When the final bell before summer break rings, your students jump out of their seats and race to the classroom door. "Goodbye!" they shout. "Thanks for everything! Have a great summer!" And then they're gone. Your classroom is suddenly quiet. Your desk is sprinkled with cards and small gifts. You see a red ceramic apple beside a framed picture of a puppy with the words, "You're the greatest!" There is a glass jar with M&M's, a bottle of hand lotion, and several gift cards to local restaurants from thoughtful parents.
You don't race for the door. Instead, you sit at your desk for a few moments and savor the range of possibilities for summer break. Here are a few ways to make the most of the break.
Get Ready for Next Year
Believe it or not, I've met a lot of people who think that when the kids board the bus on the last day of school, we just lock up the building and follow them out. But plenty of teachers work through the summer to get ready for the next year. Some teachers just need a couple of days after school ends to organize their classrooms, finish orders for the next year, or fill out requests for room repairs. And even those who do leave school on the last day often find it hard to simply clear their heads and immediately switch into summer mode. (Some people manage the change better than others, of course!)
Many teachers I know take jobs to guarantee income over the summer. Some teach summer school, but others choose jobs completely unrelated to teaching. A group of teachers I know paints houses over the summer; they find the physical labor mentally relaxing. I've also known younger teachers who joined the wait staff at local restaurants—a job they found kind of fun and interesting until they had to wait on former students and their families!
Embrace Relaxation and Self-Care
Now that you're out of the classroom, you can take some time for yourself. Maybe the first thing on your summer agenda is travel—a family vacation, a trip to visit relatives, or hiking alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. Maybe you just want to stay home and spend time with your kids. Or maybe you just want to do nothing. Personally, I find it therapeutic to thoroughly clean the house—throwing out magazines from months ago, watering thirsty plants, and going through closets and weeding out clothes no one wears anymore—but I know that wouldn't be everyone's first choice.
One of the important tips when it comes to self-care is to slow down, and summer is a perfect time to dial it back. In a Psychology Today article, Sam Boardman, a psychiatrist, says, "In the morning I deliberately walk slower than my usual frantic pace, put my phone away, and take time to look around and enjoy the moment rather than worrying about the day ahead." Other activities, like doing yoga, cooking a delicious meal, or playing with pets, can help restore a sense of well-being. Dr. Mindy Greenstein offers some practical advice about self-care in the same article: "If I'm feeling down and don't feel like doing anything, my mantra is, 'If I can't be happy today, I can at least be useful.'" Greenstein adds that being useful actually improves her attitude and gets her moving in the right direction.
Reflect on the Past Year
Putting a little distance between you and school gives you a chance to reflect objectively on the past year. What went really well? What lessons or activities need to be tweaked? What ideas need to be tossed? If you surveyed your students at the end of the school year, you'll have some important feedback to use as you plan for next year.
Besides reflecting on your academic life, you may want to take some time to review your personal life as well. Self-care shouldn't be a priority only in the summertime, but it's easy to forget about yourself when you have so many other responsibilities during the school year. Summer is a good time to think about how the past year went. For example, did you set aside time for daily exercise? Did you eat a healthy diet or were you often picking up fast food on the way home? Did you maintain a social life and spend time with those you care about? Did you get enough sleep? If you're not satisfied with your answers, it's time to revamp your routine for the upcoming year.
Retool Your Approach for Next Year
Summer is also a great time to reinforce your knowledge and skills. Some school districts offer summer workshops or send teachers to conferences. These can be refresher courses for best practices and new strategies. Talking with colleagues from other schools is invigorating and even illuminating when you compare notes and discover new techniques. Some districts even offer paid curriculum work during the summer. This is a win-win because you can influence what kids learn and earn summer income at the same time! Teachers can also use the summer break to take courses for an advanced degree or certification in a different area.
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Teachers (and students) are always amazed at how quickly summer break can fly by. But if you take the opportunity to refresh and recharge, you'll find yourself eagerly looking forward to the start of a new school year.