Summertime is not downtime

Jul 7, 2014

Summertime—And the Livin’ is Easily Misunderstood

Another school year has ended. For teachers, that means hearing the familiar question again, “So, what are you doing with all that summer vacation?”   

I understand the assumption. Many of us remember June, July, and August days filled with biking, swimming lessons, pick up games of baseball and football, or curling up to read books of our own choosing--with no one demanding book reports.

It may come as a surprise, however, to learn that most teachers are not currently luxuriating in grown up versions of those extended frolics of yore. While some rogue educators may have figured out how to relive their childhood summers, I’ve yet to meet them. Most of my colleagues are either teaching summer school, working second jobs, or tending to out-of-classroom parts of their vocation.

If you really want to impress a teacher this season, skip the usual “big summer off” question, and try one of these conversation starters. It just might earn you a gold star.

Question #1: “What’s on your summer reading list?” As an English professor, much of what I do is read, and reread, for a living. Working through texts together with my students leaves little time for recreational reading, or for reading that might yield new texts. But in summer I begin to dismantle those stacks of meaning-to-get-to books. If something strikes me as potentially worthy, I debate the merits of  making room for a newcomer on the syllabus by bumping The Color of Water or Mrs. Dalloway. English teachers aren’t the only ones who build book towers and ponder each block. Educators in all disciplines do. Chances are, these folks are generous lenders. You could benefit from asking about their summer reading.

Question #2: “Are any special projects on your agenda this summer?” If you are bold, go ahead and use the r-word: “research.” University professors are expected to research, write, and publish. Pre-school through community college teachers also often have writing projects of their own or another’s devising. Such work frequently happens best by the natural light of summer days. I’m looking forward this summer to writing about an early twentieth-century American female homesteader and comparing her with an urban counterpart across the ocean. The idea came to me recently while driving and listening to a book on CD by one of them. Summer offers time and space to make connections and follow hunches—an important part of any educator’s job description.

Question #3: “Now that you’ve put down that grading pen for a while, what are you picking up?” My dean recently sent out a email urging his faculty to rest and recreate this summer—along with submitting book orders, revising and posting  syllabi, and shepherding students with Incompletes, independent studies, and internships. I have plenty of those teacherly tasks to do, but I also hope to resurrect a knitting project and try some of those recipes clipped and saved last winter, but not constructed and consumed. (Doesn’t Linguine with Spinach-Herb Pesto sound delicious? Or Carmelized Pear Cannoli with Praline Sauce?)  I might even take a sample to my dean when fall term starts—just to prove I followed his instructions to the letter.

So, next time you see a teacher—at the grocery store, in church, or even across the dining room table—fight the temptation to ask about that two- or three-month summer vacation. Chances are, it’s not happening. But plenty of other interesting things are.