I’m on a mini-vacay at my dad’s house in a small Texas town called Comfort. It’s wonderful here because it’s out in the country, there are backroads, trees, a river, and really nice people, and I can walk around town without worrying that a student will impinge on my “me time”. My dad owns a business here, and he inevitably introduces me to new people that come in. They usually ask what I do for a living, and when I tell them, I brace myself for the next thing that typically issues from their mouths- “Must be nice to have summers off!”
Seriously. If I hear this one more time, I might spontaneously combust!
We’ve all heard this ignorant comment at least once in our lives. It’s the ridiculous notion that people have who aren’t acquainted with, married to, or related to a teacher. I would bet that 95% of the teachers I know and work with spend at least 30% of their summer working. And I’m low-balling it.
This misguided idea leads to something I like to call Summer Teacher Guilt. It’s the underlying, nagging feeling that, if you’re a teacher, you shouldn’t be able to just relax for the weeks that you have off for summer break. You should be doing something productive. And I admit, I am guilty of this. If I’m being a sloth on my couch, binge watching Supernatural, there is a niggling feeling in the back of my brain saying, “You should be doing something”. More often than not, I am writing new curriculum, refining existing lessons, organizing binders, and generally honing my materials for the next school year during my summer. Oh, and I troll FB Marketplace and garage sales for furniture I can get for cheap (or for free!) to add to my flexible seating options. I usually need to overhaul each piece somehow- paint, upholstery, new hardware…it’s never-ending! I don’t work every day or even every other day, but I definitely don’t sit by a pool eating bon bons all summer either.
If you’re a teacher, or ever have been, you know the sheer mental exhaustion that overtakes you in the last few weeks of school. You know the only thing that helps you muscle through that circus is the promise of those weeks off to recharge your batteries. If you have never taught, you can’t possibly fathom what it means to know that summer is on the horizon, and you just have to make it there. Summer is our reward for not snapping during the school year and making a complete scene in our classroom because some kid asked us, “Are we doing anything in class today?” for the 100th time.
If you work in an office, you can go to the restroom when you want, shoot the breeze with coworkers for a few minutes over coffee, head out to a restaurant for a quick hour-long lunch, run an errand or make a phone call to the cable company, and maybe get up and stretch your legs for a few minutes to give your brain a rest from being “on”.
Try that with 20-40 kids in your room.
You can’t leave to go to the restroom when you have a room full of 8th graders waiting for that one moment you aren’t monitoring them. An hour-long lunch? Ha! Try 30 minutes in which you have to go to the bathroom, heat up your food (if you were silly enough to want a hot lunch), eat, clean up, and get ready for the kids to come back. That 30 minutes is gone before you know it! And forget adult conversation during the day. I used to eat in the faculty lounge, but now I shovel food in my mouth while I revel in the silence of my empty room. I may not see another adult for hours on end on a regular school day. We have too much to do!
So, yes. I am going to sit on the couch, read a book, play on my phone, go to the restroom when I want, and generally give my brain the rest it needs for me to recharge and reset for next year. There will be moments when I will feel guilty, get up and work for a few hours, and then settle back down for another episode of Scandal, but I am striving to enjoy my time this summer. I’ve earned it, and so has every other teacher I know.