Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gleeful Vacations Are Working Vacations

I suppose my title would be my thesis statement as well.

I do not know how teachers spend their vacations. I often wonder, with all the time off they stand accused of taking, if teachers sneak off to ski in Vermont or cruise Micronesia. If teachers are anything like me, they’ve spent myriad vacations in myriad ways. I’ve slept away three-day weekends, raced off to Europe for 5-day romps, and whole summers have gone missing by lying in deep grasses for endless sunny months. To be sure, most summers have been characterized more by conferences, workshops and planning sessions, all in addition to my regular routine of research and preparation. So, there must be a middle ground to either working all summer either in summer school (as usual, for the money) or slumbering away in a Sawyer-like dreamland.

That balance can only be found in what I have come to understand as ‘the profession’. Like in the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” there is a grave misunderstanding of the teacher’s vacation. First of all, it is not, nor has it ever been, so easily summed up as ‘summers off’. Indeed, teachers spend some time away from school, especially during summer, but work abounds and the teacher, forever thinking of his or her students, strategizes their entire life to improve the work and make evermore-interesting subject matter of ever-decreasing interest among students. When it comes to the profession, the job is 24-7, unrelenting and all consuming—unless, that is, you’re a bad teacher.

Good teaching implies good teaching habits. Browsing blogs and teacher tweeters it is clear that teachers across the country are hard at work to make class time meaningful and constructive. They do this constantly. Teachers, more now than ever, are spending vacations, evenings and weekends planning (and plotting) new ideas and practices with the single vision towards going back to school next week or next month and providing the best possible experience to their students. Bad teachers are doing none of this and are not included in this analysis. Good teachers are working right now.

Good teachers (and I don’t actually believe in ‘good and ‘bad’ but prefer to delineate ‘strong’ over ‘weak’) have learned to reconcile the facts of the teaching profession and the need, literally physical need, for adequate vacation time. The greatest joy of teaching is the planning anyway. The privilege to wander around the intellectual landscape of what you already know and love and revisit and revise that content for the benefit of our ever-changing students. To reflect and re-read beloved literature and question and challenge its relevance to today’s readers, or research altogether new literature and material in today’s milieu is what vacations are for. This is time that all teachers need for physical as well as intellectual and creative rejuvenation.

Unit plans can be posted to the class website from France and the ongoing research teachers constantly engage in is widely available even on Chinese Google. Time, as it has always been, remains our great challenge. When will we ever get done all that needs to get done? On vacation, in the evening, whenever we can. None of the work teachers do on vacations can possibly be accomplished, even in part, during prep periods or even weekend workshops, so we elect to work whenever we can. It is only when a teacher is away from his desk, away from the dynamism of the students, that they can finally reflect meaningfully and right the course for greater achievement. All creative people work not on a schedule, but as the muse whips us into action. Teachers are intellectuals and deserve all the provisions of intellectuals: remuneration, respect, peace and quiet. Teachers have not stopped working because we are on vacation, we are just trying to rekindle the creative force of the profession, something we cannot achieve within the walls of an institution, but only in its fields of play.

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