Misconceptions of Teacher Summer Vacation

Guestblogger Katelyn Stukenberg is a 7th grade language arts teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she is completing her second year of Teach for America. She is a Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) Fellow with Teach Plus in Los Angeles for the summer.

Early in my first year of teaching, there were certainly times when I found myself day-dreaming of the long-awaited summer. My thoughts wandered to mornings of sleeping in, days lounging by the pool, and most excitedly, finally getting to dive into that stack of overdue reading I hadn’t touched all year. During that first semester, a summer break that gave me a mental respite from my life in the classroom seemed like a welcome reward.

However, as the year progressed, I found my ideal summer evolving as my students pushed and challenged me with their hungry curiosity and desire to learn. In my first year of teaching, I expected to deal with challenging students and classroom management difficulties; however, I did not anticipate the lack of support given to teachers in order to overcome those numerous daily challenges. I realized that even the best teachers, without curriculum support, regular feedback and instructional resources, were limited to the impact they could make in their students’ lives. I quickly came to realize the lack of understanding policy makers had of what a day in the classroom really looked like in urban schools. And although there is a progression to reform policies to better support teachers and students, the progression is in great need of teachers to be at the decision making table.

It was then I knew that the work I was doing in education was one I did not want to take a break from—even for the two months of summer. I joined a fellowship with Leadership for Education Equity that placed me to work in my hometown of Los Angeles with Teach Plus, a non-profit that seeks to improve outcomes for urban children by ensuring that students have access to effective teachers. My hope through this summer in partnership with my host organization has been to directly affect the lives of students in a long-term way. I don’t want to come to the end of another school year wondering, as my students leave my classroom, if they will receive the quality education they deserve in the years to come. I want to be part of turning the tide so I know they will.

This summer I have been part of putting together a teacher-led Common Core conference, in which teacher leaders prepare fellow teachers for the new Common Core State Standards. In this process, I have been overwhelmed by the huge appetite teachers have shown for a professional development opportunity such as this one. I have found that I am far from the only teacher taking her summer vacation to continue to improve learning outcomes and the futures of our students; indeed, nationwide, thousands of teachers are continuing to better their craft through these opportunities.

Additionally, I have gotten to take an active part in becoming an advocate for students. As a teacher, I know my role needs to extend outside of the classroom if equality for all students is truly to be reached. It has become obvious that there is a wide gap between what happens in the classroom and what happens at the policy level and teachers are the best insiders for getting an accurate picture of what the students need.

While exploring the world of education advocacy, I have been greatly encouraged and motivated by the fact that I am not in this work alone. I have gathered with coalitions of advocacy groups representing community members including teachers, students and parents who are dedicated to finding solutions in order to ensure equality and access to high quality schools in every community in Los Angeles.

Ask any teacher why they teach and you won’t likely hear about summer vacation. This myth of teachers joining the profession to take advantage of summer vacations is in fact only that: a myth. Teachers don’t come to the profession just to spend summer months basking in the sun and sleeping in. In all honesty, that’s just not who we are. Although we may be stepping out of the classroom, our minds never really get to go on vacation. Our hearts are tied to our classrooms in a yearlong commitment to becoming better educators for our students and to improve the education system they depend on.

10 Replies to “Misconceptions of Teacher Summer Vacation”

  1. Dedicated teachers says this. Bad teachers, well, they don’t write columns about how much they love being teachers. A study by the Center for American Progress reported that 36% of teachers call in sick at least 10 days a year. That’s 10 days out of a 180-day school year. In the private sector, employees average about 3 days sick leave out of a 240 day year. I’d say that a teacher who calls in sick 10 days a year takes a long, long summer every year.

    Katelyn is certainly speaking for herself, but she isn’t speaking for all teachers.

  2. First this is a wonderful post. As a five year teacher I appreciate the sentiment and enthusiasm with which Katelyn so articulately described the work we do. I have to say however I find Alan’s comment rather narrow-minded. I wonder if he believes that we live in a world where people choose when they get sick, I would love to have only gotten sick over the summer rather than have to miss a day of work but the body works the way the body works. What Alan fails to realize is that being a teacher comes with the added reality that we work in a highly contagious and infectious environment. So much so that most school boards send out regular notices to advise teachers who are feeling under the weather to stay home to prevent the spread of disease. This environment is a little different than the traditional work place to which you are comparing teachers.

    Additionally I don’t think Katelyn is suggesting that she speaks for all teachers but rather points out a misconception that many people like to bestow on the majority of a teachers, the idea that we are lazy. We work for our two months off and live to leave every day by 3pm. All of that is absurd. In my five years as a teacher I have yet to take a weekend off let alone a summer. Every teacher I have every known has felt the same way about the enormous work put upon us.

    Teachers are some of the most dedicated professionals in our society. They aren’t successful unless their kids are successful and when they fail, they feel it more than this world has ever cared to admit. Alan mentioned the idea of bad teachers, I’ve never met one, I have met weak teachers. Teachers who were struggling. I can’t tell you how hard it was for them to be in that position, the responsibility of struggling with education of the future generation is more mountainous than our corporate world could fathom. I won’t deny that there are some teachers who are lazy, as in every profession. But our system has gotten damn good at finding and removing them. So when you mention “bad teachers” and “sick days” again know that it is the teachers who contracted swine flue more than any other profession save being a student. That it was teachers who jump into to save their students not just in the events the media picks up on but in the street fighting and gang violence I saw almost every day my first year. Don’t judge us out days off because teaching isn’t a day job, it is a life style.

  3. My blood sugar spiked half way through this post. I have to admit, TFA’ers make some of the best concern trolls out there.

    “I quickly came to realize the lack of understanding policy makers had of what a day in the classroom really looked like in urban schools. And although there is a progression to reform policies to better support teachers and students, the progression is in great need of teachers to be at the decision making table.”

    Translated: I know how to sound sincere while calling out nameless people responsible for things, given my age and inexperience, I could hardly know about. School reform needs more people like TFA’ers and astroturf outfits to push the corporate agenda.

  4. I read this and thought why aren’t some teachers doing more with their summers? Teachers, like students, should continue their learning process outside of the classroom in order to enrich their students’ education.

  5. I completely agree with Quinn D. As a future teacher, it is nice to see that there are teachers in the field that are genuinely passionate about their work in and out of the classroom. Yes, everyone needs a break, but the summer vacation is a great opportunity to be productive and enhance one’s teaching abilities. There are so many programs and workshops that offer awesome tips and techniques to make teaching more unique and fun. I hope that one day I can be just as dedicated as Katelyn and make the most of my summer vacations as well.

  6. Teachers have vacation like all workers. However, Teachers need time to look back to their education’s system. they should be find new idea or new way to help students with clear education’s vision.
    teaching is great job. They should do their best to help their students.

  7. Coming from a family of teachers I loved reading this, my mother growing up would spend her summers teaching still, she taught me everyday along with my brothers. She also spent 3 out of 5 mornings getting ready for the school year with new ways to teach. So I do believe teachers do not take breaks.

  8. I wish that Universities and Colleges would invite seasoned teachers to come and talk with teacher candidates either in their freshman or sophomore year. In my experience many students will pick education as a major because they feel like it’s easy and that they will have summers off. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Students that claim education as a major under these assumptions need a reality check and who better to do so than seasoned teachers!

  9. Jess:

    I think that’s a great idea also. Oftentimes, students choose their majors in college without really knowing what they’re getting into. Sometimes, by the time they are doing work in their major and done with the gen ed classes, they feel it’s too late to change majors and just continue on.

    A lot of people have this “idea” of what it takes to be a teacher and feel like they can judge/criticize teachers. But no one really understands unless they are in the field or know someone in the field. I am a Kindergarten teacher and my daughter’s Sunday school teacher (who is also a fourth grade teacher) told me that the class was discussing what they wanted to be when they grew up. One of the girls in my daughter’s class wanted to be a teacher. And my daughter responded, “Well I don’t want to be a teacher. You should see the work and time my mom puts into teaching and doing lesson plans!”

    I have been teaching for 10 years and I can’t recall a “free” summer vacation I’ve had. My school has trainings, I’ve taken graduate classes, and I’ve taught summer school.

  10. I Definitely got into education for the time off! And all the breaks in between! Certainly not for the money! Plus I don’t travel far for work! Lol

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