Monday, June 29, 2009

"Yo, Later" to All That: Why I Love Summer Vacation But Hate Missing the Kids

So the 2008-09 school year finally ended. I say "finally," but I didn't start counting the days until after spring break, and I didn't get REALLY antsy until the last week of May or the first week of June. I have friends who teach in other areas, and seeing them go on summer break so much earlier started getting annoying. Still, on Friday, it was our turn.

I will say, about summer vacation, that you will pry it from my cold, dead hands. While I agree that low SES children absolutely need more academic, cultural, and physical enrichment over the summer, I do not agree that more plain old school is what's needed. They need the kind of summer camps, sports teams, arts programs, and the like that middle- and upper-class children have access to for free or very low cost. There is also the issue of time for simple rest and play that all children--I would venture to say all adults, even--need. My non-teacher friends often complain that teachers should not be "special" among working professionals in the amount of time we get off, but to me, this is a reductivist race to the bottom. Why not work for more vacation time for ALL workers, not less for teachers? Tell me, if you're not a teacher, that you wouldn't like more than 2 weeks and a handful of holidays off year. Of course you would.

Anyway. Summer vacation. I have a long list of plans that I already summed up on NYC Educator, so I won't recap them here, but I'm very excited. I like to think that I spend summer vacation doing all kinds of cultural and intellectual things so that I'm a better teacher in the fall; that as I become a more complete and enriched human being, I will be a happier, more confident, more secure person in front of a classroom. (Oops, did I say "in front"? My bad. I know I'm supposed to be a "guide on the side" and all that. Except I don't really dig being a guide on the side.)

Saying goodbye to the kids, though...that was hard. Harder than I thought it would be. I taught an extraordinary group of kids this year and I got pretty attached to them. It's the first year that I felt like I did the kids more good than harm, and I feel like I saw actual growth in some of them that I could take partial credit for. (Partial, though--any kid who does anything has to learn to thank himself or herself for taking that first step and caring to do better.) I learned how to have the right kind of "relationship" with the kids this year; I feel like I could show them that I liked them and cared about them without being their "friend," so to speak. I had a lot of fun with them in the classroom and on their trips and other activities. I feel that, if they availed themselves of the instruction and other opportunities I provided, they should be ready for high school and beyond.

And this was the group that reassured me that I can teach, because I was pretty close to quitting last year. I worked really hard last summer to make sure I was ready to do a better job, and they met me halfway and "played along" even with my goofier ideas. They surprised me over and over with how compassionate, insightful, and tough they could be. On at least one occasion I can think of, a very boring assembly, they held their tongues purely as a favor to me. These kids had my back as much as I had theirs, and I told them as much on Friday. I told them it was the best year of my career. And I meant it.

Best of all, they made me believe I could do it all again next year.