I remember early on in my education classes in college…. The professor asked why we chose teaching as a career. I can still picture the woman who responded, “June, July, and August.” I remember chuckling but then realizing quickly that she meant it. She was serious.
Without a doubt, it is nice – and I would argue necessary -to have summers off. By the time June rolls– and some years crawls– around, everyone needs a break, one that is longer than a regular school vacation during the academic year. We need a way to signal the end of one year and mark the start of a new one; summer vacation does both.
While I am sure that there are teachers who pack up their classrooms at the end of the year and don’t step foot in it or think about it until they report to work on the first day of the next school year, there are many teachers whose summers look different than that…..
Many teachers have another job- landscaping, painting houses, tutoring, teaching summer school- during the summer. Many spend their summer days taking graduate courses, doing curriculum work with colleagues or individually, attending conferences, and/or participating in some type of professional development. They voluntarily go in to school to help administration interview candidates for different open positions in the district, to help develop new programs.
No matter your approach to summer, I would encourage all teachers to build in some time– even if only an hour or two- to reflect on the previous academic year and to look ahead to the upcoming one. Teachers owe it to themselves and to their students to do this while they have time, when the clock is not ticking as loudly or as quickly as during the school year.
So, what are some topics that are important for all educators to think about during the summer?
It is essential for teachers to look back if they want to move forward, to grow….
Whether the last school year was one of your toughest years or one of your best years or somewhere in between, you can learn something about yourself and, using what you learn, become a stronger, better educator.
Although I do this throughout the year, I also like to do this as the year is wrapping up – usually during the last weeks of school- while details are fresh in my head and while I am still in my classroom with access to my teaching materials. Given that it is now the end of July, if you haven’t done it already, do it now.
Why now versus next week or the next week or the week before school begins? Time. If you wait until just before school begins, you will likely realize that some of the needed changes you want to make will require more time than is left of summer, and you will be unable to make them. This may cause you to feel anxious and stressed, more than you would feel otherwise. The return to school is exciting but it is also stressful under the best of circumstances. Don’t wait until the last week of summer to rethink changes you want to make for the upcoming year.
Although it seems pretty obvious what “looking back” means, I recommend doing more than vaguely “reflecting.” Try to remember what went well in your class overall, what didn’t go well…..and write down your thoughts on paper.
Then, look through either your physical file cabinet or computer files, your plan book, your grade book- whatever resources you can access from last year- to remember the specifics of the curriculum, the materials you covered and , again, write down your thoughts on paper.
You might set it up like this:
Quarter Unit/Material Covered What Went Well? What Needs Work?
You decide how detailed to make your notes. The most important part of doing this is the actual process of looking at your entire curriculum to see what worked and what didn’t work. If you do not look at specific details, there is a good chance you might have forgotten about something that didn’t work well and needs to be revised. (In a perfect world, it is best if you make specific notes throughout the year about any changes you want to make; that way the details are fresh in your head. )
After thinking about your curriculum, reflect on the culture of your class. To clarify, think about the different parts of your classroom:
- The physical space
- The routines
- The way you structure your class
- The seemingly mundane parts of the class that establish the flow, that set the tone
- How many activities do you typically do in one class period?
- How do you arrange your classroom?
- How do you assign seats?
- What is your homework policy?
- Do you collect homework to grade or check it for completion?
- Do students need to ask permission to use the bathroom or do they just sign out? How do you handle make up work? Where do you keep your emergency folder?
After you take inventory about both the curriculum and the culture of your classroom, start to think about the upcoming school year.
- Look at your notes.
- SEE what you have written.
- Are there patterns to the strengths? To the problem areas?
Once you identify those areas, use that information to make decisions about curriculum (as well as your instruction and assessments).
- Do you need to reconsider the order in which you teach your curriculum?
- Do you need to tweak an assignment or maybe scrap it and create a new one?
- Do you need to come up with a more effective way to manage homework?
- Do you need to rearrange the physical layout of the contents of your classroom to accommodate different learning styles?
- Do you need more resources for a particular unit?
- Do you need to consider a more engaging instructional practice?
Before you enthusiastically brainstorm changes you would like to make, you need to look at one more area– your reality– in other words, your life.
Sometimes we forget to consider this when thinking about our teaching, and we shouldn’t, we can’t. Our personal lives, our realities directly impact our teaching.
To clarify, if you have a 2-year old or an elderly family member living with you, you will likely spend your time at home taking care of them and may not have time to plan your lessons. Maybe you are taking graduate classes two nights a week. Not only will you be tied up two nights a week– you will have additional work to complete. Correcting 3 sets of class essays will be a challenge. If you have a medical condition that impacts your energy level, you may not have the physical stamina to do work at home every day.
Whatever your situation is, you need to keep your reality in mind when you approach your teaching. If you know you will have limited time at home for school work, you need to prioritize what you need to complete at school. You may envision relaxing weekends but realize that Friday night correcting may become a necessary part of your weekend routine.
The longer you teach, the more you will come up with a system for reflection on a regular basis… You will decide how to best use those much-needed summer vacations…. Some years you may decide to completely disconnect while other years you may do curriculum work, planning, and professional development. No matter how you spend vacation, enjoy whatever it is you are doing so, by the time the new school year begins, you can bring your best to your school community, to your classroom and ultimately to your students.
Food For Thought:
- What went well for you last year?
- What are some areas that definitely need improvement?
- What is something you did last year that makes you feel proud?
- Are you using your prep periods effectively?
- What challenges in your own life do you need to keep in mind when planning for school?
- What is one change you are planning to make in the new school year regarding the curriculum? the class culture?
- What are you excited about as you think about the upcoming school year?