“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a teacher.”
“Summers off, huh? Must be nice. So what do you DO all summer?”
That’s a conversation that every teacher has about 47,000 times a summer. Sometimes the tone is snarky, but most of the time, I think people are simply curious. A few people have left comments on the blog asking how I spend my summers, and I’m assuming that these people fall into the “curious” category and not the “snarky” (if I’m wrong, leave me to my delusions, please). Here’s a little insight on how I spend the time I’m not required to be at school.
- I teach. I don’t teach summer school every summer; I’ve taught it only twice — once at the middle school and currently at the community college. This college gig is not bad — two hours a day, three days a week (plus grading and planning time, of course)–but it would be nice if my students came to class a little more often and a little more promptly.
- I read. A lot. Summer is prime time for professional reading. I subscribe to several English teacher journals but rarely have time to even open them from August to May, so I spend a lot of time in the summer catching up. I also bookmark lots of online articles throughout the year, thinking “I’ll read them later.” “Later” always ends up being summer.
I also read a lot of adolescent literature during the summers, which I’ll readily admit does not feel like work. But I need to stay abreast of current YA lit trends, hit books, and up-and-comers so that I can recommend books to my students and have discussions with them. And I usually buy the books I read so I can put them on my classroom shelves, so Amazon LOVES me in the summer.
Of course, I also do more pure pleasure reading in the summers — from novels to nonfiction to running books/magazines to my Internet friends’ blogs. Though I also read those things during the school year, I have more time in the summers to read what I want to read.
- I write. A lot. I firmly believe that a person cannot be a good writing teacher if she never writes. That’s part of the reason I started this blog, actually — I hoped that if I had an audience and a consistent topic that interested me, I would at least do some writing during the school year. In the summers, I do a lot of other writing, too, from responses to silly prompts I find in books or online to professional writing (which someday I will get the nerve to submit to a journal). I have also participated in writing groups and classes in the past, but I’m not this year simply due to scheduling.
- I catch up on little things. As the year goes on, my stacks of “things to do later” just continue to grow. Small but necessary things like filing paperwork and inventorying my classroom library tend to get put off all year. Once the maintenance crew is done with my room (usually in July), I head in for a few days here and there to take care of all that junk.
- I work on improving what I do. All year, I jot little notes about what needs changed. in each unit and in the class as a whole. In the summer, I go back and make adjustments. I also adjust my plan for each year based on the incoming students (that’s the great thing about being in a tiny school — I have all my kids at least twice).
- I take classes and go to workshops. Some summers, I take all-summer classes (like when I was in grad school and when I did the National Writing Project). Other years, like this year, I just attend a few day- or week-long classes and trainings. Regardless of their length, these classes/workshops give me a chance to learn something new and network with other teachers — and I don’t have to take a day away from students.
- I go places. I may have made it sound thus far like summer is all work and no play, and that’s not true. Summer also gives us a chance to get away for a while. J and I usually try to take one big trip a year (South Carolina was this year’s), but we also do weekends in the mountains and visit family (see this post about our visit to my parents or this one about our weekend in Evergreen last summer). Even short weekend getaways are challenging during the school year, so we relish our chances to get away and relax.
- I go to the gym at non-peak times. And I love it.
- I go to the bathroom when I need to. Yes, this feels like a major privilege. If you get to do this on a regular basis, don’t take it for granted.
- I use silverware and chew my food. I know this sounds ridiculous, but having time to eat is something I look forward to most in the summers. During the school year, I almost always pack a morning snack of veggies and almonds… and it often takes me three hours to get it eaten. And our lunch break is 25 minutes, so by the time I get all the kids out of my classroom, use the bathroom, fill my water bottle, and get my turn at the microwave, I usually have just a few minutes to shovel down some food and get back to class. So it’s really nice to, you know, chew for three months.
So, in a (fairly large) nutshell, that is what I do all summer.
If you are a teacher, what do your summers look like? If you’re not, what would you do with a summer “off”?