By Sean McGrath May 22nd, 2014 5:30 PM
The sun taunts me from the frosted windows of my classroom. The birds chirp an openly-mocking song and the voices from the sidewalks in front of my school have a sardonic lilt to them. May is officially here, which means June is right around the corner, which means it’s time to cue up that Alice Cooper classic, bust down the front doors, speed home and never return… for two months.
During my first year as a teacher, I couldn’t wait for the summer. I was considered lucky by my friends and peers for having two months to seemingly relax. After all, the common assumption is that teachers not only work fewer hours per day than their colleagues but get to enjoy the lazy days of summer, too. What kind of scam is the Department of Education running here?
To answer that question, I hearken back to my days as a novice educator with rose-colored glasses and a lack of depth and full understanding about the roles and responsibilities of the nuances of the teaching position. June 18th arrived faster than I thought possible, and by June 19th, I was sleeping until 11am, catching up on reading, and lounging by the pool I had at the time. My first year, unsurprisingly, was quite difficult, and I believed that I owed it to myself to spend some time not even thinking about the classroom.
By the time I came back in August, I was rested, refreshed, and eager to begin the school year. But, I was far from ready. Typical middle school behaviors: talking back, sarcastic comments, tossing paper into garbage cans at inappropriate times all caught me off-guard. Additionally, the lessons that I had planned in my first year remained the unrefined lessons of a first-year teacher. Although I had gained confidence over the summer, I had not grown as an educator. Taking those two months off proved to be a huge mistake, and I spent most of that year staying up late fixing lesson plans and altering worksheets, not to mention creating new lessons, assessments, and grading rubrics.
I knew that, come the following summer, I couldn’t afford to lounge by my pool and play video games. Since my second year, I have willingly spent 3 – 4 hours per day altering my entire units of study, taking advantage of the growth opportunities that availed themselves over the course of 180 days. I have replaced entire lessons, prepared my classroom, planned the first two weeks of the school year, and sent emails to incoming eighth grade parents so that they, like me, are prepared for the fall. I find that each year I engage in this process, I enter the classroom with a confidence completely unlike the kind I thought I had after my first year. The swagger that comes with being just-about fully planned for most of the year is incomparable. It frees up time that I would have used planning for engaging in other school-based ventures: this blog, for one, but also groups like the Chancellor’s Cabinet, the personnel committee, student government advisor, and the culture and leadership team committee. Ultimately, it is by participating in these extracurricular activities that my knowledge base (and resume) grows. This not only means that I evolve as an educator, but that, best of all, my students benefit from my acquired abilities.
So, this summer, I will absolutely spend time traveling, catching up on reading, and lounging by the pool, but I will just as absolutely have my lesson plans with me.