This summer, I have achieved a level of enlightenment that I hadn’t thought possible. I fully released myself of one of my most reliable corporeal identities to reveal some inner truths that had been hiding in my subconscious. This summer, after 14 years of teaching, I have forgotten that I am a teacher.
I had the best school year of my teaching career, and I am very excited to start my next school year in the end of August. I am squarely someone who lives to work, rather than works to live. While I have some friends, particularly non-teacher friends, who think that sounds horrifying, it is who I am. In the past summers, I have spent my time diligently “teacher-ing”: reading materials, long-range planning, reviewing the previous school year’s data and reflecting on my teaching practices, attending meetings and conferences. I have spent summers buying books and furniture for my classroom, dogging my administrators about when I can get back into the building early so that I can use my “time off” to set up my room instead of having to do it all during pre-service week. But this summer, I have done none of that.
And it has been glorious.
Instead of being a teacher this summer, I have been a person. I have been treating myself to adventures and experiences, using the credit card that I avoid all year to surrender to celebration. Beautifully, these adventures are going to make me a better teacher come September. I will be able to offer my students an energized facilitator with a greater sense of knowledge about the world. Basically, I have used the summer as an actual sabbatical, much the way a college professor, you know, takes sabbatical.
So, then, why have I felt selfish? If college professors are expected to take sabbaticals, why wouldn’t an elementary school teacher do the same? We are 10-month employees. I work in a district where I do not get paid during the summer. Why should I feel guilty about not identifying as a teacher first for the two and half months when I am not actively teaching?
The Martyrdom of Teachers
There is an inherent expectation of martyrdom in being a teacher. I can only speak as an elementary school teacher, but it does feel particularly potent for us. During the school year, we are expected to be teachers, sure, but also mothers, counselors, friends, nurses, administrative assistants, scholars, technicians, party planners, statisticians, waiters, decorators, and big sisters. I purposefully gendered a few of those roles because gender matters in this conversation. We are expected to perform these roles, without pay commensurate to the importance of the roles, without complaint. If we complain, we are perceived as shrewish, or grumpy. We fit an archetype of a spinster of a teacher who has burnt out, given up, and probably keeps a fifth of whiskey in her desk drawer to add to her coffee each morning.
Teaching younger children has always been an historically “female” job. Colleges and university professors get unquestioned sabbaticals because they are taken more seriously culturally. In college, I had as many male professors as female professors. In elementary school, I had one male classroom teacher and one male art teacher, and those were anomalies. Elementary school is an overwhelmingly female place. I firmly believe that if grade school teaching were an historically male profession, we would be paid similarly to doctors and lawyers and executives. We would get longer time for lunch and we would probably be able to use the bathroom when we needed it. We would be trusted to do our jobs and there would be less oversight, less testing, less proscribed curricula. It would be harder to become a teacher. College programs and licensing tests would be more rigorous. Each grade level would have their own administrative assistants. We would have more interns. We would not feel guilty about using our summers as sabbaticals.
A New Narrative
This summer, I have liberated myself from an attachment to sexist martyrdom. I will be a better teacher to my students in September because I have a greater well of experience from which to draw this year. Generally, I write these posts with a firm desire to give practical, quantifiable tips to apply in a classroom. This post, I am going to conclude with a list of the adventures I have had in the last six weeks.
- 4-day, 3-night solo train trip across the country from D.C. to L.A.
- 4-day, 3-night trip to Disneyland in California
- 4-day, 3-night trip to Cape Cod to go whale watching
- A session with a reiki healer
- A session with a psychic medium
- A couple of scattered spa days with meditative salt rooms, healing saunas, and an indulgent hot stone massage
- A photo shoot where I was styled and dressed like a pin-up girl, living out my best Betty Grable life
- An overnight trip to Williamsburg so I could ride all of the coasters at Busch Gardens while also exploring colonial Williamsburg. An overnight trip to Hershey so I could ride all of the coasters at Hersheypark while also exploring chocolate.
- So many movies. So many books. So many concerts. So many restaurants. So many nights out dancing. So many nights out singing with my band. So many nights in with friends and family.
- A class on educational law where I learned that I have so, so much to learn about how the first amendment and fourth amendment apply and sometimes don’t apply to our students.
- Still to come: two weeks at the beach, a day trip to DC to visit the Newseum and the International Spy Museum, and some requisite doctor’s appointments. (After all, that becomes impossible once my primary identity once again becomes teacher.)
Yes, I am bragging. My summer has been incredible. I am also leaving out the tough parts of the summer, and believe me, this summer has been a doozy in that respect as well. But, I am selectively bragging about my incredible summer as a practical, quantifiable tip. Have your own adventures. Stop being a teacher for whatever time you have left this summer. I decided I would be an adventurer first for a little while. Who do you want to be first? A parent? A spouse? A friend? A child? An adventurer? Be that person. Take the sabbatical. Brag. Comment below with your own list of adventures you have had or intend to have!