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July 1, 2017
Vol. 59
No. 7

The Heart of It / The Myth of "Summers Off"

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I am sure you have heard at least once in your career, "It must be great to be a teacher and get the whole summer off." With your eyes rolling in your head, you might immediately think, If you believe it's so great, quit your job and join me in the education profession.
No matter the imprecise perception of what teachers do in the summer, we are all well-versed in the reality. School calendars, compressed with a longer school year and more professional workdays, no longer include all of June, July, and August off. And besides, the freewheeling days of "summers off" is only a myth. There are temporary jobs to make ends meet, professional development to enhance instructional strategies, new curricula to master, lessons to prepare and refine, and graduate classes to take. And although those in other professions can take vacations that match their interests and schedules, teachers don't have the luxury of skiing in the middle of January or heading to the northeast to observe the beautiful fall foliage in the middle of October.
Regardless of the activity, educators are faced with forcing a lot into a small window of opportunity. I hope that as you read this column, you have found time, indeed, to refresh; to reflect fondly on your role as an educator; and to sleep peacefully knowing that you are helping to shape the future of our world, one student at a time.
As lifelong learners, it can be hard for educators to step back and do things just for fun. Yet, we owe it to ourselves and to our students to engage in something for its sheer pleasure and the rejuvenation it can bring—even if only for a brief time. Hopefully by now, you have been able to crack open a book that is not mandatory reading for your students, have a picnic with your own children and hop on a swing with them in the park, get in touch with friends you miss during the busy school year, cook a new recipe, or just take long walks in your neighborhood and notice three new things. Relishing the simple joys in our lives places into context the enormous responsibilities we have during the school year. But just know that keeping kids in our hearts—and in the back of our minds—is part of who we are.
Every summer I can't escape wondering about some kids I came across in my career who didn't have life so easy. I think of Carlos, whose family moved so many times that he didn't understand the concept of home. Mike enters my mind because the only home he ever knew was lost in foreclosure, uprooting his comfortable life through no fault of his own. I think of Maria and Sandy who took on full-time jobs to help feed their siblings, as well as Emma who never understood the concept of vacation because she never had one. So many students dread the thought of being asked to write about their summer vacations once they return to school because they have nothing to report and nothing particularly fun or carefree to share.
For so many educators, these are the kids we can't forget, long after they leave our classrooms. Are they enjoying a peaceful break? Are they being fed or bullied? Do they feel prepared for next year? Will they even show up at the same school a second year in a row? Have they picked up a book? Do they even have a book to pick up? We know that the extra hug we give them at the end of the school year or the handwritten notes we send in August welcoming them back matter a lot, to them and to us. Our friends in other professions—the ones who marvel at our summers off—don't have such rewards.

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Deb Delisle is the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed), a Washington, D.C.–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization. She served as CEO of ASCD from 2016-2018.

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