How many hot dogs have my children eaten this summer? At least twenty-five apiece. How many gallons of ice cream have we consumed? A dozen? And that’s not even counting the popsicles. I think my daughters’ lips are permanently stained red. Despite going to the grocery what feels like every day, I never seem to have enough food in the fridge to make an actual meal, so the kids end up eating something from a box while my husband and I have eggs on the couch. The girls have just watched the fiftieth episode of Doc McStuffins and somehow the whole day has passed yet I haven’t managed to accomplish anything on my to-do list, a list filled with items both monumental and insignificant. Buy envelopes is right next to figure out marketing campaign for new book which is right next to do laundry!!! Yet at the end of the day, we’re still in dirty clothes, lacking envelopes, and I haven’t a clue about marketing. The days pass by in pleasant fog.
Ah, summer vacation. Not just any vacation, but a teacher’s summer vacation.
Last week, as I frittered away another day doing a whole lot of nothing, the calendar ticked over into August. For most teachers, August 1 is the date when we’re reminded that during the rest of the year we have jobs. Jobs we care about, jobs we love, jobs that are fulfilling and hard and demanding and meaningful, but jobs we wish we didn’t have to think about for just a few more weeks. August is the time when I wonder, in panic, how do I normally have a full-time job? How on earth do I manage to wrangle two children out the door by seven fifteen every morning when, for the life of me, I can’t even manage to buy envelopes? (My husband eventually purchased them.) How do I cook dinner at the end of that day, with actual vegetables and occasional protein, when my kids have been living on peanut butter, cheese sticks, and grillable meat for the past five weeks?
Get out the violins now. It’s a privileged problem to have, I realize, and many of the teachers I know use their summers to work crazy hours at second jobs. But a handful of us are lucky enough to get to spend the summer months truly on vacation or hanging with our kids (vacation should be in quotation marks when you’re talking about sharing it with young children, but that’s a post for another time. One of mine enjoys getting up when it’s still dark out, which during the summer months is four AM, but at least no one needs to change out of pajamas for several hours). I know there are arguments that summer vacation is too long for kids. How many of my students actually spend their summer hoeing the fields of the family farm (a few, actually, but that’s probably uncommon in most parts of the country)? How much valuable learning is lost during such a long vacation? How much academic regression does this long break cause? I’m sure there is merit in this argument, and if the school calendar changes, we teachers will roll with it, as we do with all other small and large scale changes in education. However, summer vacation offers teachers the opportunity to get excited about teaching again. And this is vitally important to the students that we teach.
Earlier this week I ventured into school to work on my syllabus. Though it took mental energy to get there, once I sat down and started planning out this year’s curriculum, I woke up. I perused some possible new novels to read, I thought about vocabulary instruction, I mentally rearranged my classroom, I thought about a new unit. I got my head back in the game for a few hours and remembered why I’m a teacher. And then I went for a walk and grocery shopped and did a little more nothing.
The days of nothing are drawing to a close. Parents who are not teachers will likely be rejoicing after two months of camp bills and patching together childcare. Kids are often ready to go back. For teachers, the return is always bittersweet, but after a few days, it’s like we’ve never left. Those lazy days of summer feel like a million miles away after the marathon month of September.
But not yet. There are still at least three weeks left of hot dogs, beach time, reading, ice cream, and late night TV ahead of us. If you live in Martha’s Vineyard throw in the Ag Fair, Illumination Night, Built on Stilts, the fireworks, Obama’s visit, and the insane traffic of August. By the time the first days of school roll around, we’ll be ready.
In the meantime, I’m going to read my book and have another Popsicle.