I still can't believe it's our summer break - probably because the weather out here has been incredibly nasty this month. However, I can tell it's the end because my body is exhausted, my brain is exhausted, and my classroom is no longer the perfectly organized classroom I want it to be.
Some people get all huffy when teachers mention summer break because they think teachers "don't have to work in the summer" or are jealous because they "still have to work during the nice weather." Well, so do we teachers! Looking at my empty classroom today made me realize one thing. It wasn't that the year was over. It wasn't that all that planning was done.
It was "Boy, I have a lot to do."
I try my best to have the classroom set up in August so that the changes that are made throughout the year are minimal. I had a cute poster set that was four windows representing the four months of the year. Once fall came, all I had to do was take down the summer poster and put up the fall! The same thing happened with a set of poster wreaths I inherited from my mom. Each month a new one went up - it wasn't complicated.
The planning for these easy changes, however, come in the summer. I try to plan what my bulletin boards (two of them) will be by trying to keep the background paper the same, and put all the borders near each other so I don't have to dig them out or search for them. My poster sets are all organized according to season or occasion. When did I do all of this organizing? In the summer. The poster organizing alone took two days.
While the kids were taking down all of my posters and boards and add-ons I have in my classroom, I was already setting some stuff aside or mentioning that a certain poster would look good in a new spot next year. When will I set that stuff up? In the summer!
I made mental and physical notes during this month about changes that would have to be made in a few key areas of the classroom and classroom management. I need to flesh these out now. In the summer.
Trying to do all of this stuff during the school year, as you try to manage a classroom of children as well, is incredibly difficult. The summer months allow for planning and organization so that if problems arise or changes need to be made during the year, they can be made quickly because in the summer, I prepared for it.
I have the added bonus of a lot of music content in my teaching position. Last year I planned everything for the church services in advance, and made sure I had the music ready to go before the first day of school - it made things go much, much more smoothly this year. I plan on doing the same thing again. Selecting music for four different singing groups is a long process, especially if you make a big effort to match the music to the Sunday (or festival) of the church year.
This is also time for some bigger projects. My first summer was spent re-cataloging the Senior Choir music. Then I put all my organ music into a database. Then I organized my new music office. This summer is dedicated to composing new music and taking a few courses.
I still have a lot to do in the music department during the school year, but it's not as time consuming as selecting and buying and numbering music. Instead, it's e-mailing the people involved, recording the music, organizing individual church services, and breaking down the music for rehearsals. Thanks to my summer planning, I can focus on that stuff during the year and have more productive rehearsals.
Like I mentioned above, I am tired. The past few weeks I have been so excited to come home and take my contacts out. My cat is wondering why I'm always just sitting on the couch for the few hours I'm home in the evening instead of playing with her. And my place is a mess.
Recharging a teachers' batteries is incredibly important. For me, this means making my own schedule. I wake up, exercise, relax with my cat, then go to work in grubby shorts and a t-shirt. I might not get home till 6 or 7 to eat supper, then I enjoy a few hours before bedtime and I repeat it all again.
Some people are surprised when they realize that I'm at work 5-6 days out of the week in the summer. Just because I'm not teaching doesn't mean I'm not working! I just get to work at my own pace - this is my method of recharging. Imagine me like a phone plugged into the wall. I'm still doing the work, but I'm also building up my power.
Recharging also means taking time for myself. Like I've mentioned before, I will be running a little more this summer. I want to start now so that once school starts again, I'll be in a good routine and won't (hopefully) want to stop. I'll visit my family and do a road trip - something teachers rarely get to do during the school year because it takes too much time, but can allow for many lessons to be learned by the teacher that can be shown to the kids the following year. (Mount Rushmore? Weekly President bios!) I'll visit my friends and get ideas from them for the year. I'm not even in the classroom, but I'm still working!
Yes, there will be some downtime, too. We all need that time to fill our spiritual cups, no matter what the profession. I might not check my work e-mail for a day and just go for a hike with some friends. I might go into the mountains for some R&R. But do you know what happens when you come back from rest and relaxation? You feel better! You're energized.
One of my favorite ways to get energized and excited for the next year is attending events where I know my students will be. This is easier for me since most of my students attend the church. It's great seeing the kids outside of the classroom, because they are different kids, and they think of you as a different person. They might actually be excited to see you, because it could have been a few days (or weeks) since you've seen them!
I try not to be a teacher in those moments (although sometimes it can't be helped). I try to be that adult that shows interest in a child and their stories and successes. Maybe I'll send them all a postcard from my travels so they can enjoy my trips, and maybe share their own trips with me!
Last year I attended our church's camping weekend, and many of my students were there with their families. On Saturday night I was around the campfire with a bunch of them, sharing favorite books and movies. It was a special time for me, because we weren't having a teacher-student discussion. It was just a discussion! I did notice that it made a big change in the school year, because not only did I see them in a new light, but they saw me differently, too.
These out-of-classroom encounters and moments of relaxation are very helpful in getting a teacher prepared for the coming year. Instead of dread and tiredness, a teacher can approach the next school year with eagerness and energy!
Refresh, Recharge, and Reenergize
I work over the summer. I do the work that is needed so that when the next year begins, I won't start the year exhausted. That just doesn't set the tone for the future school days. Thanks to the work I do over the summer, I can approach the next school year focused, organized, and excited to see my students and teach them even more.
Right now, at this very moment, my battery is on low. It's time to plug in.