A few of the new teachers I’ve coached this year approached me when school was ending to ask what they should do over the summer to prepare for next year. I started this list with suggestions for their professional task lists…and then I just couldn’t stop thinking about what else I’d recommend. Maybe I was dreaming about what I plan to do?
So first, the professional:
1. Assess your challenges and spend some time learning about these areas of instruction. Is it an aspect of your curriculum—say, grammar—that you’re weak on? Study up on that. Is your repertoire of instructional strategies slim? Learn about some new ones. Try Jennifer Gonzales’ The Cult of Pedagogy blog. Do you need to sharpen your classroom procedures? Read The First Days of School or THE Classroom Management Book by Harry and Rosemary Wong. Polish the procedures you already have in place or think through some you haven’t nailed yet.
But a piece of advice: There’s no end to becoming a more effective teacher, so don’t overwhelm yourself with too many self-improvement tasks. Prioritize the aspects of teaching that you feel you need to improve upon, pick a couple, and concentrate on those.
2. Read the books that you’re going to teach. Make margin notes. Look for companion texts: poetry, essays, newspaper articles, non-fiction pieces that can accompany the book and broaden, deepen, intensify the students’ understanding.
3. Read some professional literature. Expand your understanding of the issues and developments in the education field.
4. Join your discipline’s national organization. That will give you access to current thinking in your subject area, to blogs by fellow teachers, to grant opportunities, to inspiration.
5. Speaking of inspiration: Dream—and look for the grant support to fund your project. Here are a few sources:
- Grants4Teachers http://www.grants4teachers.com/ (includes links to others)
- Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship Award (IN) http://www.teachercreativity.org/
- NEA http://www.neafoundation.org/pages/grants-to-educators/
Never written a grant? You do have to plan ahead. That takes time. Get your ideas together and call on someone experienced in grant writing to read over your proposal before you submit it.
6. Explore websites that you haven’t had time for.
7. Subscribe to a blog written by a teacher in your discipline.
8. Learn something totally new. (As you learn, think about what it feels like to be a novice at something and let that inform the way you think about your students.)
And what else? We’re more than what we teach. (But if you’re like me, you always end up teaching what you’ve learned. Or using the new in some way in the classroom.)
Any of these sound appealing?
- Get outside and enjoy the weather. Walk, run, bike, swim. Exercise clears the mind, creates space for new ideas.
- Read a book that has nothing to do with education. Read many books.
- Watch the movies you couldn’t stay up to see during the school year.
- Reconnect with an old friend.
- Take a trip—even if it’s just an hour away. To your state capitol? A tourist destination? Go someplace you’ve never been.
- Try out new recipes.
- Visit a museum or an art gallery.
- Go to a game. Hit the golf course. Try river-rafting or kayaking. Bike across Iowa (http://ragbrai.com/registration/)—or only as far as the next small town: Just ride.
- Spend time with your significant other. With your kids. With your parents.
- Camp out in the backyard.
- Write a letter—the old-fashioned kind—and send it to a friend.
- Write a professional article yourself. Or start a blog.
- Figure out Twitter. Or Instagram. Or Google+. Would any of them work for you? If you don’t like them, don’t do them. But maybe one has possibilities—for you or for your class.
- Reorganize your Google Drive. (This is the equivalent of cleaning your room, but it’s oh-so-satisfying after you’ve done it!)
- Subscribe to Austin Kleon (http://austinkleon.com/) or Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings (https://www.brainpickings.org/) or another source of eclectic inspiration.
- Take pictures with a camera, not your phone. Learn how it works. Have fun experimenting!
- Try taking a picture of the same thing/place/person every day all summer long. If it’s a selfie you’re taking, watch the stress melt away as the summer days go by.
- Take an art class.
- Grow flowers you’ve never grown before, veggies you’ve never eaten.
- Try a new restaurant.
- Visit your local Farmer’s Market downtown on Saturday mornings.
- Take your kids to the airport to see the planes fly in and out. If yours is a small town, hurray!! You’ll get much closer to the planes than you do in a big city.
- Go on your own Genealogy Roadshow. Start at your computer or a cemetery or by interviewing your relatives. No matter where you start, this is a trip like no other!
- Listen to a Ted Talk. A new one every day. https://www.ted.com/talks
- Buy a journal. Write one page every day. Dismiss the English teacher on your shoulder.
- Sew a dress.
- Make a table or refinish a piece of furniture.
- Try learning a new language. Even just a few words. https://www.duolingo.com/
- Volunteer somewhere.
- Go to a concert (especially one outdoors!)
- Ride a train somewhere. Or even the city bus.
- Broaden your perspective on the news. Subscribe to an online newspaper in another part of the country.
- Go on a picnic.
- Find the closest U-Pick and pick your own strawberries–or whatever is in season.
- Organize your old photographs in an album for your coffee table. Or make a photo book online.
- Visit a national park this summer. Fourth graders go free!
- Organize a neighborhood yard sale.
- Donate your old books to the library–and check out some new ones while you’re there.
- Imagine you’re a tourist in your own hometown. Make a list of places to go. And then go there.
- Visit with a neighbor.
- Make a dinner for a friend who’s NOT on summer vacation.
- Help your kids set up a lemonade stand–and then donate the proceeds to a charity.
- Take an online course on some topic totally unrelated to what you teach.
- Travel anywhere. If you do, try keeping an old-fashioned journal: A Travel Journal Worth Keeping
- Eat in a restaurant that serves food you’ve never cooked.
- Walk the trails in your hometown. Or bike them if you can.
- Paint a room.
- Visit an old cemetery and learn some local history. You’ll be amazed at what you find among strangers.
- Pick an outdoor spot and visit it every hour on the hour for a day. Then once a day for a month. Watch how it changes. Take pictures.
- Buy a triple decker ice cream cone and walk down the street with it.
And on and on and on. There’s really no end to the things we could do, the places we could go. Just enjoy the summer!