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How I spent by summer vacation. Teachers respond.

By: Debbie Leverance

Summer vacation is here and teachers are living the sweet life.

I remember thinking years ago how easy teachers had it – the perfect job for a wife and mother! Convenient schedule, home when the kids were, and relaxed weekends with family. Summers off camping in the woods or reading on the porch. As with most of our childhood imaginings, adult reality is a little messier, a bit less rosy and tempered by the bank balance much more than it should be.

Even so, most teachers meet the end of the year with a touch of sadness and a sigh of relief. A class really does become a close family over the course of a year, and after putting a bit of yourself in each of your students, it’s a little hard when they move on and out. This is the time to reflect on the successes and on the regrets, considering what worked and what needs to work better in the coming year. That’s the thing about teachers, they are eternal optimists. As they straighten the room for the last time this year, they are already planning how to best welcome and motivate the kids who will walk in that classroom door in a few short weeks.

I’ve checked with some local teachers to see how they are spending their summer. Here’s what I heard.

“Getting ready to visit my daughter in Colorado!” 

“In IL, visiting family and friends. Going to a college reunion!!!

Summer break is eight weeks, and most teachers will actually take a couple of weeks for true rest and recovery. Several of our teachers are off around the country to visit with family or just to enjoy a change of scenery. Teachers tend to be avid readers, but long days and busy schedules during the school year leave many just too tired, so break is a time to catch up on the stack of novels and professional reading accumulating next to the bed. Many teachers are dedicated volunteers outside the school setting and break is their time to give more to the causes they support. And summer is truly important family time as well. During the school year, especially working within the long daily hours of the four-day week, teachers use weekends planning lessons, gathering materials, grading, completing paperwork and working out family logistics for the coming week.

“Work, work, work!”

“I’m still working with kids who want to get a summer credit.”

June is student summer session, so some of our teachers and staff work through the month, and through July some can work on curriculum or other instructional projects. For others, summer is an opportunity to put in more hours at their year-round, part-time second job. Department and district meetings go on all summer. Club sponsors and coaches work with kids throughout summer. Before you know it, July 18 rolls around and back to school trainings begin.

Students repaint the lockers at Globe High in the colors of universities. Courtesy Photo

“I have been printing materials and getting ideas from Pinterest on how to set up my room and curriculum to better meet my students’ needs. I haven’t done a lot this month; I gave it to myself for finishing my masters. July will be back to work -although not exactly paid work.”

Colleges have adjusted their calendars to meet the needs of Arizona teachers and offer short, intensive classes that fit the summer shrinking summer break. Many teachers become students over summer, as all teachers are required to continue their own professional learning.

“I’ve been using all my ink in my new copier creating new literacy centers and grammar/vocabulary word walls. Also taking some great ELA webinars.”

“Fine tuning my teacher tracker (excel beast) used to track student data for data driven instruction, creating new lessons for AzMERIT/Galileo enrichment and remediation sessions, gathering student welcome materials, procrastinating…”

“Building data walls and charts.”

“Still working on schedules.”

As I said earlier, all teachers begin preparing for the coming year as soon as the departing class heads out the door. We look at the student progress for the kids we have had for the year to see what they mastered and what caused them to struggle. We take apart lessons and research new ways to present difficult material. We look at the progress of the kids that are coming in to our class to determine what areas of strengths and gaps they carry forward. Then we take our best teaching strategies and plan how we can and adjust them to meet those incoming kids at the right level and with the most effective and engaging activities we can. Lots of data study, research, planning, collaborating, practicing and preparing materials – and big chunks of time!

“Planning our daily schedule, gathering supplies for quiet activity boxes and coloring.”

“I’ve been to school twice to organize and rearrange.”

“The Senior Hall is almost ready to go for the new year!”

Finally, the fun stuff – preparing the physical classroom. Some of us have spent summers painting our rooms, many of us scour yard sales and discount stores looking for shelves, rugs, bulletin board decorations, realia, books and items for incentive, and all of us have invested hours and hours to make sure our classes are welcoming and ready to stimulate our new students on the first day. Not just teachers either- our principals have been caught outside painting pillars, weed-whacking and remodeling libraries.

So it turns out teacher summer is not just floating in the pool, nibbling bonbons. Teaching is a year round commitment, regardless of the number of days students are actually in class.  Recognizing that, Arizona richly rewarded her teachers’ expertise and dedication in the last legislative session. Yes, our legislators squeezed out a 1% teacher salary increase, enough to buy a daily Tall Starbucks regular coffee. Or, for the teacher planning on some summer dental work next year, if they save all that additional money, they’ll have enough for about one-third of a root canal.

Good thing teachers tend to be optimists.

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