Whenever I would tell someone I was a teacher, the frequent response was, “Oh, I always thought that would be so fun . . . and you get summers off, too!” In order to be completely honest with you, I must confess that I, too, thought the same thing before I became a teacher. I thought it would be the coolest job, envisioning the classrooms of my favorite, cool, teachers as my own. My students would come back to visit me when I was gray, and every year would be like I’d started a new job, because I’d have just had three months off to travel the world, relax on the beach, or get lots of work done around the house.
I thought I’d write a little story about my typical summers as a teacher. I’ll try to make it as light-hearted as possible, but there is truth in this little story, and as you progress through your life as a teacher, you’ll realize just how much of it is true . . .
Once upon a time, there was a little teacher. She had looked forward to becoming a teacher since she was a young girl, and sure enough, one day, she realized her dream. The first year was hard, harder than any job she’d ever had, but confident in the knowledge that this was meant to be, she trudged through. A wise old teacher had warned her at the first of the year just how hard it would be and she was grateful, because there had been many times she thought about throwing in the towel and the old women’s words would come to her, “the first year will be incredibly difficult, but you must remember the second year will be better.” May rolled around before she knew it and, although she had not accomplished all she wanted to, she felt like she’d given it a good first year.
In May, after the state standardized tests had all been locked away, all the fun labs had been performed, and the last of the students had taken their final exam, the little teacher began to pack a box.
“I’ll take all these lesson plans home, and these textbooks, and I can’t forget the files. I’ll have all kinds of time this summer . . . I can write an entirely new curriculum for next year!” She worked for a district that gave teachers the freedom to design their own curriculum, even the new ones, and she wanted to make the perfect curriculum that would make her students love science and make her job easier at the same time.
She took the box out to her car and remembered the fish in her room. “Oh, well, I’ll just be sure to come to the school once a month and put a new feeding stone in. I know I’ll have plenty of time and I can work on my room when I’m here, too!”
Cheerfully, she practically skipped out the door and to her car. She listened to classical music all the way home and looked forward to the great summer she was going to have.
Two months later . . . (not three, because nowdays summer is a lot shorter than she remembered as a kid)
The little teacher frowned as she trudged up to the school. She carried a box. It was a box full of lesson plans, textbooks, and files. The box was still sealed shut with the packing tape she’d used at the beginning of summer. The box had sat in her living room for two months and now was going to sit under her desk.
She was greeted at the door of the school by a smiling principal’s secretary. She handed the little teacher a sheet of paper with everyone’s teaching assignments. The little teacher clenched the paper between her teeth and carried the box up to her classroom. There was a note on the door “Mrs. Plybon, you are in room 308 now”. She turned to see room 308. She could have sworn that room was a storage room last year. She opened the door. Yes, it was a storage room and now it had a desk, a locking cabinet, and that’s about it. No lab tables, no lab equipment. Hmmm.
She sat down at her desk and looked at the teaching assignment. She had started the summer being told she was going to teach Biology and GMO (Geology, Meteorology, and Oceanography). The teaching assignment said she’d be teaching Chemistry. She thought about all the professional development she’d attended over the summer — two weeks of Biology, two weeks of technology-related workshops and institutes (to assist her in a classroom with no computers other than the teacher desktop), and another several days of GT training, Assessment training, Classroom Management training, etc.
She looked at the box. “I guess I’m glad I didn’t get around to planning any lessons for this year.” She tried to remember what she knew about Chemistry, but drew a blank. She decided to head downstairs for the big first-day-back gathering in the auditorium. As she passed her old room, she smelled something.
It smelled like dead fish . . .
The truth about summer is that you will have grand plans for all the things you are going to do over the summer to make your job easier the next year and you most likely won’t accomplish any of them. You will think you’ll have a lot of time for travel, and you very well may get to do so, but you’ll feel like your summer flew by. You will always pack a box to take home at the beginning of summer and you will always bring the same box, unopened, back to school at the end of summer. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I never came back to school at the start of the year teaching the classes I thought I was going to teach at the start of summer. I always took professional development classes for the wrong content area.
My last summer as a teacher, I literally was home a grand total of 14 days, and those were spread out, not all at once.
BUT, I also always became energized after spending that first week back before the students arrived – reconnecting with the other teachers, hearing new ideas and making new plans for the best way to teach my kids. The fact is, there is no other job that allows you to have the freedom to decide how much you are going to work for two months out of the year. Decide what you want your priorities to be during that time, plan wisely, and smile whenever someone says, “oh, that must be such a cool job!”