As a school year moves towards the concluding days, teachers and students naturally are on a countdown. But once the year has come to end, stop counting. As a novice teacher I counted down the days of summer like a kid counting down to Christmas. After a couple of summers, I came to realize that counting down the days until school started fostered a sense of tension in a time that was intended to provide an opportunity for release and reflection. Through my experiences of life, I have found that living in the moment is much more redemptive than counting days—either into the future or beyond the past.
And I am not talking about a new teaching strategy. Learn how to do something you have never done before or perhaps build on something you have tinkered with in the past and this summer have chosen to hone. Over the years, I have taken photography classes, gardening classes, knitting classes, painting classes, golf lessons, and lifeguard classes. I have also taken online instruction in coding, building household furniture, and wiring electrical devices. Each of these forays into learning benefited my personal life—where I put the fruit of labor to practical work—and my professional life. By putting oneself in the position of learner, we are reminded of how it feels to be the student in the room–not the teacher.
Waiting for retirement to begin checking off the catalog of places to go and things to see may seem an appropriate award for a career well-lived. But in the reality of an educator’s life, experiencing the beauty of the world while still in the classroom can add to the richness of teaching and learning. Teachers naturally bring personal experiences to students as a tool in developing relationships and extending formal learning. Oftentimes, once-in-a-lifetime experiences are made all the richer and more valuable through sharing. In sharing unique personal experiences with students, teachers can simultaneously peak learning curiosity while building essential and worldly background knowledge.
You may teach in your community and if so, you are probably a significant figure in the local volunteer force. However, if you teach in a community other than the one in which you live, becoming locally involved can be a two-way eye-opener: you will learn more about your neighbors and likewise, your neighbors will learn more about you. Typically, I prefer to volunteer in areas that are not directly related to education. There are opportunities to get your hands dirty working with the park system or local beautification programs, supporting the sick or elderly through church groups or other outreach programs. Local museums, the YMCA, and numerous other non-profits are also looking for volunteers to support their burgeoning summer visitors.
The demand of teaching is not a typical “8 to 5” job. Grading and lesson planning become evening and weekend companions for many teachers. Many a memory I have of sitting in the stands “watching” a sporting event with textbook in hand preparing for next week’s lessons. And what teacher hasn’t replaced a weekend social outing with a “must-do” lesson planning or grading marathon. In the busyness of a teacher’s life, friends and extended family often fade into the background. This summer, plan to set aside time for friends and family sidelined during the school months. Choose to set aside a day each week for visiting nearby friends or reserve a weekend in June, July, and August to spend with more distant family. Friendships require care and feeding, but nurtured and encouraged, they will continue to grace your life far beyond classroom days.
When was the last time you went somewhere by yourself just for the purpose of doing what you want to do? Fishing? Golfing? Manicure? Museum? Lunch? There can be great pleasure in being alone, either to think about the weights of the world without interruption or to enjoy the blessings of the world in the solace of peace.
When I was in the classroom, I spent so much time reading about teaching and best practices that I had no time to indulge myself in the enjoyment of current fiction or nonfiction. Since I’ve found time to read for personal pleasure and edification, I find that I am a better teacher with a broader base for conversation and empathy across the diverse populations we serve. Suggestions in nonfiction? Anything by Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics by Steven Levitt, King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Nochschild. Some favorite fiction titles: All the Lasting Things, Sing Them Home, All the Light We Cannot See, Half Yellow Sun to name a few.
Some teachers don’t have time to read about their profession during the school year. Summer reading about teaching can serve as personal professional development more productive than taking a class. As you read, you can make connections to what and how you taught last year and consider adaptations to your craft for next year.
If you are reading this, I am assuming you already read some blogs–but do you tweet? Summer would be a great time to set up an account and if you have an account already, summer would be a great time to lurk and/or join a twitter chat and follow me: @DoctorDea. There are literally hundreds of education chats going on throughout the week, days and evenings. Cybrary Man’s Twitter Page is an exceptional resource to learn about the multitude of tweets available to you, the times of regular chats, tips on how to begin chatting, how to use Twitter in the classroom, and more! No need for me to say anymore, he’s got all the information you need and he regularly updates his pages.
Yes, the days of summer are finite. Once frittered away, they cannot be recycled into use. And though the exhausted teacher may dream of morning sleep-ins, poolside vigils, or DVR catch-up, hours left unplanned or uncommitted may turn into time squandered. Oh, I’m not suggesting that a sleep-in isn’t necessary or a pool-day is without value, but I am suggesting that if you haven’t thought about how to plan for summer, you might want to consider some means of renewal now, before the “call back to school” letter arrives in a few very short weeks.
Image credits: Feature image, “Friends and Family” author owned.