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During my first summer as a teacher, I battled to balance my desire to get prepared for the next school year with my body’s need to relax. The time I spent relaxing left me feeling guilty for not working, and the time I spent working left me wishing I were relaxing. It seemed as if this conflict would continue throughout the rest of the summer, and maybe for all the summers I would spend in the classroom. Rather than allowing summer to elicit any more feelings of guilt or regret, I sat down and brainstormed different ways I could make the most out of my summer break as a teacher. Over the past several years, I’ve shared these ideas with friends and colleagues, taken their input, and updated them to make sure that any teacher can use them to have a productive, fun summer break. Follow these 10 steps, and you’ll be on the path towards making next school year your best school year ever!
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1) Within 1 week of school ending, reflect on the past year
The smartest thing that a teacher can do once the school year ends is reflect on the year when it’s still fresh in his or her mind. Take out a pen, a laptop, or a quill and some parchment and write down your thoughts on the past year. Make sure you focus on areas in which you succeeded (don’t short yourself), and areas where you want to show improvement during the next school year.
This reflection should not be a 5 minute activity - it should take you several hours. I know that the last thing you want to do once school ends is work, but trust me - these might be the most meaningful hours you spend all summer long. Write down everything that comes to your mind and save the paper or document on which you wrote your reflections - you’ll need it later in the summer.
2) Know what you want to accomplish over the summer
Many teachers that I have talked with struggle over the summer because they know that they should be getting work done, but they don’t know exactly what that work is. Working during the summer is nothing like working during the school year, where you have a planned objective to teach each day, therefore giving you a specific direction.
The best thing you can do to ensure you have productive work hours during the summer is to write down a comprehensive plan of what you want to accomplish in preparation for next school year. Long term plans, unit plans, creating assessments, researching programs, or familiarizing yourself with standards and curriculum are all examples of what could be included on your summer plan, but whatever your plan is, make sure it is comprehensive! The hope is that this plan will prevent you from any unnecessary stress in the weeks and days leading up to the school year.
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3) Set aside a period of time where you don’t do any work
There’s a reason that teachers get a summer break - teaching is not easy. Summer break should be a time where you recharge your energy in preparation for the next school year. However, just like during the school year, teachers know that there’s always more work that needs to be done. Don’t give in to the temptation to do work every day! You’ll never be able to recharge and come back with the energy it takes to be a great teacher if you spend the entire summer working.
Instead, set aside a period of time where you vow to not do any work. Use your comprehensive plan from #2 to determine how long this workless period will last, but it should be at least 2 weeks in a row. I always told myself that the month of July was mine, and I would focus on reflections during June and begin my work for the upcoming school year on August 1st. The key here is to do what works best for you. If you’re like me and have turned the art of procrastination into a science, then you should be able to set aside a time at the beginning of the summer to enjoy. If you’re someone who can’t relax until the work is done, then finish your work at the beginning of the summer and devote the end of the summer to relaxing and getting away from work.
4) Do something you’ve been meaning to do for a while
Having a summer break is not normal in most professions - so take advantage of it! Having a few months off in the middle of the year is the perfect time to catch up on everything you’ve been missing. That new season of Orange is the New Black just came out, and you know that you’ve been dying to binge watch all 13 episodes - turn it on! Want to spend more time with your kids? Pick out some days and do some fun activities with them. What about the book you’ve always told yourself you would write? Get to it! Summer break always seems to fly by, so make sure you don’t leave any unfinished business before heading into next school year!
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5) Try a new hobby
I don’t mean continue the same hobby you’ve been doing forever - get out there and try something new. If you always go hiking, hop on a mountain bike and start riding some basic trails. Never been too comfortable in the kitchen? Get yourself a cookbook and try out some of the recipes for fun. Feel free to involve your kids or friends in your new hobby as well. Summer is the perfect time to find what you love to do, but that can’t happen unless you step out of your comfort zone and have some novel experiences.
6) Spend quality time with family and friends
As time goes on, we tend to drift farther away from our family and friends, simply because life seems to get in the way. Summer is your opportunity to reconnect with friends and family. Yes, I know that they all have jobs that steal them from you between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm. They also have something that teachers don’t have - a lunch break. Believe it or not, they actually get to leave the premises of their workplace and eat a lunch that doesn’t consist of goopy cafeteria food or paper bag sandwiches. Make plans to join your friends or family on their lunch break and catch up - they’ll enjoy it!
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7) Travel and explore
As teachers, we are often the connection between our students and the great big world outside. When I was teaching, the majority of my students had never left the state, and some hadn’t even left the city of Las Vegas. Not only were my students eager to hear about my time spent traveling different countries - they were genuinely interested in what life was like in a city a few hundred miles away. Children naturally want to know what else is out there, but they often don’t have the means to get there themselves. Make it a point to have a meaningful traveling experience - be it around the globe or to a town an hour down the road. You’ll learn more about the world during your time traveling than you ever will watching documentaries, reading history books, or hearing other people’s experiences. Then take your experiences and make them come to life for your students the following school year.
How often do we tell our students that they need to read at home? Daily? More than once a day? Every hour? We know that reading is a key level to success for students, but it’s also a key lever for our success as teachers and professionals. It doesn’t matter whether you crack open a young adult novel like John Green’s Looking for Alaska or a non-fiction, education related book like How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. Reading opens our eyes to new mindsets and connects us with people around the world. So read for pleasure, or read to learn, but make sure that you spend the summer doing a fair amount of reading.
9) Limit your working hours
Whether you’re the type that needs to get your work done at the beginning of the summer, or someone who like to rest and relax before getting back to the daily grind, you should set some limits on the amount of time you spend working on any given day. Teachers have an endless amount of work that they could be doing. Don’t burn yourself out before the school year even starts - set some limits! Make sure that you reference the list of what you intended to accomplish over the summer (#2) to prevent yourself from doing any unnecessary work, and stick to a schedule.
When I would first get back to work at the beginning of August, I would limit my working hours from 10 am - 2 pm. Each week I would increase the amount of time I worked by 1 hour, until I was working normal school hours the week before school started. This allowed me to come back prepared, refreshed, and excited for the new school year.
10) Set personal and professional goals for the upcoming year
Remember how I told you to hold on to the reflections you made at the very beginning of the summer? Get those out a few weeks before school starts, and draft up some personal and professional goals that you have for the upcoming year. These goals should guide the way that you live and work during the school year, so don’t skimp on time!
Your professional goals should build off your strengths from last year, and account for ways to improve in the areas you identified as needing improvement. If your students did great in reading growth last year, make it a goal to have them do even better this year. If you didn’t connect with parents as much as you would have liked last year, make it a goal to improve this year.
I always believe that personal goals are just as important as our professional goals. We can’t be as effective as we’d like if we aren’t happy in our personal lives, so take the time to develop some personal benchmarks for yourself. Want to stay in shape throughout the school year? Hope to spend more time with your kids and family at home?
All of your goals should be written down, and should be kept in a place where you can see them each and every day. I always printed mine out and kept them on my bedroom wall, so I left each day with my goals in mind, and reflected each night on how I progressed towards those goals.
Remember that summer isn’t all about getting ready for next school year, and it’s not all about sitting on the couch and doing nothing. It’s a unique time to reflect, relax, explore, and prepare. Make the most out of this summer, and let me know in the comments if you have other ideas or thoughts!