Monday, September 1, 2014

Why We Can't Take the Summers Off

As a teacher, one of the most common things I hear in the months of June, July, and August is, "It must be nice to have the summers off." While I can't completely disagree with the idea that having some time to recuperate after a stretch of intense instruction, curriculum development, and professional growth, I also have found myself saying in response, "No one - not teacher or student - can really take the summer off"

The truth is that good teachers are not truly off in the summer, just as good students don't throw everything they learned to the side as they board the school bus on the final day of the school year. Good teachers use the summer for a number of things that are vitally crucial to their success as an educator in the coming school year. Here are a few examples from my life of why summers are critical to my success in fall.

First, summer gives me time to engage in extended professional learning and growth opportunities. I was fortunate enough this summer to take part in two incredibly beneficial, week long, training sessions over the summer. The first was through MSOE and prepared me to teach the Design and Modeling curriculum through Project Lead the Way. The second was through Columbia University and was a Writing Institute held in New York preparing me to be more effective in my Writer's Workshop. What I have noticed is that just as summer gives students the opportunity to engage in summer school, camps, and classes, summer gives teachers the opportunity to engage in extended periods of professional growth that are far more difficult to partake in during the school year when it requires time away from your students.

Second, summer gives me the time to read. I will admit, that in the hustle and bustle of the school year I do not have very much time to read for pleasure. I look forward to time in the summer to read for fun. This summer I tackled the Divergent series and will come into this school year with a whole different outlook on the types of books that are engaging my students. I am hopeful that my students took the same opportunity that I did and used some of this summer to read. Whether they read magazines, manuals, fiction, or nonfiction, I am optimistic (maybe blindly) that when I ask tomorrow what books my students read this summer, they will have a new favorite author, a series they love, or at least be able to name one book that they finished this summer.

Third, summer gives me the opportunity to travel and see something worth talking about. This summer I was fortunate enough to travel overseas and spend 10 days taking in the sites, sounds, and tastes of England, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and France. I don't need to travel in the summer to have something to brag about to my students, I travel in the summer to continue being a person of interest to my students. As we converge on the hallways tomorrow my students will share stories of their adventures to the north woods, the ocean coasts, or the country in between. They will share stories of birthday parties, weddings, days in the pool, and afternoons biking back and forth to friends house. As a teacher, it is important that I have something in my reservoir to make me a person of interest to my students. I didn't need to go to Europe this summer to be a good teacher in the fall, but I think that it is important that teachers take time in the summer to do something interesting that will help them connect and foster relationships with their students when they arrive back at school.

Finally, I use my summers to relax and regroup. I work hard during the school year to make my classroom and the education that I provide my students the very highest quality that it can be. I share my nights, my weekends, my holiday vacations with my lesson plan book, piles of grading, and curriculum to be read. I signed up for this job, and knew (for the most part) the work that would come along with it. I hold my students to a high standard during the year and push them to continually raise their expectations of themselves to a higher level throughout the year. This means, however, that by the middle of June when both students and staff are done with school, to the middle of August when I start trickling back into school to organize myself and my classroom, I take some time to relax and regroup. I think that is time both students and staff need, and deserve, and I use that time to put myself in a better mental state to start the school year.

People say to me all the time, "it must be nice to have the summers off." I could lie and say, "NO! I hate it," but I have never been good at lying. What I am good at doing is putting it in perspective that the best teachers and the best students don't actually take the summers off. Off implies a switch that flips when school ends, and doesn't flip back on until the day school begins, and it is my hope that neither teacher, nor student, has the capacity to do such a thing. Too much is lost when the summer is taken off. We (teachers and students) would lose the opportunity to come back to school better human beings then we were when we left it in the spring, and that is something that I think the best of us would say is simply not right.

Here is hoping that my summer break has given me the rest, adventure, study, and literary time I need to go back to school tomorrow a better human being & a better teacher. Best of luck to everyone, but especially to those who "took the summer off."