We’ve all heard it.
On the first weekday morning in June, your neighbor will shout from their driveway, “You made it to summer! Wish I had summers off!”
You’ll run into an acquaintance at the grocery store. “Hey! Since you have the summer off, you should come help out at our kids camp at the library!”
A student spies you at the local Mexican restaurant. “Mrs. King! I thought you lived at school during the summer?”
Sigh. The misunderstanding is real.
What do teachers do in the summer? The truth? It depends. Every teacher’s school requirements, financial or family situation, school year experience, job demands, personality, and personal priorities influence the ways they spend their summer break.
What do teachers do in the summer?
1. Work a second job (or third … or fourth)
When a teaching salary is only a few thousand dollars above the poverty line in some parts of the country, many teachers need to work during the summer.
Some work for their school district as curriculum writers, interning for the central office, or teaching summer school. Others take on other paid opportunities in the summer like leading new-teacher workshops or trainings.
Many teachers take on jobs outside of school but still related to their classroom work, like tutoring, helping with college essays, or babysitting former students.
And some take on work not related to school at all. Many work jobs in restaurants, retail, and other industries looking for part-time or seasonal help.
2. Professional development, training, and other mandatory work for school
Personally, I can only remember a couple of summers where I didn’t have some kind of mandatory training during my “time off.” These can include:
- Seminars, conferences, and online or in-person trainings designated by a school. These will either be for all employees or by department to learn a new pedagogical skill or program.
- Training related to certification required for the next school year, such as G/T or Advanced Placement (typically 1 to 2 weeks).
- Catching up on non-contract professional development and certification updates from the previous year (or getting ahead for the next school year).
3. Catch up on things they can’t do during the school year
If you’re not a teacher, you might not understand the luxury of being able to leave work during the day to run to the doctor, dentist, or specialist. You don’t have to use vacation time to get your tires rotated during your lunch break or run to the grocery store. On weekends, you have the energy and mental space to do things like clean out your closets, spruce up your garden, or meal prep to your heart’s content.
Teachers can’t do these things. Or if they can, they’re often sacrificing something else they need to do. Many times the summer is the first wide-open chance they have to take care of all the tasks accumulated during the school year. Things like:
- Medical appointments: Finally going to a medical appointment prepared to recite the “2022-2023 health questions” list on your phone.
- Resolving issues that involve being on hold all day, like insurance claims, tax disputes, every utility company, etc.
- Home maintenance: Neglected closets. Garages. Drawers. Refrigerators and freezers. Squeaky doors. Drippy faucets. Dead gardens. Power washing (OK, that one’s more like entertainment).
4. Get ahead on next school year
Many teachers use their summer to get ahead on the next school year, whether that’s planning new lessons or units, writing grants for new technology or field trips, or just putting a dent in the hours of safety training that has to be done before Halloween.
5. The three R’s: recovering, recreation, relationships
Similar to #3, the summer is often a time when teachers can prioritize things they lack the time or energy for during other parts of the year. A long weekend getaway that doesn’t require hours of planning for a sub. Workout classes at bonkers times like 9:45 a.m. Weekday lunches with friends. Happy hour where they’re not already half asleep.
Just as important is the time teachers have in the summer to pour into their relationships. Teachers treasure the time they can spend in the summer making memories with their partners, families, and friends.
But no matter how they spend their summer, every teacher has this in common: The summer is not “time off.” This is intentional time to meet some kind of need, often one that demands the kind of time, energy, and bandwidth teachers just don’t have during the school year.