Summer Limits

I am not going to learn how to code this summer. I am not going to read several of the work-related books on my list. I will not spend too many hours prepping and planning for next year. I will honor the obligations I have committed to that involve other people. I will prepare adequately but not excessively for those tasks.

In June all things seem possible. I knew that my to-do list for the summer was long, but I was genuinely excited to engage all of the items on the list. I have actually made tangible progress. The problem is that it is mid-July and I am more tired than energized. More than once I have found myself losing patience when my home life has gotten in the way of work. That’s par for the course during the school year, but simply not acceptable in the summer. I am losing one of the key benefits of the job – having flexible time off in the summer. I should embrace the fact that I can care for my family without my work suffering, and yet too often I resent it. This is not a healthy place to be halfway through the summer. Exhausted and stressed is to be expected in mid-February perhaps, but not mid-July.

Over the twenty plus years I have been teaching, work has taken over more and more of the summer. I quite enjoy working on school in the summer. It is so nice to have time to read and think on my own schedule. Working with colleagues in the absence of students and bells definitely has great benefits. Still, I realize there is a line. We talk a lot about the balance of home and work during the school year, but the same care needs to be taken with summer. In that spirit, I am taking the better part of the next two weeks and setting work aside. There are a few things I need to do that fall in the category of obligations to others, but I won’t go beyond that.

I started the summer with one goal – to read widely and daily. I will stick with that but I may rethink some of my book choices. Some of the other goals that I tacked on will get set aside. I have been feeling like the child whose eyes are bigger than her stomach at a buffet table. Time to stop, digest and not feel too guilty about what I am leaving on the plate.

I have long known the joys of summer. This year I am really coming up against its limits.

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If there were no tests and quizzes…

students would not ask if they needed to know it for the test or quiz. Students would not be gaming out whether or not something is worth their time based on whether it will be tested. Most teachers hate these questions from students, but they are perfectly legitimate. Students want to be efficient and successful at school, and why not. Their work on the test and quiz is what gets rewarded, and they are busy with other interests. Our class is more important to us than to them. If we want to change the mindset, we need to change the game.

I would rather have students ask how much they need to know about a topic in order to give a presentation, teach younger students, participate in a discussion – either in class or online, write an article or persuasive essay, write or respond to a blog post, etc. In this case, it is a legitimate question, but I am not the one with the answer. Students need to figure it out themselves as they go. It might involve beginning a draft or lesson plan and then going back to do more research. It could also include discussion and advice from their peers. It might even involve falling flat after a first attempt. What has changed is that they are no longer trying to read my mind but instead trying to master their material. I become a partner in helping them but not the one with the answer key.

As usual a few random twitter threads came together in my mind for this post. Annie Murphy Paul wrote about the power of having students teach others. Mike Kaechele noted during #sschat about flipped classrooms that the real flip is putting students in charge of their own learning. Students should be asking how much they need to know about something but not to answer questions that I have deemed important which only I will read. That question should be part of the process of learning, sharing, teaching and reflecting, which is not a linear one.