Summer vacation nips at the heels of spring field trips, eighth grade promotions, and high school graduations. Although days of summer sun lengthen in the count of hours, summer vacation grows shorter as each sun sets. For teachers and students, these days are numbered from the outset—not by a meteorological calendar or an astrological season but by a definitive board authorized document, union approved and community respected.
In a career of nearly thirty years, I have learned a thing or two about enjoying summer breaks and returning to work spiritually and intellectually sharp. Although not all of the following endeavors can be practically completed in a single summer, they may act as food for thought in your summer plan.
Don’t count the days
As a school year moves towards the concluding days, teachers and students naturally are on a countdown. But once the year has come to end, stop counting. As a novice teacher I counted down the days of summer like a kid counting down to Christmas. After a couple of summers, I came to realize that counting down the days until school started fostered a sense of tension in a time that was intended to provide an opportunity for release and reflection. Through my experiences of life, I have found that living in the moment is much more redemptive than counting days—either into the future or beyond the past.
Learn how to do something new
And I am not talking about a new teaching strategy. Learn how to do something you have never done before or perhaps build on something you have tinkered with in the past and this summer have chosen to hone. Over the years, I have taken photography classes, gardening classes, knitting classes, painting classes, golf lessons, and lifeguard classes. I have also taken online instruction in coding, building household furniture, and wiring electrical devices. Each of these forays into learning benefited my personal life—where I put the fruit of labor to practical work—and my professional life. By putting oneself in the position of learner, we are reminded of how it feels to be the student in the room–not the teacher.
Go somewhere on your bucket list
Waiting for retirement to begin checking off the catalog of places to go and things to see may seem an appropriate award for a career well-lived. But in the reality of an educator’s life, experiencing the beauty of the world while still in the classroom can add to the richness of teaching and learning. Teachers naturally bring personal experiences to students as a tool in developing relationships and extending formal learning. Oftentimes, once-in-a-lifetime experiences are made all the richer and more valuable through sharing. In sharing unique personal experiences with students, teachers can simultaneously peak learning curiosity while building essential and worldly background knowledge.
Volunteer in your community
You may teach in your community and if so, you are probably a significant figure in the local volunteer force. However, if you teach in a community other than the one in which you live, becoming locally involved can be a two-way eye-opener: you will learn more about your neighbors and likewise, your neighbors will learn more about you. Typically, I prefer to volunteer in areas that are not directly related to education. There are opportunities to get your hands dirty working with the park system or local beautification programs, supporting the sick or elderly through church groups or other outreach programs. Local museums, the YMCA, and numerous other non-profits are also looking for volunteers to support their burgeoning summer visitors.
Spend time with friends & family
The demand of teaching is not a typical “8 to 5” job. Grading and lesson planning become evening and weekend companions for many teachers. Many a memory I have of sitting in the stands “watching” a sporting event with textbook in hand preparing for next week’s lessons. And what teacher hasn’t replaced a weekend social outing with a “must-do” lesson planning or grading marathon. In the busyness of a teacher’s life, friends and extended family often fade into the background. This summer, plan to set aside time for friends and family sidelined during the school months. Choose to set aside a day each week for visiting nearby friends or reserve a weekend in June, July, and August to spend with more distant family. Friendships require care and feeding, but nurtured and encouraged, they will continue to grace your life far beyond classroom days.
Find some “me” time
When was the last time you went somewhere by yourself just for the purpose of doing what you want to do? Fishing? Golfing? Manicure? Museum? Lunch? There can be great pleasure in being alone, either to think about the weights of the world without interruption or to enjoy the blessings of the world in the solace of peace.
Read a book—not about education
When I was in the classroom, I spent so much time reading about teaching and best practices that I had no time to indulge myself in the enjoyment of current fiction or nonfiction. Since I’ve found time to read for personal pleasure and edification, I find that I am a better teacher with a broader base for conversation and empathy across the diverse populations we serve. Suggestions in nonfiction? Anything by Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics by Steven Levitt, King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Nochschild. Some favorite fiction titles: All the Lasting Things, Sing Them Home, All the Light We Cannot See, Half Yellow Sun to name a few.
Read a book—about education
Some teachers don’t have time to read about their profession during the school year. Summer reading about teaching can serve as personal professional development more productive than taking a class. As you read, you can make connections to what and how you taught last year and consider adaptations to your craft for next year. Some suggestions: for ELA teachers, Beers and Probst’s Notice & Note or Reading Nonfiction; for Social Studies Teachers, Wineburg, Marin and Monte-Sano’s Reading Like A Historian, Monte-Sano, DeLaPaz, and Felton’s Reading, Thinking & Writing About History; for math teachers, Humphreys and Parker’s Making Number Talks Matter.
Yes, the days of summer are finite. Once frittered away, they cannot be recycled into use. And though the exhausted teacher may dream of morning sleep-ins, poolside vigils, or DVR catch-up, hours left unplanned or uncommitted may turn into time squandered. Oh, I’m not suggesting that a sleep-in isn’t necessary or a pool-day is without value, but I am suggesting that if you haven’t thought about how to plan for summer, you might want to consider some means of renewal now, before the “call back to school” letter arrives in a few very short weeks.
Image credits: Feature image, “Friends and Family” author owned.