Teachers get a lot of flack for a six letter word: S.U.M.M.E.R. In fact, virtually any complaint shared by an educator to a non-educator receives this response:
“Yes, but you get summers off.”
This logic naturally stems from the fact that many, many people have high stress jobs and could use the summers off. Well, I would like to argue the point that guiding a room full of young ones is a little different.
I entered the teaching profession when I was 32 years old, so luckily I have many professional experiences to compare it to. After graduating from Long Beach State, I started working for the Grammy Awards in Santa Monica. Glamorous? Yes. High stress? An insanely resounding YES! I had two weeks off a year. I needed them, I loved them, and did use them to decompress yet was always ready to return.
As Executive assistant to the President/CEO, I was virtually on call 24/7. If he were stranded at LAX, I got a call, if his boxer pups needed their tails snipped, I got a call, if his youngest son needed to be picked up in Malibu after his camp, I got a call. You get the picture. Dealing with rich, wealthy rock stars and savvy music execs on both the east and west coast, caused major, major stress and anxiety in my life.
I still didn’t need summers off: not like I do now and here is why...
When I started to reach my boiling point at the Grammy office, I left my desk and walked around the block, breathing in the salty Santa Monica air. When I stayed late the night before, I treated myself to a Starbucks the next morning and came in a bit later. When I needed to concentrate on my backlog of emails and paperwork, I shut my office door.
What can a teacher do when they reach a boiling point at work? Nothing. Swallow it and concentrate on your kids. Take a quick deep breath and keep rolling. We are charged with the care of our students. We legally cannot leave them alone even for a bathroom break because if something happens we are responsible. I have been sick and had to vomit but have held it in until break. Teachers have amazing bodily fluid controls.
Aside from physically not being able to leave the kids when you are in need, your paperwork, grading, planning, and all other school business need to wait until the end of the day. None of this can get done when you have between 25-40 young people in your class. Yes, we all have a prep period but that small chunk of time every other day is usually gobbled up by a meeting, subbing for someone else, or simply staying afloat by making a few copies and cleaning up the tornado that the kids left behind.
Summers off (which really equates to about 8 weeks) do include some professional development and some meetings, but you can breathe. Top 10 reasons we need them:
1. We need to actually spend time with your own family, without falling asleep on the couch at 8:15pm. Really listen, hang out, and be present with your own family. If you are a strong teacher, chances are you have ignored them a little for the past 10 months.
2. We need to have time to exercise, walk around the block, and do some yoga.
3. We need to reflect: your ability to reflect on the year becomes much easier when you are not waking up at 5:00am to do it again the next morning. What went really well? (the keepers) and What sucked? (the dumpers). Make two lists and adjust.
4. We need to refill: teaching is a profession that requires SO MUCH GIVING, that you have to have time to refill your vessel. Towards the end of the school year, teachers are hovering on empty, just like a gas tank. We have heard about breakups, bullying, divorces, learning disorders, college acceptances, remediation, and been the cheerleader for every student. It’s exhausting, and the attention needs to turn on us, for at least a little while, in order to fill back up for next year.
5. We need to binge watch a fun show on Netflix: “Dexter,” “Walking Dead,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” or “So You Think You Can Dance.” Lose yourself in the joy of someone entertaining YOU.
6. We need to Read, Read, Read. This needs to be broken down into two categories: beautiful fiction and inspiring non-fiction. Start with the fiction...lose yourself in a juicy crime novel or drippy romance or ridiculous fantasy. Relax and let the authors do all of the work. Then when you have had enough of a break from the classroom, troll Amazon or your local bookstore to find some ways to transform your pedagogy next year. Copy, steal, and emulate great teachers.
7. We need to swim.
8. We need to bake something new and cook something new (or at least eat something new).
9. We need to go somewhere new. It doesn’t need to be Paris (even though that would be amazing). Road trip to a town a couple hours away and go on an adventure. Yelp restaurants and secret spots on the internet and explore.
10. We need to organize our classroom: I love grabbing an extra large Diet Coke and blasting some Tears for Fears while redecorating my classroom in the summer time. It is therapy at its finest. Include your own kids and purge the stuff you haven’t used in 5 years and tidy up the stuff you did and will use.
You can probably think of 100s more (and I hope you can!). Enjoy every minute of your recharge. You have earned it, and we need you back in the classroom in fall relaxed, recharged, and ready to go. Remember, a happy teacher makes a good teacher. And then next time someone says “yes, but you get summers off” simply reply with a smile:
Yes, I sure do.