This post is for the teachers who can’t turn it off. For the educators who long for summer and then don’t know what to do with ourselves once we get here. For the realists who know it will end all too soon. For the battle-weary who are almost too tired to enjoy it. For those who end the school year, just to jump into more and more work without so much as a nap. You are not alone. Remember, you too are entitled to a break.
Looking back at my summer posts from the past few years, it would seem that I have a problem. It’s a problem that 97% of Americans would likely sneer at, as summer vacation doesn’t readily suggest problem to the general public. It is, after all, weeks of freedom from work. The option to spend the day in yoga pants. Daytime television access that few get to enjoy (if that’s the right word). An opportunity for extended relaxation reserved for educators who share their very souls for roughly 180 days, plus weekends.
Every year, as summer approaches, I suggest to my colleagues that it doesn’t feel real. Maybe it’s the habit of nine months of all encompassing giving. Perhaps it’s the bone-tired confusion of early June. Maybe it just seems too good to be true, but either way, we wake up one fine morning and school is over. Disbelief likely continues. A bit more guarded excitement bubbles up. Then, because we are hardwired to keep pushing forward at all costs, we dutifully race into vacation (with a fevered pitch eerily reminiscent of the one we used to make it through the final crazy weeks of the school year) and look around wide-eyed wondering where to start. Having dragged ourselves across the finish line, heads down but thumbs up in our classroom community successes, we snap to once again to “get this summer thing underway.”
If you are anything like me, this frenzied shift in daily responsibility quickly manifests itself in lists. The to-do lists that instantly stretch out five country miles and look strikingly similar to the lists created for the endless responsibilities of work, but pay no attention! Get moving!
No wonder I don’t feel like I’m on vacation…I could fill every minute with need instead of want and find myself in mid-August with a cleaner house, every health related appointment scheduled and managed, minimalist ambitions catalogued and embattled against my concurring desire to shop, habitual Twitter monitoring accomplished in order to continue professional development, email checking to assist students with summer work and stay on top of administrative requests, and end up just as fatigued as I was on the last day of classes, and maybe sunburned too boot.
Don’t get me wrong, the entire summer can’t be spent on want over need. We are adults and there are responsibilities to attend to year round. However, I think what I quickly forget, or habitually ignore, is that based on the taxation of careers, most professionals do in fact take vacations.
What was that again?
Professionals take vacations.
Now, to be honest, I typed that twice, and made it gigantic once, to make myself believe it, because I think I’m terrible at heeding my own insights. When I try to relax, my brain runs on guilt-ridden overdrive: There is so much to be done! There was no time before, and nothing but time now! Fill it up! MAKE something of today! List, list, LIST!
Welcome to my brain. Don’t stay too long, you may develop anxiety.
Thankfully, this post is helping me process, and here is the insight this therapeutic writing has directed me to: If I don’t figure this out, everyone is going to suffer.
Sunshine and rainbows today, aren’t I? But it’s true. If I don’t shut off my teacher brain, so valuable during the school year to keep me on top of the 5.2 million divergent tasks we tackle in a day, I’m going to suffer during a time I should be recharging. My family is going to suffer because I’ll still be stressed out. My future students will suffer because I won’t get my mojo back to start the year with rested enthusiasm and rejuvenated vigor.
In a few short weeks it will be July 4th, strange psychological turning point for my own summer, so it bears repeating that I need to give myself an actual break. You need to give yourself an actual break. Unplug, get lost, be silly, tune in to your hobbies, hold tight to your passions, reconnect with your own children, have ice cream for dinner, and stay up until 2:00 A.M. reading.
I read once that if you’re sad, you should stand before a mirror and smile at your reflection until you feel happier. Scientifically speaking, your mood will in fact improve, and the smiling will have helped to change your trajectory. Perhaps it’s the same with summer. Do more and more summer everyday, and you’ll get yourself into that habit. More pool lounging, campfire sitting, lemonade sipping fun. Additionally, might I suggest:
- Be aware of your drive to keep pushing, and actively work to put the brakes on. Make yourself take a day away. Then two. Perhaps a week or two without work. You’ve got the time, so make the conscious choice to use it and appreciate it. As I suggested to myself and to you last year (when will I ever take my own advice?!) – Remain Calm.
- If you must work, as most of us do, treat yourself in small ways. Try not to let the work consume your whole day, or peel away your sun-soaked attitude. Whether it be your casual attire, a shot of flavor in your traditionally black coffee, and/or the guilty-pleasure read you put in your bag to fill mandatory breaks along the way, remember that you get to enjoy these days too because you’ve worked hard to earn them.
- If your summer break involves a good deal of work beyond your teaching career, as some of us legitimately need to additional employment over the summer to make ends meet (but that’s a whole other post), try and make small breaks mean more. Completely unplug for a day or take a drive on your own with your journal and spend one day exploring, writing, reading, thinking. Whenever possible, be mindful of the mental and physical breaks you still desperately need after a year in the trenches, and ask for the help from friends, family, and neighbors to get it. It takes a village!
- Put a little bit of you into every single day. Take the time to read what your heart desires. Take the time to write for you. Take the time to sleep. Heaven knows that school does not afford much time for napping, once we get rolling again, so employ the summer catnap early and often.
- Embrace a little transcendentalism. If you have work to do, try and do it outside. If you are insistent on perfecting your educational practice and/or yoga moves (yes, I stumbled upon a guided script on yoga for teachers…enjoy), connect with nature while you’re doing. Better yet, keep in mind – Thoreau would want you to remember that the nature of our reality is governed by experience. The more you get out and do, as opposed to list, ruminate over, or worry about, the better off that reality will be…just make sure you reflect carefully on your experiences in a small cabin located next to a quiet body of water.
Summer is a gift. Lift your foot off the accelerator for a bit and look around at what you might not notice if you don’t take the time to refuel. You deserve this break. Make it a priority to enjoy it just as much as you use it.
Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. This summer, she’s hoping her new bullet journal is going to assist her in her pursuits to relax. She sees the irony in this and is also ironically powerless to stop it. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum