07/28/2017 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

July is National Ice Cream Month

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Yes, America goes overboard with the “National Month” thing. Some of them — Black History Month (February), National Poetry Month (April)— are clearly worth noting and celebrating. Others — National Home Ownership Month (June) — not so much. July is the month in which we celebrate our nation’s birthday, of course. (For those keeping count, America turned 241 this year.) July is also National Baked Bean Month, National Pickle Month, National Women’s Motorcycle Month, and National Ice Cream Month.

If there’s a pattern here, it is that July comes in summer and summer is an invitation for living life at a slightly more relaxed and self-indulgent pace.

For educators, July marks the one full month free of school-year responsibilities. We know there are critics who bemoan the time given to teachers in summer. But we’re inclined to see the summer break as essential to the teaching life. Great teachers can’t be great without it.

The truth is, many teachers have to work in summer. The profession doesn’t pay particularly well, relatively speaking, so many educators teach in summer school or take on other forms of work, full or part-time, simply to pay bills. An art teacher we know tends to other people’s gardens by day and works in a Scottish pub by night.

Beyond remuneration, many of the teachers we know use at least part of the time for formal professional development. This can involve enrolling in, or even organizing and running, summer workshops and institutes. It can involve reading up on new developments in their field or investigating new approaches to teaching. Some enroll in graduate courses. Still others give time over to professional writing.

Students and schools clearly benefit from all these activities.

“I am deeply thankful that I learned from teachers who were given the time to be scholars, who engage in their professional communities, and who are involved in their profession,” writes Louis Hoffman, a psychology professor at Saybrook University. “They were not just teachers, which is what made them great teachers. Today, we seem to want to reduce teachers to being nothing more than their teaching role. If we succeed in doing this, we will have lost our ability to truly educate our students.”

We couldn’t agree more. But we also support educators in simply slowing down, spending time with friends and family, reading whatever interests them, catching up on movies, taking official vacations, cycling long distances — whatever it takes to relax, not think about school, and not worry about other people’s children for a while.

In “Summer Break: The Least Understood and Most Maligned Aspect of a Teacher’s Life,” educator and writer Steven Singer says, “During the school year, I pace like lightning every day. If I didn’t have some time in the summer to unwind, I wouldn’t be able to keep up that pace for the majority of the year.”

We shouldn’t have to point this out to the critics of summer break, but teachers don’t work from 8-3 during the school year. They are immersed in school life completely from the first day of classes to the last, with a few days off in between. If they aren’t in class or preparing for class or meeting with students (formally or informally) or meeting with parents or meeting with colleagues by department and committee or coaching or monitoring lunch or grading papers or attending a workshop or catching up on professional reading or commuting to and from school, they are thinking about all of it. To a greater degree then most professions, educators are deeply immersed in their work from the time they wake to the time their heads hit the pillow again.

Brain science research supports the importance of downtime for all of us. It underscores the link between reflection time and creativity. We are all better at what we do if we can get away from what we do for time — if we can pull back to see the bigger picture, to think, reflect, attend to our physical and mental health. This is particularly important for teachers. They are far better at their profession when they are allowed to throttle back in summer and take time to think more expansively — take time to be better professionals.

We asked a few educators what they like to do in summer. Outside of professional development, which they almost all say they do, here’s a short list: swimming in lakes, reading biographies, playing golf, spending time with family, camping, hiking, gardening, surfing, playing the guitar, and traveling.

One educator noted that his favorite summertime activity is sailing because it also helped him reflect on his work. “It’s an opportunity to think about the forces that act on a sailboat and that also have meaning for my work with schools,” he writes. Lots of metaphors here: “leveraging the lift on the sails for forward momentum; understanding the drag from the water and friction, valuing the strong weight in the keel to keep one on a steady course; etc.”

Another educator says he makes a point to read at least one good book of history. Two examples this summer: Sean McMeekin’s “The Russian Revolution, A New History” and Holger Hoock’s “Scars of Independence.”

Still another says she would have left the profession long ago if not for summer. She says she absolutely needs the time to recharge her batteries (lots of running), engage in some intellectually satisfying professional development (this summer on project-based learning), and be truly present with her family.

It’s fine with us if teachers want to use the summer to live it up or binge watch “Game of Thrones” or “House of Cards.” It’s fine with us if they head out into the wilderness for a while without a thought about school, or sit in a beach chair and stare at the birds skimming the sea. What matters — if we want educators to show up in late August fully ready to go again — is that each teacher finds his or her way to celebrate and enjoy National Ice Cream Month. Any flavor will do.

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