Tuesday, June 7, 2016

On Summer

Today after barre, I headed to the grocery store to pick up a few things, and one of my former students was working the check out (which happens, I'd say, 50% of the time we go to the grocery store). "Are you ready to go back to teaching?!" she exclaimed.

I thought it was quite sweet: I guess my passion for teaching must really show when my students assume I'd prefer it to a break. I told the student that I just finished my online interim class on Friday. This was my way of avoiding answering because my answer is a little too complex for express line checkout conversation.

The truth is, I feel like summer is essential to helping me be a great teacher. Summer is a time for me to take time for myself. When I do that, I return to teaching better all around for my students. I wanted to reflect a little on how this happens. For anyone who is a teacher, loves a teacher, or is just curious on the summer vs. school year dynamic from a teacher's perspective, read on!

1.) The most common misconception about summer vacation is that teachers don't do any work during summer. While it's true we don't work as much and don't have set work hours, there are still responsibilities taken care of during summer. For example: we may still have committee meetings (that's where Brendan is right now), meetings with staff members, conferences and conference preparation, or presentations on campus; we take time to fix our courses/syllabi/reading lists, etc; we may pick up extra work (teaching the interim course and designing an online presence for the writing lab are my summer initiatives), and we still think about teaching. For example, right now, I'm reading a book on pedagogy and am involved in a book club with some other teachers. I also read for fun, but I often use my for fun reading in the classroom (for example, I referenced this book to help teach my students about warrants and enthymemes in 1302). In addition, teachers in the fine arts (like creative writing, visual art, music) use the time to work on projects (for instance, writing, painting, and composing). Teachers for grades K-12 often use summer time to organize and clean the classroom for the start of the new year. Many of us volunteer with summer reading, adult literacy, or other educational programs. I don't think teachers find the misunderstanding offensive (I certainly don't), but it's not accurate to say we stop thinking about teaching.

2.) The summer gives us time to take care of ourselves. Doctors appointments, dentist appointments, actually eating some vegetables again: these are the things that happen in the summer. Seriously though, we have two personal days per calendar year, and I think we both always waste one that we lose at the year's end (the other we always use for a wedding). I have taken one sick day in my four years of full time teaching (Brendan has taken one day in five years). "This is crazy!" a rational being may think. Yes, but teacher guilt is REAL. I know a substitute won't teach it the way I will, so I basically take medicine and power through. We plan all of the appointments that we can for the summer.

3.) We have time to reconnect with family. We nurture our relationships with friends, spouses, and children. It's important because sometimes those most important to us get neglected during the school year (since grading happens late into the night and on weekends, we aren't always there for people the way we wish we could be). The summer has already allowed us to be there for my grandmother while she's in a nursing home and a neighbor that has recently lost his wife to ALS. We have time to do good deeds for friends and the community.

4.) Brain space is cleared. I'll try to remember the names of former students but sometimes after summer, I can't recall them. I feel like I have room to think of new ideas. It's exciting! The stress in my body from the "go go go" of the school year lifts, and I feel physically and mentally relaxed. Summer is essential to my mental health. Without it, I would probably have my shoulders pulled up to my ears all year long.

5.) Our summer travels allow us to explore new places, cultures, and perspectives. We bring all that we learn back to our teaching, and it enhances our classrooms in countless ways.

6.) The summer allows us to take risks. These risks challenge us, much like our students feel challenged, and allow us to constantly stay in touch with empathy and remember how it feels to be scared and overwhelmed. This school year, I thought of the first day of class for my students as being like meeting my white water rafting instructors was for me: I needed to be collected enough to show my students that they were in good hands while also being humorous enough to distract us all from the fact that we're about to raft over rapids in a boat made of air. Mission accomplished.

7.) Summer allows us to come back in the fall as patient and sane people. Education is stressful. The students need a break, and so do the teachers if we're to do our best work. We all have to learn life lessons during the summer and step away from course lessons; both must be equally balanced for us to be well rounded.

So, maybe if I had more than eleven items, I would have had time to tell my student all of that. I feel like a teacher in my bones, and yes, I will miss it, but right now, I need time to live "on the other side" of the school year and do the work that is working on me.

So this weekend, our first official weekend with no teaching responsibilities, we returned to the farmer's market. We returned to nights spent cooking and laughing together, eating food that tastes homegrown, and giving thanks for time with each other. We are thankful: for summer...

for tomatoes...

for pizza...

and for time to be ourselves.

We hope our teacher and non-teacher readers alike take time for themselves this summer. Whoever we are and whatever we do, a break is essential to our well being.

Here's to a break!

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