Summer vacation is upon us and for many of us the first reaction is “finally!” We have waited so long for perhaps the greatest perk of teaching and are delighted to be far removed from many of the challenges associated with our craft, such as lesson planning, continued assessment, classroom management, faculty meetings and administrative demands. We just want to curl up in a corner with a great book, stretch out on a shaded hammock and listen to the quiet hum of nature, or get away to some exotic place, far more interesting than our classrooms.
Because of the “shut down” nature of the school calendar, it is easy for us to quickly engage in similar mental cessation during these months. In fact, many of our colleagues seek to completely shift out of teacher mode during the summer. In my humble view, this is a mistake. We just experienced 10 months — breaks and vacations not withstanding — of continued work and engagement. There were great moments and lesser ones. We succeeded in some – hopefully most — cases to engage our students and foster a controlled, supportive learning environment for our students. But there were also times when we failed to do just that. And who wouldn’t want to have those moments back for a chance to try again?
Of all the letters in the alphabet, perhaps none is more associated with education as the letter “R” (as in reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic). The 4 R’s below can help us stay fine-tuned over the summer and launch us into the next school year primed and ready to go.
- Reflect. The summer gives us a great opportunity to reflect. We can detail our highs and lows — privately or with a supportive peer or mentor — and brainstorm for continued growth. We can take the time to measure ourselves against last year’s goals and set new ones for the fall. We can read, research, dialogue and attend classes and workshops that can help us further hone our craft.
- Read. As noted above, the summer is a great time to read. While some of the reading can certainly be recreational, there should also be some learning-related reading occurring. Set goals for yourself. Perhaps create a small book club with peers that will create accountability and opportunity for dialogue. We know how important reading is to our children. It is no less significant for us, particularly in an educational environment that is continually shifting and evolving.
- Re-imagine. Teachers are notorious for operating in a “if it worked well until now…” mindset. Who likes to redo lesson plans or update materials? Most of us don’t and are oftentimes willing to engage today’s students with the same approaches that we used for their older siblings, if not their parents. The summer is a great time to surf the web or visit a library for new ideas and forms of engagement. In many cases, the material already exists and can be obtained for free or a small charge. No need to reinvent the wheel, but there is a definite need to reinvent ourselves from time to time.
- Return (the favor; paying it forward). Undoubtedly there was at least one person who took you under her wing when you first got started. She helped you navigate through the complexities of the school schedule, professional responsibilities and the like. In all likelihood, there is at least one rookie — or at least one inexperienced — teacher entering your school or district in the fall. Volunteer to help her out and show her the ropes. Become her mentor and guide. Not only will she thank you for your graciousness and magnanimity, but you will also develop a deep sense of fulfillment knowing that you made yet another difference in the lives of children (and the adult that teaches them).
Of course we need to rest, relax, refresh and perhaps even run away. We also need to remember how brief and fleeting a summer can be if not well utilized and how rotten we would feel if we entered the next year no different in terms of ideas, tools and engagement than when we walked out in June.