The other day, a teacher confessed to having a difficult time transitioning to summer mode. She described feeling adrift and isolated. My first instinct was an incredulous “Why?!” I recall the first few days of summer bliss as I slept passed my usual up with the sun September to June lifestyle. Then I was reminded of a different but similar time when the first fall arrived where I didn’t have a return to school to gear up for. I had a baby over the summer and was taking an unpaid maternity leave. I swear to you, I looked at the back to school ads wistfully. I was actually sad when all my teacher friends went back to work without me. It was the first September I could remember that school life didn’t catch me like a riptide, carrying me away from summer at a startling speed. I had no idea how the hours would be filled and I did face it with a similar sadness as this teacher’s confession of difficulties with changing gear to summer.
What was surprising was how many teachers identified with her. “I thrive with routine and have seasonal depression in the summer because of so much free time,” one teacher confessed. I admit once I became a department chairperson, I had difficulty letting go of email. It was hard for me to stop checking and responding to all those communications that still made its way to my inbox. It took weeks for me to detach from the email. Another not much spoken about problem teachers encounter during the summer is envy. Spouses, relatives and even friends grumble because their job doesn’t come with a summer break. The need to prove our productivity can be an unnecessary added pressure on teachers.
So, how do you create restful time while dodging boredom?
Create your own structure
Some of us just thrive with structure, or we simply can’t go cold turkey without it. There are very few careers that are more regimented than teaching. Make a summer schedule for yourself. Plan out your days outlining what you need to do and what you hope to do. Art teacher Ashley says, “I make myself a schedule, and a list of what I want to get done… I make myself get out and visit places and meet with friends to keep from being sad.” Many art teachers echoed Ashley’s plan by mixing their days with house projects. book reading, and catching up with friends and family.
Personal and professional development
I alway thought being an artist would be paramount to teaching but it definitely has worked the other way for me in reality. I often take a workshop or two that feed both my creative soul as well as counting towards professional development for my recertification. Sometimes these workshops would provide me with a skill I hoped to incorporate into my teaching. Visiting art galleries or museums is another enjoyable form of professional development.
We are often too busy to create our own personal artwork during the school year. It can be a challenge to discipline yourself but take inspiration from Chuck Close. One of my favorite quotes from Close encourages us to get into the studio and be productive. “The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” Creating a space in your house or a separate studio that you can retreat to is an important step. Even just participating in a creative challenge or working through sketchbook prompts can be enough to get your creative juices flowing. See the end of this article for groups to help nurture your artistic side.
While we may be on our feet for many hours of the day, we often aren’t making time for exercise. I am always impressed with the healthy glow and trimmer waists many teachers come back to school with. Sometimes it’s hitting the gym regularly. Other times it’s regular walks, hikes, biking, swimming laps, kayaking, or yoga. What’s important is to build in some form of increased movement, it doesn’t have to be hardcore!
Work and volunteering
Many teachers solved the summer let down by signing up for summer school! Its familiar and often has a different vibe than the rest of the year. Other art teachers offer their own summer workshops to children or adults. Setting your own hours and schedules is a wonderful perk. But many teachers also look for something completely different and their summer jobs include a gourmet coffee business, furniture restoration and painting, face painting, Uber driver, cake decorating, painting stage sets at a local theater, seasonal park ranger, mural walking tour guide, and online teaching programs like VIP Kid are just a small sampling of our audience’s summer employment.
Many teachers also responded that they volunteered in the summer. One member volunteers at a local dog shelter and their local Meals on Wheels program. I will confess that last summer my own children lobbied hard to become a foster family for a local cat shelter. We fostered two batches of kittens until they were ready to be adopted. Of course, we kept one but it was an unforgettable experience. As our country starts to see Covid numbers dwindling it’s easy to forget there’s still a significant economic recovery under way, so check in with your local food banks for volunteer opportunities as well.
Am I the only one who manages to pick up a book and not make it all the way to the end until summer vacation when gorge myself on books? Dust off the library card and make a field trip to your favorite library or bookstore. But reading isn’t the only hobby to pursue in summer. Our audience also enjoys gardening, baking, cooking, catching up with movies and shows, journaling, house projects, prayer, and meditation to name a few.
Connecting with family and friends was a common theme repeated by teachers. Our members reported a lot of lunches out and meeting up with friends. One started a plein air painting group that has been meeting and painting for over a decade!
Travel and vacation
I am always very impressed with language teachers who always seem to be traveling when not teaching. They don’t have a lock on this traveling thing though! I have one friend who who is traveling to 22 states in 70 days this summer. It certainly doesn’t have to be that intense but getting out of your normal space is a good way to perk yourself up. A day trip, an overnight, a weekend getaway or a family vacation—whatever you call it, it’s a good change of pace. Don’t forget your teacher discounts wherever you go this summer, bring your teacher ID!
Possible Facebook Groups that you may want to explore:
Retired and Retiring Art Teachers
Art Teachers Making Art
The Traveling Teachers