What’s It Like To Have Summers Off?

Posted on August 11, 2015

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As a teacher, I am often asked, “What’s it like to have summers off?”

Summertime is a very special time for me as a teacher. It isn’t, however, “time off” from work. It it is NOT a vacation. I make time to vacation in my summer, because self-care is important, but that is a few days here and there, it isn’t the majority of the time. There are lots of kinds of work that I do over summer, and for the most part, I work 5 days per week. A few of the things I do are: review and write curriculum and lessons; read, evaluate, select, and order new texts to be read in my courses; create, disseminate, and conference on the summer reading assignment for incoming IB Juniors; meet with administrators and colleagues; attend training for IB and MYP implementation; meet with alumni; network with community members to find opportunities to enrich courses (community actions and events,  guests speakers, collaborations); and attend professional development workshops. Sometimes, I attend graduate classes at EMU to maintain my teacher certification. This summer, my professional development calendar has been booked solid. This summer, which is typical for me, I have attended:

  • a 3-day conference on Interdisciplinary Units in the Middle Years Program (IB)

    nErDcampMI presenters, Kristin Beth Shaum, and Angela Knight

    nErDcampMI presenters, Kristin LeBlanc. Beth Shaum, and Kevin English

  • a full day of literacy workshops at nErDcampMI
  • two workdays for Eastern Michigan Writing Project Teacher Research
  • two workdays for Teacher Advocacy with Cathy Fleischer @ EMU
  • and a four-day writing retreat

Each of these experiences requires a fair amount of scholarly reading, and I write pages and pages of notes, research, blogs, articles, proposals, presentations, lesson plans, and feedback on other teachers’ work as a normal part of the process. Tomorrow, I’ll be on my way to Baraboo, Wisconsin for the Building A Land Ethic Conference for 3 days.

When I take college classes or travel for professional development, with very few exceptions, I pay for my registration, transportation, lodging, and food. When I buy materials for my classroom at workshops, I do it on my own dime. AND I AM NOT THE EXCEPTION; most teachers do similar things. There are studies out that show that teachers spend hundreds–up to thousands–of dollars per year to give students excellent educational experiences.

WHY? WHY DO WE DO IT? ARE WE CRAZY?

Teacher-Researcher, Angela Knight

Teacher-Researchers, Angela Knight (l) and Kris Gedeon (r)

I can’t say why other teachers do these things, but I can tell you why I do it. Here are a few of the reasons I go to “summer school.”

  1. Expertise. The Eastern Michigan Writing Project is home to some of the most highly-regarded teacher-scholars in English Education. Lots of members of EMWP are doing excellent work in the classroom and in the blogs, journal articles, and conference presentations where they share their work. Likewise, the other conferences and workshops I attend are led by “the best in the biz”.
  2. Evidence. The presenters have lots of research that provides evidence for the efficacy and ethics of their practice. It is important to know that practices work well with real students in real classrooms and that they are developmentally appropriate and ethical. This is particularly important when non-educators are pushing untested and unethical curricula and assessment products and practices into classrooms under the guise of “education reform.”
  3. Relevance. The professional development I seek is particular to English Language Arts and other topics that pertain to the courses that I teach and the students in the community where I teach. Professional development is NOT “one size fits all,” although it is often marketed and presented as such.
  4. Excellence. I want to be the best teacher I can be. That means I have to learn from the best in the profession, the people who do the teaching, do the research, write the books and articles, and are recognized for doing it well by professional organizations, such as National Writing Project and National Council of Teachers of English.
  5. Professionalism. I am treated as a professional by colleagues who act as professionals. We engage in conversations about teaching and learning that are rich, deep, and lively–but most importantly, voluntary. All participants are allowed to engage at the level that’s appropriate for them; diversity is celebrated; the focus is on learning for learning’s sake, not for the sake of test scores. Participants are deeply invested in doing things that help students become excellent readers, writers, and thinkers–because that’s what’s best for students and communities.
  6. Collegiality. Since the focus is on teaching and learning and participation is voluntary, there is an atmosphere of camaraderie and compassion, not competition. People share freely of their time, talents, and resources. Relationships form and develop over shared interests and passions. Participating in a workshop with someone leads to connecting on social media, and as these friendships grow, colleagues around the nation and around the world inform and enrich each others’ practice. An international network is created and becomes a rich resource to call upon when questions arise.
  7. LOVE. This is the MOST important reason. I go to “summer school” for love: love of my students, love of my community, love of language, love of learning, and love of the teaching profession. This is love as a VERB. When I and my colleagues spend our summers working to make our classroom practice better, it is love in action. That shared love is clearly visible on the faces and in the work of my colleagues. We LOVE teaching and learning, and we LOVE getting better at it–together.

Some people like to talk about how teachers go into the profession to have “summers off.” Although I can’t say there aren’t some teachers like that in the profession, I can say that I don’t know any. Even in the face of constant demonization in the media, even when presidential candidates say they want to punch us in the face, even when we have to pay for the professional development that will allow us to improve our practice ourselves, we go to “summer school,” and we do it out of LOVE. So…what’s it like to have summers off? I don’t know. Try asking a legislator.

Cathy Fleischer's Teacher Advocacy Class at EMU

Cathy Fleischer’s Teacher Advocacy Class at EMU

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