Pre-emptive Strike: Teachers and Summer Vacation

The public perceives that during summer vacation teachers take vacation.  The teacher-leader community perceives that we work – planning for the new year, attending and presenting at conferences, and the like.

I think the public perception is closer to the truth.

From May 24 until July 29, my time off, I have sixty-five days that I own. I’m committed to ten days of compensated work (and I hope to find some more).  I’ll likely sprinkle in another ten days or so of uncompensated time planning for next year and maintaining my lab.  So as it stands, I’m looking at forty-five free days this summer – more than six weeks.

When I hear teacher-leaders colleagues declare – usually in conferences or on Facebook – that we work in the summer it bothers me that the tone is universally negative and defensive.  The terms Teacher Martyr and Teach Whiner jump to mind.

In a conference a presenter may speak in lofty terms, something like, “The public right now thinks we’re all out enjoying ourselves on vacation, but here we are showing our dedication to our profession on this June afternoon.”  Lots of heads will nod in agreement or shake in despair.

On Facebook, there will be lots of cartoons. They usually feature a frazzled character telling us something like, “The next time someone tells you it must be nice to have summers off, tell them, “Oh really? If you think planning curriculum and going to in-services is vacation, than it’s just great!” Those cartoons always get a lot of likes, and “Too true” comments.

But in between the conference, which lasted six hours in an air-conditioned room and included lunch, and logging into Facebook at night, I’ll drive by the bridge they’re building near my house.  The workers were on the job two hours before I left and will go on another hour after I get home.  Their air is conditioned by the Tucson sun.  They ate their lunch out of a metal box while sitting on a rock.

My conference was likely inspiring and transformational.  I’m motivated and energized.  I’m a better teacher.  The construction workers are tired, sweaty, and sunburned.  I’d be embarassed to say I’d been at work.

So where does the defensiveness of teachers come from? I have just as many people tell me that I deserve a break after nine months teaching.  When someone is more sarcastic, I embrace that challenge, “You have no idea how good it is to have two months all my own.  I’ll spend some time planning and learning, and still have tons left for personal projects, reading, and travel. It’s a great part of being a teacher.”

If someone claims  I demean the profession by stating that summer vacation is a great part of teaching, I’d counter that it’s no more demeaning than stating that because I’m professionally active for twenty out of sixty-five days, I’m really not on vacation.

So, having made war, let me try to make peace.  My twenty busy days this summer are less than average for me and less than many colleauges.  And some colleagues do seem to be professionally engaged all summer long.

Most importantly, the work, oops, our summer professional activity moves the profession forward, and I don’t trivialize it at all.

And I’m happy to engage contrary opinions – preferably at poolside poolside this summer while enjoying an adult beverage after our conference breaks for the day.


Sandy Merz

I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I’ve moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I’m a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

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