Teacher Summers “Off”

As I write this, the keyboard feels foreign beneath my fingertips.

I’m sitting on the patio of the Mesa Lakes Resort Lodge, at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level on the Grand Mesa in western Colorado. I’m watching some clouds roll in over the hills, threatening the current serenity of my vista of Beaver Lake. I think I hear thunder rumbling in the distance.

It’s my job as a teacher that allows me to take three and a half week long road trips like the one that is ending for me here shortly. We head back home on Tuesday. My family and I will have friends in family in town for a few days after that, but the day that The Paper Graders have to report back to school for a new school year is less than two weeks away.

This year I’m feeling rested (especially after the afternoon nap I just took) and excited to get started on another school year. I’m happy about that. It’s been a few years since I’ve been happy about that (the last two years have been pretty rough transitions back into school for me).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people comment on the ease of the teacher’s job because of the three months off in the summer. It just about makes me crazy. It’s usually not three months (10 weeks this summer). And it’s rarely “off.” I spent a good chunk of my first week “off” working with my district on some long-range planning. I’ve been working on a paper to publish about my flexible attendance pilot study this past year with my seniors. I reworked a book proposal for my doctoral dissertation to send it out again. I spent a day with three colleagues in June working on making sure our college prep curriculum aligns with the Common Core standards. I spent two weeks in Phoenix learning about how to teach journalism better. I spent three days in Kansas City (leaving my family in the middle of our road trip adventure) learning about being a yearbook adviser. And as co-department chair, I’ve had work related to scheduling and hiring for my department that is still not finalized and school starts very soon.

Yes, I’ve had a lot of time “off” this summer, more than perhaps other professionals who are not teachers get. I was even able to relax enough to knit. This is not something that I can ever accomplish during the school year. I finished the shawl I’ve been knitting for my mom for two years now (it takes a while to knit something when the only time you can work on it is when you hit relax ground zero for a few days in the summer). I’ve read some good books. I’ve had a lot of time to giggle with my kid.

But then the teacher frustration dreams started. In the first one, I was at school on the first day in my pajamas and school was about to start. I needed to get into a locker for some reason to get what I needed for the day, but I couldn’t open the locker because the lock had turned into some kind of insane video game. I began to panic as I realized I may not have time to shower and change before my first class. In the second dream (the next night), the principal told me I was a band teacher. Band? What? Why? I panicked as I tried to figure out which of my language arts or journalism classes I would give up to make space for teaching band. In a third frustration dream, I was trying to get a study hall going but no one was listening to me, including the senior who was lying on her back on the floor saying, “I HATE school.” And there was a fourth dream, but I can’t remember exactly what the plot was.

These kinds of dreams happen to me when my subconscious mind is anxious–anxious in this case about being ready for the school year. I have a tremendous amount of work to do, more than I can accomplish in the few days back to work before the students show up. I have to re-work my journalism curriculum for three journalism classes. I have to continue the work my colleagues and I started in June on my department’s college prep curriculum. I have to finalize the schedule for my department and check in with my school administration on some key details that need to be hammered down.

So there I was, sitting in a lodge lobby at Grand Teton National Park working on journalism curriculum in the middle of a family vacation hoping that getting a start on the work would put my subconscious mind at ease and the teaching frustration dreams would stop. They have. For now.

I think the summer I’ve had is not atypical for teachers. Many of us attend trainings and workshops and seek out our own professional development because it’s so difficult to fit this stuff in during the school year. Many of us spend hours over the summer working on our curriculum and lesson plans so we are ready to go when the year starts. I posted on Facebook about my teacher frustration dreams, and many of my teacher FB friends chimed in with reports of their own dreams about not being ready for the school year.

So while I’m basking in that feeling of being “off” for the summer, gazing out at a lake now dimpled with rain drops, totally unaware of what time it is, not really sure what day it is, halfway finished with the scarf I started after I finished knitting my mom’s shawl, I’m realizing how much work I’ve really done this summer and I am glad for it. My excitement about going back to school may have a lot to do with the thinking and work that I’ve done in my time “off.” For example, I took a day-long photo journalism workshop at yearbook adviser training and I finally know how to teach my students to use the cameras we have for the publication courses. I won’t feel clueless any more. I’ll be able to arm them with information that will help them become photographers. I’m also excited about the depth I’ll be able to achieve with my journalism curriculum now after the professional development I had in Phoenix. Can’t wait to reconnect with my newspaper staff and tell them all about it. Can’t wait to make the beginning journalism class more rigorous and meaningful. And after telling the story of Frankenstein to my daughter and the young friends who are traveling with us right now yesterday, I’m thinking the time may be right to use this novel with my seniors for the novel we read together at the beginning of second semester. I love this book. The conversation yesterday reminded me why. And I can’t wait to meet my students, to see who I get to spend another school year with this year.

So I’ll work to soak in the last few days of summer break, but it’s really time for me to get started on a new school year.

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One Response to Teacher Summers “Off”

  1. Andy says:

    I appreciate this very much. As the child of a teacher who is now married to a teacher, I have seen firsthand what “summers” off look like. I know in my own professional work, when I’m sent for training, a number of my other responsibilities are put on hold. But, you can’t just leave a group of students in the middle of a semester to go do some PD. The eight weeks “off” in the summer my wife is afforded are filled with professional development, often at her own expense. They include meeting students at school for a co-curricular activity she sponsors. They involve preparing for the next year and the new students and the changes in the evaluation process. And when school starts, there is no stopping. During my days at work, if I need a break, I simply get up and take a walk around the building. But when the bell rings at 8 AM and 30 faces are staring at my wife, she can’t just “need a break” and take a 15 minute walk. And then there’s another class at 9:40. Teaching is hard, demanding work. I’ve done it at the college level and it takes an immense amount of time to be decent at it. Thank you for illuminating what really happens in a “teacher summer.”

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