BRAD CLEMONS: Why teachers need summer breaks

Letting teachers have summer breaks are for the public’s benefit
Monday, June 27, 2011 | 3:36 p.m. CDT; updated 4:02 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The most annoying question a teacher gets is, “What are you going to do all summer?”

The asker is implying one of two things, each determined by where he puts the emphasis. If the asker puts the emphasis on the “do” – “What are you going to ‘do’ all summer?” —  we teachers understand. He likely pictures us sleeping until 10 a.m., sipping Kool-Aid in a plastic kiddie pool and reading Harlequin novels while Prince plays in the background.


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That is an unfair stereotype born of and perpetuated by jealousy.

One problem is that the public observes retired teachers leisurely making crafts or gardening on a dewy morning; that image is projected onto all teachers. What people don’t realize is that any random teacher gardens because of her psychosis. The lady is so fried from years of repeating herself and being disrespected that she has been reduced to compulsive gardening as a form of self-therapy.

It’s quite healing for a seasoned educator to work with an object that cannot talk back, run away or lie to its parents. A person needs to see progress, so gardening for a teacher is perfect because the plants grow quickly, and if not, strangulation is still legal. Plus, she can lead a plant to water, and it will actually drink. If her plants get mixed up with the wrong weeds, she can rip the weeds out, however passionately, and people will compliment her thoroughness.

But when the asker puts the emphasis on “all” – “What are you going to do ‘all’ summer?” — I have a problem with that.

He foolishly perceives summer the way he did as a child — the days bled into each other as warm and breezy evenings served as pauses in one long adventure. Waters, suntan lotions, girls who did not yet know him, bicycles and Jeeps – these made great memories. Surely each summer is 90 Saturdays in a row, he thinks.

That person’s view is skewed by his failure to understand what teachers did “all” fall, winter and spring.

In August, each teacher came in with a hopeful glow and the dove of peace on his shoulder. He also used naïve phrases such as, “There is no such thing as a dumb question.”

By September, the dove was gone, but there was still a job to do. The teacher chuckled, remembering that students are and have always been difficult. He felt that with a few more corrections, the kids’ bulbs of self-control would light, and he would write a book someday with lots of Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes in it.

By October, the teacher identified the children who had been “left behind,” and he formed a revised plan. He also pushed his weekend honey-dos back to Christmas break and wondered if he was the only one to think there were a few legitimately dumb questions.

By November, the teacher knew why the children had been “left behind” and subsequently denounced everything he was forced to learn about education from his college professors, all of whom worked only with adults and thus disqualified themselves as authorities.

By December, the promise of a break made the teacher smile. He read self-help books and formulated his own poetic halftime speech. He even began to shake off the frustration he was developing with a few students: Answers-rhetorical-questions-in-the-middle-of-a-lecture Boy; Squid Boy, who can’t keep his hands off of those around him and has a habitual fancy for ink; and even Entitlement Girl, who misses two days a week, never makes up any work yet is genuinely shocked when her grade is low.

January was rough, but he only looked on a few times. He re-clarified the classroom expectations and introduced a list of dumb questions.

By the end of February, he found himself having to shake off sarcastic thoughts: “You’re like the little sister I never wanted”; “I think you just had an out-of-skull experience”; or “Have a brunette explain it to you later.”

March was bearable because the thought of spring break made him think of beaches, and even though his room had no windows, he changed his desktop background to a beach scene and tried not to think about Missouri weather in March or his honey-do list he had put off from fall and winter.

In April, like a prisoner with tally marks, he began to count things. He was on his third stapler, nine girls and one boy had cried in his class this year, and he was shocked to discover that he had been asked, “Are we gonna do anything today?” 427 times — just one short of the threshold he set in March, at which a sacrifice would be required. He estimated that by the end of the next month, he would have graded more than 1,100 essays this year, all demonstrating such a low level of progress that in order to avoid the despair of a wasted life, he would have to convince himself that the whole class was actually deaf and he had never noticed.

May, though, was better than he feared. He renewed his contract and answered congenially the first 10 times he was asked, “What are you going to do ‘all’ summer?” In private, he researched emotional disorders on WebMD and became dissatisfied with all humor except statements that were punny.

See, summer breaks are essential to public health. People should wisely remember how cranky most of their teachers were and then imagine how unsafe a school could be if those teachers did not have time to tend garden or do crossword puzzles or visit places like Maine. So, teachers should “do” whatever it takes “all” summer in order to not “injure” people.

We teachers love our students like family. But the best of families need to get out of the minivan and stretch every so often.

Brad Clemons lives in Columbia and enjoys toning up his puns.

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Ellis Smith June 27, 2011 | 10:33 p.m.

Should we suppose the origin of summer vacation was primarily due to the fact that until well into the 20th century schools didn't have air conditioning (more than a few still don't) and, in what was then a largely agrarian country, the students were needed to help around the farm?

I think teachers and students need a break, even if every school had air conditioning. Everything we've learned we definitely didn't learn in a classroom.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock July 1, 2011 | 3:09 a.m.

I wouldn't mind the prospect of going longer in the day and having school 4 days a week. I also wouldn't mind spreading out the breaks throughout the year. Like 3 weeks on and 1 off.

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