Summer Break

In Defense of Doing Nothing This Summer

Disclaimer: Sorry for all you poor souls who teach year-round. You can disregard this post.

“I’d let someone punch me for nine straight months if it meant I got two months off,” a friend of mine has said to me. For many teachers, that is what it feels like: Nine months of getting punched in the face (metaphorically, but if you’ve really had a bad year, literally). I was one of the lucky ones. My cousin was taken aback when, a couple days after school ended, I answered “It’s been pretty great, actually” to her “How was the end of the school year?” She figured most teachers are pulling their hair out. For me, the end was joyous and not that stressful. One of my students in my “family” graduated, and I got to take a group of kids to Boulder to go hiking. There wasn’t much drama, and I got enough done during our work day to throw in the towel and not have to bring anything home for now.

I don’t have the post-end-of-the-year aftershocks like I have had at the end of school years before; maybe I’m just getting better at being resilient and knowing what to let go. My “it is what it is” attitude, for better or worse, is very refined at this point. I actually felt like “Ok, what next? What new learning for myself can I get my hands on?” But then I stopped that thought and deliberately decided that, for two months, I am going to do absolutely no work, trainings, or anything related to teaching. I have checked the SAT scores of my kids because I’m curious. And I looked at my email a couple times. But that’s it.

A few years ago, a very successful and seasoned teacher said to me: “In the summers, I live it up. I don’t do anything related to school.” Back then, I wondered how to become a great teacher and not use that valuable free time in summer. What’s better—read that new book about differentiation, or watch twelve hours of Orange is the New Black? (Answer: I have not only watch the whole OITNB season, but also the new House of Cards. Winning!) There really is so much free time (at least for me, because I have no kids 🙂 ) I felt very guilty if I didn’t devote it to getting better at teaching.

If you follow other teachers on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media, you probably see posts of the ISTE conference, the AVID trainings, twitter chats, etc. Being part of the blogging world, I see teachers (and people who aren’t) all wrapped up in sharing ideas rampantly on Twitter. I figure that’s a small percentage of the teaching workforce. But it doesn’t seem like it; it seems to like everyone else is more devoted or amped about education than those of us who choose to sit back and do nothing. It’s like FOMO, but for teaching. If that’s a thing. Am I alone in this feeling?

Being introverted, you’d think I’d love to connect with people about teaching through social media because I don’t have to actually talk to them. But that’s not the case. It actually stresses me out and makes me feel like if I’m on the internet, I can’t divide life and work. I don’t want work to pervade my screen time. It’s all or nothing for me, most of the time.

I don’t know how my situation compares to the majority of teachers across the country. I sympathize with the “teachers do work a lot in the summer” sentiment, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this Atlantic article for some perspective. It seems that a lot of schools vary in their expectations of what teachers do, basically, for free. I said no to attending two trainings this summer sponsored by my district (of which I could use for re-licensing hours), and two paid summer school teaching type positions for extra duty income. I am painfully aware that many teachers need the money, and they’ll do the extra work. Living in Denver, my colleagues need that extra money to pay for the ‘extras’—vacation, kid’s sports fees, etc. I could write a whole other post about this. I may have to change my ‘no-summer-work’ policy in the future, depending on my financial situation.

But for now, I do nothing. I am enjoying (save this blog post) taking a break from blogging, immersing myself in other things I like doing and learning about, and catching up with family. Take care of yourselves, teachers. Summer is sacred. Say no to the not required trainings. Go outside. Avoid the education book aisle. (Playfully) Scorn your work friends who bring up work (shout out to my work friends who playfully scorn me, ILY). I am also starting graduate school (Curriculum and Instruction: Reading and Writing–holla!) at the University of Colorado-Denver this fall, so I guess you could say I’m banking the R&R now in preparation. Winter is coming. You can bet between that, National Board, and teaching full time, I’ll be writing something related to keeping my head up through it all.

Also: Special shout-out to my husband, who just finished a three year-long medical residency and is now an independently practicing doctor. I have been relieved of the burden of relaxing enough for the both of us 😛 ❤

What do you think, teachers? What’s your philosophy during summer? Can you split your time effectively between new learning and rest, or are you more like me—all or nothing? Let me know your thoughts!

-SB

The Road to National Board Certification Part 9: Moving On

Hey there, blogging world. For the tense and placement of time to make sense, I started writing this a month ago.

I just said goodbye to the kids today, and boyyyyy did it feel sweet. Don’t get me wrong—I’ll probably be glad to see them in the fall, but we definitely need some time apart.

This is pretty much how I feel:

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This final stretch was so, so rough. Like “I don’t know if I can do this one more day, let alone a year” rough. As you can see, I haven’t blogged. I pretty much did everything in my power to not think about teaching, education, etc. when I wasn’t at work. Each week I had a new plan for my life. I resigned each negative thought to “oh well. I won’t be back next year.” And National Board Certification? Meh. 1000 bucks down the drain, but to hell if I’m spending any more time on it.

It was excruciating—even if I was trying to dull the pain of whatever it was pulling me away from teaching (I’m guessing it’s all the factors that make up burn-out), it still made me feel guilty/bad teacher/deviant. I know you all can relate. Anyone who does something for an extended amount of time can relate.

Unlike most schools where graduation is pretty much confirmed by the beginning of the last quarter as long as seniors sit there catatonically absorbing those classes they put off until the end, our program requires seniors to be wrapping up everything they need to, whether it’s the research paper they have to work on, or extra work they have to do to finish their points, or passing our math proficiency test. As a family teacher (which is like a home-base teacher that advocates for a group of students), it is stressful. Part of getting a student graduated is on me and my colleagues, and it requires time and energy in addition to teaching our classes and going to meetings. I stayed with one of my students until 10 pm one night to try to get her to pass a math test, and while she didn’t get to walk at graduation, she finished her requirements the next week and got her diploma. The hard work paid off, but I was in such a funk that I didn’t even think about what primary role I had in this student’s success (attending a ‘no-nonsense’ charter school before coming to ours, she most likely would have not graduated this year). Another student of mine almost didn’t graduate, then did, primarily because of me. I think this is just sinking in, a month and a half later.

Amidst all of this, the NB puts their portfolio submissions due May 18th, right in the middle of the end of the school year craziness. I could have avoided this by not procrastinating, of course. But I didn’t. I turned my submission in three hours before the cutoff. I used my own personal time to take the school day off to finish it. I waffled between not submitting it, but in the end I didn’t have it in me to quit. Many thanks to my husband for giving me the straight talk via Shia Labeouf:

If you’ve never seen that, you’re welcome.

A few weeks later, I took Component 1. Besides being shuffled around like livestock at the testing center by the Pearson Overlords, it was pretty uneventful. I “studied.” I woke up early and made sure to eat breakfast. I sat in a chair for three hours and clicked what I thought were the best answers. I wrote essays to what I figured the National Board wanted to hear. Then I went home and watched Damages.

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(and Broad City)

I’ll know in December if I did well enough to keep my score, and I really hope I don’t have to take it again.

I’m finishing up writing this  mid-summer, unsure of how I feel about taking another year on again. Celebrations: I am done with the TEACH grant, and am hoping for some loan forgiveness after this year for teaching for five years. 

In about a month, I’ll start up again with the blogging thing, unless I hit some inspiration. Until then, I’m relishing every restorative day of summer spent with good friends and family, good food, outdoor things, and of course—my dog. If there’s one gift of teaching, it is summer break and all of the opportunities for rekindling relationships that get doused in the gasoline of the school year (did that sound too melodramatic?) Here’s an artsy dramatic picture of my dog to illustrate:
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-S

Anything for a year

When I took this job, I remember telling myself and anyone who looked at me skeptically (mainly my mom) that “I can do anything for a year. If I want to back out after that, I can.”

Now I want anything but backing out.

I just finished my first year of teaching last week, ending with watching my students walk across our little gym stage to receive diplomas and various awards. They come up to me afterwards, demanding pictures (I demand them too) and demanding hugs (sideways hugs). My mom visited the school, and was welcomed by students showing her around our school garden—chicken coop and compost pile included. She got to see my work; not just where I work, but the work I do. The kids I teach. The projects completed on the walls in my classroom, that I describe with pride like they’re almost the work of my own children.

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