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.