My occupation is that of a high school teacher. To properly explain how that fits into my life as a father and parent is to explain the two primary elements of the teacher’s year: the school year and summer vacation. Now, when the subject of summer vacation comes up in conversation with those who operate outside of the education calendar, I often get one of two responses. Some people tell me they could never do the job, even with “all that time off.” Others express jealousy that I have “three months off in the summer.” (Actually it’s two, but point taken.)
Honestly, although every job is a bit unique in its own way, teaching is a lot like other jobs with seasonal peaks. Just like a sports reporter’s workload might peak during football season or an accountant’s work might skyrocket during those all-important tax months of January through April, so does teaching have its on and off months. In the heart of the school year, work is a six-day-a-week proposition; depending on what classes I’m teaching, I’m probably working 50-60 hours a week. I do not currently coach, but you can imagine what coaches go through on top of just the business of teaching.
Weekends during the school year feel brief. Saturdays are usually spent at the kitchen table grading essays or tweaking upcoming lessons. Sundays are a self-mandated day of rest, although I will admit that there are some Sunday mornings when I’m sitting in church with a mental list of things to do on Monday morning floating about, in spite of my best intentions.
Teaching’s challenge is not merely one of time. It is a mentally and emotionally challenging job, too. My wife Rachael understands from experience; having worked both as a journalist and a building aide chasing autistic preschoolers, she readily recounts how exhausted she was after the aide job compared to the more measured pace of journalism, even when deadlines loomed. After a long day of pouring out myself to help students succeed, to say nothing of parental communication and the other bits and pieces of the job, my brain and my feet both hurt. I’m spent. My introverted brain (yes, I’m an introvert who teaches) needs to decompress and my body to sit.
Summer, then, is my vocation’s version of the offseason. I don’t teach summer school, so how that time is spent varies. Some summers may be peppered with professional workshops or other job-related work. Lesson plans may also come into the picture — in the summer of 2012, for example, I was teaching two classes for the first time the coming fall and had to develop lesson plans from the ground up, which ate up literally dozens of hours in June and made summer feel far too brief.
The Summer Bucket List
This summer has been, gratefully, free from the burdens of new courses, allowing me to hone and improve the lessons I’ve already got and focus most of my summer time on other pursuits. Those other pursuits are the things I don’t have time or energy for during the school year. Each summer I try to make the time worthwhile. Here is a snapshot into what some of those things are:
Rachael loves quality time and family time, and summers are a time to make up for some of the family time lost during the school year. Some of our excursions are quite simple and mundane, like going to the grocery store together, but other times we might be off to a local farmer’s market, cultural spot, or library freebie. Often during my forays to the hardware store for a tool or part I will bring my five year-old daughter along, which made for valuable time for she and I to chat and for me to expose her to the finer details of hardware stores. (The cashiers of the local place I frequent liberally distribute Disney Princess stickers to young girls, leading me to think that parents with young girls in tow are a common sight.)
Summer is that magical time when my mind and body are in a position to do things, and, perhaps more importantly, do them correctly. Many of the projects are small but important. For example, this summer I did a few DIY projects like researched and replaced the house thermostat, replaced various items in the bathrooms (toilet paper bar, towel bar, sink drain stopper, etc.), researched and did some work on the lawn, did some minor (mostly aesthetic) repair work on my car, and did other miscellaneous work around the home. I also do a good bit of investigation into possible house projects, including the best approach to things and whether or not a professional is best.
One advantage of summer is that I’m now available during business hours, and I like to take that time to look into things that are somewhat constrained by that time frame. This summer, for example, I haggled with the phone company to lower our DSL costs, talked to the mortgage company about refinancing, contacted the National Archives about my grandfather’s military records, and sat down with someone from the company who administers our district’s tax sheltered annuities to talk about the portfolio’s allocation. In preparation for our family vacation, I researched and bought several items, including a tent that I set up and seam-sealed. I also like to use the summer to price things, such as visiting the hardware store to look at costs of doors or looking into clothes to augment my professional wardrobe.
Our county library does a summer reading program and Rachael and I look forward to it each year. While some of my fellow history teachers revel in opening up some deep biography on Teddy Roosevelt, I usually take the opportunity to read things that have nothing to do with my job. This summer I took in the likes of Orson Scott Card, John Grisham, a bit of fan fiction and even the much-hyped zombie apocalypse.
The Twilight of Summer
As I write this, my summer vacation has dwindled down to its end. The offseason, such as it is, is now over. First is a week of professional development, and during the week after the business of teaching as students return to classes. For Rachael there is always an adjustment as I return to work, but this fall she has the added change of our oldest daughter, Megan, headed off to kindergarten. Interestingly, our daughter’s entry into formal education is less of a change for me, as it will be overshadowed by my return to school. For Rachael, meanwhile, it is the loss of two people, not just one, from her daily routine.
So it is that I go back to doing the work I’m paid to do, the work I do each day not only for the inherent good of the work – helping students – but, more importantly, because it takes care of my family. I’ve already got a bucket list going for next summer.
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Tags: Back to school