Summer Holidays


July 4, 2016 by Jean

imageNothing highlights the differences between the summers of my teaching years and the summers of my retirement years more than the 4th of July. When I was teaching, this holiday came in the middle of my three-month summer break, and it marked the transition from a period of relative relaxation to the panicky realization that the new semester was breathing down my neck.

Many people who don’t teach assume that teachers are “on vacation” all summer long. (In a forty-year career, I never succeeded in disabusing most members of my family of this notion.) The truth is more complicated. As a college professor, I was expected to spend time in summer doing research and writing for publication. But I also had to get everything ready for fall courses. During most of the years I was teaching, I taught three separate courses each fall. Each course needed books ordered, assignments created, and all of this put together into a coherent course syllabus. Occasionally, it was just a matter of taking out the old syllabus and configuring the course outline and assignments into the dates of the upcoming semester. Other years, I might be teaching a brand new course that needed to be created from scratch. Most often, I would be using new books that had to be read before I could figure out how to work them into the course outline or new writing assignments whose details had to be worked out. Two weeks was a reasonable amount of work time to get everything prepared for one course, which meant I had to get started six weeks before I headed back for the beginning of school in mid-August – in other words, around the 4th of July.

My botanist friend Sharon used to say, “If the Queen Anne’s lace and the goldenrod bloom and you don’t have your syllabi done yet, you’re in trouble!” Each year in early July, I would see the first Queen Anne’s lace flower at the side of the road and developing buds on the goldenrod in my garden and feel that summer was over.

But now that I’ve retired, the dynamic of my summer calendar has completely changed. I saw that first Queen Anne’s lace flower last week, and the goldenrod buds are getting bigger every day, but they no longer signal a looming deadline. I still have deadline-driven summer projects, but these are gardening projects; and I can work on these projects through September and into October. If I begin the year’s big garden project in late May or early June, I still have months to work on it in early July. It’s the 4th of July and summer has just gotten started!

12 thoughts on “Summer Holidays

  1. bernie says:

    Being a 40 year teacher myself who retired last year, this is spot-on! July meant that the next month I’d be back to work whereas June still offered two months of relaxation. Although I didn’t begin preparations, there was the concept of summer’s end at the end of August. Jean, I love reading your blog entries. They resonate such truth and clarity. Although we are on opposite ends of the country (Seattle) you are as close as can be!

  2. Jean R. says:

    Teachers work so hard and care so much for their students and they often don’t get credit for that. It’s fun getting to know you through your blog.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I’m always surprised when people think that teachers work very short hours, because they only count time in the classroom. In my teaching experience, far more time was spent outside the classroom.

  3. Michelle says:

    As a retired teacher, 14 years now, I still get the panicky dreams that come with the beginning of school coming in late August. It is wonderful to (at times) relax into a life not modulated by months, days, hours, minutes, and BELLS. Life is so much more than a calendar/clock. Mother Nature is so calming . . .

    • Jean says:

      Michelle, Ah, another aspect of teaching that only other teachers understand — teaching anxiety dreams. My recurring nightmare was that it was suddenly the first day of classes and I had never got around to ordering books or preparing a syllabus. In some versions of the dream, I was frantically trying to get a syllabus finished and copied before class began and kept running into one delay after another. In another version, I was actually in the classroom when I suddenly realized that I didn’t have anything prepared. Thankfully, my subconscious got the memo that I’m no longer teaching and the anxiety dreams went away.

  4. Diana Studer says:

    Now Those Flowers make your heart sing, instead of sink.
    I see how hard my great-niece and -nephew work as they are in the very first years of a teaching career.
    Currently enjoying ‘some’ well-deserved time out in the school holidays.

    • Jean says:

      Diana, Those first years of teaching are especially hard because everything has to be prepared from scratch and you haven’t yet worked out more efficient ways of doing some things (like grading).

  5. Brenda says:

    When we lived in Alaska, summers were so short and winters so long that I used to feel a little panicky when the fireweed started blooming. As its blossoms climbed the stalk, it was a countdown to winter. Oddly enough, here in Maine, I enjoy all the seasons so much that I don’t dread the end of summer at all. I’m even looking forward already to fall and winter. But for now, I’ll soak up the sun and dig in the soil and wring every bit of goodness out of this lovely Maine summer. When we moved here, someone told us that the Maine summer months have the beautiful weather of anywhere in the world. I think he was right.

    • Jean says:

      Brenda, This has been an amazing summer — although I’m hoping for a few more Camelot-like overnight rainstorms. Many people consider August the best part of the Maine summer, and we still have that to look forward to. 🙂

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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