School Is Out... But Teachers Are In

Congratulations to all the teachers who are finishing out the 2018-19 academic year. School’s out, now the fun begins, right? Summer is nothing but endless stretches of free time, long days and short nights, sleep-ins, siestas, and late dinners past midnight, right? I mean, this is where it all pays off, right?   

“Summer Vacation” is what many give as the reason why teachers make more than enough of a salary. This is, perhaps, why society falls into the temptation of the Underpaid Teacher’s Myth. What kind of serious profession exists for only 10 months of the year? Nine, if you include the winter and spring breaks and holidays.

But here’s where the relational truth-tellers collide with the economics-minded out there who equate teaching hours with classroom hours, who disregard the prep time, correcting time, conferencing time, PD time, and meeting time (which all take place outside the 8 – 3:30 school day). I call this time relational time. How do I prepare so my students engage? How do I correct in a way that motivates hope instead of crushing it? How do I conference with parents in a manner that is peaceful and aligning? How do I use this PD to more effectively teach each individual student? How do I make the most of faculty meetings so I can facilitate trust-based relationships?

The truth is clear. By now, teachers have spent 10 months working endlessly in fully immersive jobs. They taught, learned, assessed, tutored, coached, counseled, created, collaborated, debated, engaged, dismissed, observed, listened, delivered, disciplined, smiled, grimaced, regretted, celebrated, elevated, inspired, challenged, restrained, responded, reacted, reframed, communicated, calmed, critiqued, recalibrated, trusted, hoped, nurtured, explored, guided, journeyed, performed, perfected, related, participated, preached, invented and regulated.

With all of those deliverables taking place over the course of the school year—rather, day—it is understandable that we assume the summer season to be a “hands off” time for well-earned ease. They’re exhausted, and they deserve to rest!

But here’s where the irony is…for most teachers, the summer is continued work. Yes, it might be work of a completely different kind (I know teachers running the gamut from working at bookshops to captaining ferries). But it’s work necessary to balancing the family budget. Many teachers attend summer professional development workshops, aimed at promoting new ways to improve their instructional delivery, pedagogical practices, assessment techniques, curriculum development, and social-emotional learning skills. 

Therefore, summer is not the “end goal”. While I can’t find a teacher who would give up summer for a 12-month school year, I also can’t think of a teacher who can cleanly detach from their career once the classroom door is shut for the last time until August. The “what if’s” continue to creep into thoughts and daydreams. The mistakes made over the year will not occur the year following, given the time spent reflecting and reframing over the summer months. The “ghosts from students’ past” remain. And this is all because teaching is a relational—and human—endeavor. 

All of you reading this blog already support the hard work teachers do every day. Together, let’s build more empathy into those who claim that teachers have it easy because of, well, summer

Nat Damon