I currently teach English Language Development at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa Public Schools. I love seeing the incredible growth in my students and being an advocate for them. I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts. Before this position I taught high school English in Arizona for 20 years. My alma maters are Blue Ridge High School and the University of Arizona. My bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led me toward the College of Education, and I soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel me throughout my career. My love of language, literature and culture led me to the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College for my masters in English Literature. I am a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for me. I enjoy teaching students across the spectrum of academic ability, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education, as well as exploring more topics in STEM. In recent years, much of my professional development has focused on teacher leadership, but I feel like I am still searching for exactly what that means for me. I live in Mesa, Arizona with my family. I enjoy them, as well as my vegetable garden, our backyard chickens, our dachshund Roxy, reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), hiking and camping, and travel, among other things.

  • http://www.leadfromINtheclassroom.com/ Jess Ledbetter

    Love and agree :) Also, I want to add how much teachers need summers to catch up on the things we can’t do in the busyness of the school year. For me, I’m just barely digging out from all the projects I couldn’t get accomplished last school year (even though I tried). Teachers work so many hours outside their contract days. I hate to admit, but I tend to put off my self care stuff like well checks and dentist appts too. If the school year was a more manageable workload, I would be a much happier teacher! But until then, I’m happily chipping away at my summer To Do list and feeling so relieved.

    • http://storiesfromschoolaz.org Amethyst Hinton Sainz

      Exactly. I suppose I could entertain the idea of getting rid of summer vacation if teacher working conditions were less demanding. The way schools are structured, though, if we choose to take our sick leave to take care of ourselves during the year, the classroom kind of falls apart for the students (with a very few notable exceptions.) We could structure school communities differently and minimize this impact, but even increased teacher pay doesn’t address that issue that the way things are now, we HAVE to be dedicated during the school year, and sometimes that means putting off a dentist appointment or minor surgery, or a much needed mental health break. Of course, extra funding could help to realize some of those alternative school structures.

      Mostly I wrote this as a response to the whole martyr attitude about not “really” having a break over summer. Teachers can decide to spend the summer on self-care and other pursuits; or they can work. I feel like the NEA’s hashtag #whatsummerbreak is self-defeating and only perpetuates this whiny stereotype of teacher union types. I will say that I do believe most teachers find it necessary to do at least _some_ professional work or learning over the summer. But I do not know any teachers who honestly have to work full time all summer, unless it is a second or third job for financial reasons– and THAT needs to be addressed for sure.

      • http://www.leadfromINtheclassroom.com/ Jess Ledbetter

        You bring up such a great point that teachers must be mindful of the images and conversations we spread through social media. We should not act like martyrs over the summer. Plenty of working professionals check email or crank out a small project on vacation, so the hashtag #whatsummervacation may have little meaning. Sadly, this is an American cultural phenomonen (that I’d like to see relax a bit). I like the idea of using the summer break as an advertising tool to recruit young people to the field. It’s especially awesome to have summers off when you have kids, and I know people who have returned to the classroom after trying other roles because they missed the summers with their kids. Way to offer a new dialogue for teachers to consider sharing why the summer break is a factor keeping them in the profession.