What it Means to have Summer Off…Really

“Oh, you’re a teacher? It must be so great to have summers off.”

I bite my tongue and smile and confidently respond, “It is perfect.” But what I really want to share is, that in the nearly two decades I have been in education? I have never had a summer off.

Do I go on vacation? Sure. But my vacation time is a perpetual context for, “What can I bring back to my classroom?”

My summers off are littered with things like mermaid’s purses found on every coastline neatly preserved in beach bags, professional learning conferences on topics I might incorporate into my repertoire, dollar store seasonal purchases (dissected pool noodles make great anythings), visiting thrift stores for books that will need recovering and furniture that will need repurposed for next year’s classroom, oh and that really cool taxidermy..wait what is that?

My summer is dotted with collecting pamphlets and maps and leaflets that will wallpaper a nook in the room for my kids that don’t travel or can’t share what they did on their summer vacation. I read. Goodness do I read. I have a stack of a dozen educational books and a dozen or so pleasure books. The educational books impact my teaching. The pleasure books enhance my understanding of author’s craft, vocabulary and ideas, which enhance my teaching.

It’s the uninterrupted silence of summer that allows teachers to focus and absorb and be inspired. I visit other teacher friends and what do we do? Talk about teaching. Teachers never have enough time to collaborate and just chew over the things we are doing. Summer is our stage for bonding.

I travel, of course. But my travels are always laced with “how will this experience impact the experiences I share with children?” What book can I bring back, what story, what photograph…what will translate to learning in my classroom. What questions can I ask? What ideas will this spur?

I plan. Over and over I plan. Schedules and groups and ideas. I write ideas down and cross them out. I even read through this last year’s lesson plans. I think of how to make things better. I shop. I buy new pillows and lap desks and wait, have you seen the stability balls that are shaped like cows and they come in colors and have polka dots on them?

I search for funding. Grants. Freebies. Resources. I spend time writing. Sharing my demographics, writing my class’ story, explaining why I need, “4,000 craft sticks, 12 skeins of yarn, 8 flashlights an abundance of aluminum foil and a groundhog.” Wait…a groundhog? Yes. How can my students possibly build shadow blockers for a groundhog without knowing what a groundhog is?

I am a zookeeper in the summer. I have to tend to the menagerie that during the school year is lovingly cared for by my students. I have forgotten the debate lesson on whether a chinchilla would make a good pet or not until his nocturnal instincts kick in and I hear him chirping night after night.

I teach a class of teachers. You know others of us that have all summer off. Teachers that want to do more for their learners. More differentiation, more authentic assessment and more relationship building. I spend an enormous amount of time writing feedback on endless papers to cheer these teachers on.

I’m in graduate school. I take classes on data analysis and leadership and professional development and 21st Century Learning. I want my students to understand what being a perpetual learner looks like, so I model it. I want to be on the cutting edge of theory and practice, so I do it.

I come to school. If you’ve never been in a school building in the summer? It’s an amazing perspective. It’s quiet, but expecting. I clean out cabinets. I move furniture. I change the theme. I dust. I reflect and picture the faces of the kiddoes who have created the memories. I walk on my knees to make sure the things I want the kids to see and touch and behold are at their height. I dream of an HGTV classroom swap and add that to the list of ideas for a lesson on letter writing and persuasion and design and color and math and advertising and properties of materials and best environments for learning and wait! What if I started with nothing in my room next year and my students spent their first few days in an HGTV experience and flipped our room. Eureka! I start to pack up my room, again.

So you see, teachers don’t really have summers off. I’m not sure how we could have summers off. Even laying on the beach, disconnected from anything categorized as technically “education,” some of us are counting the waves per second, imagining the life beneath the ocean, wondering how much salt is in the ocean—and for me, my summers off tend to be the most rejuvenating, authentically inspired times—because it’s not really a summer off. It’s a summer ON.

Summer gives me the change of pace, but not changed learning. My audience isn’t a finite group of learners but a possible group of kiddoes that will come into my classroom at the beginning of the year bright-eyed and eager and ask me, “What did you do all summer?” I need to be prepared.

So, I guess when I am greeted with, “Oh, you’re a teacher? It must be so great to have summers off.” My response is absolutely honest and not said with haste. My summer, quite simply, is “Perfect.”

Author: Dr. Valerie King

Quirky thinker. Joyful teacher. Perpetual learner. For the Kids.

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