It’s almost time to go back to school, but I know better than to lament out loud. “I have to go back to work in two weeks,” gets me looks of such derision that the disgust almost feels like a physical shove.
“You realize,” one friend sniffed, “That I have two weeks vacation all year. All year! And you’re complaining about only having two weeks left after being off for what…six weeks already?”
It’s been seven, actually, but I don’t think correcting her is a good idea.
Yes. Teachers have summers off. It’s part of the gig. And I can imagine that from the outside we look like we are on a two-month vacation. While I’m sure there are some teachers who do leave on the last day of school and float on the summer breeze, never sparing a thought to anything so tedious as curriculum changes, data points, or new textbook adoptions, I don’t know any of them. All of the teachers I know have a very different summer experience.
For one thing, a lot of us don’t get paychecks during the summer months. Our pay is spread out over the ten months that we’re actually on the job, and summer becomes a very skinny time of year. Although I’ve heard of teachers who conscientiously set aside money each month to get them through June and July when the paychecks stop coming, I think they’re more mythical than real. Most teachers I know work during the summer months. I’ve seen teachers bartending, waitressing, manning cash registers in retail stores, tutoring, and working at summer camps, among other jobs, to make ends meet.
At the same time, teachers use the summer months to take workshops and attend trainings (often mandatory and almost always unpaid). We study end-of-course, AP, and standardized state exam data to see what areas we need to bolster in order to ensure our students do better next year. We write lesson plans, read books, scour Pinterest, collaborate on our Facebook and Twitter groups, and just generally WORK to make sure that we’re ready when August comes.
I’ll admit that I do enjoy my summers out of the classroom. I get the luxury of giving my kidneys and colon a break by using the bathroom whenever I want and not having to restrict myself to ninety seconds of hopefully silent semi-privacy with another teacher waiting just outside the door. I also get to lounge like a princess during lunch, not restricting myself to the standard fifteen minutes of dedicated eating time I enjoy during the school year. I get to remind myself of the joys of things like chewing thoroughly and sitting down while eating. I also enjoy summer’s quiet, particularly the quiet of not hearing “Mrs. Rinard,” over and over.
I always begin the summer with ambitious intentions. I plan to go to the gym every day and finally lose that weight. I plan to try out new recipes and cook from-scratch dinners each night. The kids and I will play board games and have adventures to museums. I’ll be so rested and energized, that I’ll be able to zest up things with my husband. We’ll meet for lunch and think about how much fun it’s going to be when we’re empty-nesters. The dogs will get walked every morning before it’s too hot, and I’ll clean out my closet. Every surface of the house will be dusted, and I’ll clean the baseboards.
The time slides out from under me, however, and although I don’t sleep until noon or binge Netflix all day, I have been known to go days without leaving the house or even changing out of my pajamas. I have to ask what day it is sometimes, and I’m not inspired to do all the chores that I fully intended to have accomplished by July 4th. This procrastination shouldn’t be a surprise after twenty-five teacher summers of unchecked to-do lists.
The truth is that by Memorial Day, I’m exhausted. It takes me most of June to recover. I know that people in other professions work hard and get tired, but I don’t know how to explain the ways in which teacher-tired is unique. There’s something about spending 180 days with kids who depend on you so completely to be calm and caring and smart and funny that just takes the starch right out of you. I always feel as hollow as an empty barrel when I head into summer, and it just takes a while to fill back up.
So now July is fading into the ether of another teacher summer, and I’m bracing for August. I’ve met with my team, attended a retreat, studied test results, and written lesson plans for the first few weeks. I’ve written the parent letter for Open House and crafted my supply list. I’ve re-read and added new annotations to all the books I’ll be using throughout the year in my English classes. I have a little bit of time left, but I find myself antsy and anxious. I’m ready to get back to the classroom and meet my next group of kids, and I know that the only thing that enables me to have this optimistic anticipation for the year ahead is the teacher summer behind me.