I was speaking with a friend yesterday about summer anxiety some teachers experience. How the “endless” expanse of summer gets eaten up by, well…work.
We agreed that “teachers have the summer off” is a dangerous myth, both politically (which I’d need 289 pages to dig into, so I’ll avoid that angle) and emotionally (which I will explore, but just a bit. My daughter and I are heading to the park, because I’ve been working on prioritizing). It’s a myth that was making me downright twitchy, because I thought I was “doing summer wrong.”
Summers of my youth were eternal. Swimming, biking, The Sandlot viewed from sleeping bags, vacations to Gettysburg and Colonial Williamsburg (my Dad was a history teacher), and reading countless books. Reading in my swing set fort, unless I saw a spider. Reading on my trampoline as I liked to imagine I was multitasking, because I was also tanning. Reading in the car, until I felt like puking – such a bummer for a bibliophile to get carsick from reading. Reading as a cliche, under the covers with a flashlight.
Stress was not a part of the equation. Various foods on a stick, mud up to my knees, and bicycle trips to pay for candy with a bag full of pennies, yes. Stress, not so much.
These days, summer days years later, I was finding myself legitimately nervous. Such anxieties include:
- It’s already the Fourth of July! What have I done with the past four weeks?!
- Each week of the summer has had at least one day (more likely two or three) on which I either went to school for a meeting/to work, or I worked several hours from home.
- I’m reading, but not enough.
- I’m writing, but never enough.
- I’m spending time with my daughter, but…is that enough?
- My list of to-do projects is largely unchecked.
- I’ve burned once, but returned quickly to sickly Wisconsin pale.
In short, I’m doing a lot. However, I think my big mistake so far is that I’m still trying to balance being a teacher and taking time off. In other words, I haven’t actually allowed myself any vacation.
Today, the AP scores come out for the great state of Wisconsin. Awesome. No stress there.
Kelly Gallagher shared a tweet this morning, linking to a post from Diane Ravitch about research into AP courses and their impact on our school system. Basically, the courses are important. Rigor is important. However, what we’ve done with the courses (high stakes for class rank, stress on students who overload, etc.) is far from ideal. On extra stressful days like these, I am reminded each year of Amy’s post about what really matters in AP courses: creating readers and writers out of our students. Not hyper-focusing on the test and the scores.
In the same way, I need to stop hyper-focusing on school during the summer and remember what’s really important. If I don’t take some time to recharge, I am going to burn out by October.
There are ways to let go. There are ways to really embrace a little bit of summer.
And for those of you who are like me and aren’t so good at it, here is a list off the top of my head:
- Read. Read under the covers with a flashlight if you are feeling nostalgic. Read exactly what you want, when you want. This one should be easy…it’s a part of being a workshop teacher.
- Take the time you can. Maybe it’s a weekend or maybe it’s two/three weeks in a row, but no matter how much time, intentionally set it aside for you and for your family. No meetings, no planning, no curriculum work, no searching Twitter for ideas (save your Three Teachers Talk blog post from that time as something to look forward to later!).
- Practice some mindfulness. I was introduced to this concept by a friend. As a teacher, I’ve lost a bit of “in the moment” thinking in favor of planning ahead and reflecting back. Resetting myself to return again and again to the moment I am in brings grounding and appreciation for what is right in front of me.
- Grab some of your summers past youthful innocence back. My daughter just said from the other room that Belle and the Beast are finally loving each other now. I took a break. I went in to watch Belle throw snowballs at the Beast. Tale as old as time: you need to play more than you work sometimes.
- Let yourself take a break. Good heavens…you know you deserve one.
How are you capturing summer? Please leave your comments below!
Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She loves to count fireflies in her backyard, sip root beer floats through striped straws, and get so lost in a book that she loses all track of time. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum