I look at my alarm, which did not go off. I get up. I make coffee. I sit down. I’m up early, same as usual. There is one difference.
It is the first Monday of summer. No school today. No classes to teach. It’s even better because The Boy still has school for four more days. Peace and happiness surround me.
For those of you working other jobs where your alarm clocks are going off, I know…blah blah blah, teachers have vacation all year and work half-days…I know the drill.
The truth is, summer’s a bit overwhelming for teachers and students. You might not realize it, but there’s a psychological process to summer. It goes in four stages.
First, we wake up and celebrate. Summer! Yippee! So many things to do! I unfold checklists of fun things I made when I was busy staring down students on a Wednesday morning before lunch.
Then, I pause to be practical. First, I must to do the unfun things. They’re on the checklist too. I schedule appointments I couldn’t attend during the school year. The eye doctor, for instance. I can’t really see if that student on the other side of the parking lot is waving or flipping me off. I wave back with all five fingers just in case.
The dentist should get a slice of my time, too. After all the calls, a week is gone. If I decide to write curriculum or go to my boss’ five days of professional development, which I’m sure will be amazing but, for God’s sake it’s summer (Udemy anyone?), that could be another week.
I think I’ll pass on those this time around. The garden is calling…
Time to enjoy summer! Appointments scheduled, I commit to some good quality summer, a couple weeks at least. This year, I’m super tired. No big trip. A couple of large museums and some dinosaurs should do it, and maybe some dancing bears. Declan wants to stay in a hotel with a pool. This is the Golden Period of Summer. Popsicles, pools and fun. Maybe a beach or two with a sunset.
The Golden Period shrinks year by year. After two weeks, all kids are bored. You can tell when they follow you saying, “I’m bored.” I never did this. I hid and read books. But my mom would have said, “If you’re bored, clean your room!” I was bored, not waiting for religious conversion. My room’s still messy, even now.
Then “Back to School season” arrives.
Before you know it, it’s Back to School Season, the mental end of summer. It used to be the last two weeks of August. Sales, fliers, clothes. Now, in much the same way Marketing Christmas starts after the Fourth of July, Madison 5th Avenue Back to School starts at about the same time.
Teachers can’t ignore these doorbusters. Teachers turn into addicts, shopping the sales for all the things their school won’t buy.
I’m in the country now, but when I lived in civilization, I’d drive a loop of stores with a list of who had five-cent this, fifty-cent that. I’d go twice a day until the sale expired, amassing boxes of things for students or trade on the teacher black market. Sometimes, I’d find a kid-cashier, someone who reminded me of my students, and say, “Let’s cut to the chase. I’m going to come back four times today and get the ‘limit ten.’ Can you just sell them to me now?”
Students know an empathetic teacher when they see one. They imagined me giving them a pencil for class. They always said yes. You might think fifteen hundred pencils is overkill, but I assure you, it’s not. I was down to ten at the end of this year.
I’ve grown. I see the addiction for what it is. Me, wasting half my summer and a solid paycheck to pay for my job. When I add in the cost of gas and my time seeking and planning for sales, the five-cent this isn’t five-cents any more. Simple opportunity cost math. Plus, I’ve moved out to the country where we have farms, not stores. “Here, kid, I got a dozen free-range eggs at the Back to School Sale.” That doesn’t work. I leave this breed of insanity to someone else.
Besides, students don’t really like pencils. They think if they lose enough of them, we’ll give in and let them use their iPhones instead. I agree. Good thinking.
Finally, the last week or two of summer arrives. I find out what I’ll be teaching in the fall, and suddenly my brain wants to start planning. It imagines me standing in front of a new group of students. They’re telling me how much they look forward to coming to school each day and thanking me for teaching.
Summer is over. Every year, I get in my car. I drive back for Coffee Day. That’s the first day of school where I drink coffee with all the people I really meant to see over the summer when I was seeing my dentist and cleaning my room instead.
On Coffee Day, I remember driving home on the last day of school thinking, “It’ll be over in a flash, and I’ll be driving back to school.”
It is. I will be. It’s how life works as I get older. The years speed by.
All those kids who were bored with summer will say, “I’m bored” in school, and my job will be to do something about it the best I can. We’ll stare each other down, like showdown at the O.K. Corral. We’ll wonder the same thing–is this going to be a good year?
I think so. I always think so. I’m generally right.
Summer will be over. The countdown to Christmas vacation will begin…
Sigh. For now, let me enjoy the silence and the sun rising over the trees. I have nothing to do but relax and drink more coffee.