About Summer Break and Teachers’ Work

A MiddleWeb Blog

kids_cusp2Here in New Jersey, it’s time to wrap up the school year before “taking the summer off.” Off is a relative term. Most of the teachers I know search for new ideas to bring to their classrooms all year round. Many, like myself, work during the summer to earn money. I earn a good salary, but it isn’t enough to pay for “summers off.”

Thinking up new ideas for the upcoming school year, exploring online possibilities and opportunities for improving teaching, and making a hobby out of what many others consider a job, is how most teachers I know spend their summers. Most don’t get paid for this portion of their summer work, but they do it anyway. It’s in the breed.

Working in the field

I am fortunate to also have “paying work” this summer. I have always managed to find jobs in my field. This has enabled me to develop and improve as a teacher and to pay my rent!

walking-classroom-kidsThis summer I will once again be facilitating an online course to support teachers who are seeking a new ways of instruction, through the Walking Classroom Institute. The institute’s innovative and creative program of walking, listening, and learning is just one of the inspirations that I have found during my summer travels.

Leaving the classroom setting for ten weeks won’t stop me from being a teacher. Summer provides my own, personal, professional development. You can take the girl out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the girl!

A restful pace

After this year of incorporating new Social Studies and Spelling programs and completing our first year of PARCC testing, I am looking forward to some time away from the noise of a busy school. What I am not looking forward to is saying good-bye to my crew.

The gracious editors at Middleweb have offered me the summer off, too. They know that this was a year full of challenges, heartache, accomplishments, and laughter. They know the school year was a roller coaster of topics and emotions. They know because they read my blog posts!

They also know summer is a time for teachers to take a deep breath, regroup, and refresh. Teachers need stamina. Stamina requires some level of calm in between the close of one school year and the beginning of the next.

About that roller coaster ride . . .

Three of the peaks on this year’s professional (and emotional) roller coaster:

roller-coaster-perspective► In the first Middleweb article of this year, I found myself starting with a bulletin board that asked a big question. The idea for it hit me initially when I saw a print at a craft fair one summer. This print would eventually find its way into my kitchen. I had decided that “Big ideas need to be broken down into smaller, simpler parts.” I knew that “The answers to big questions can’t be found during the first week of school,” but I “devised a plan to begin exploring some of the ways we will answer that question, the question of what we will BE as a class.”

The novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio has had an indescribable effect on my students and myself for the past two years. It still amazes me how one book can evoke such feelings, as it teaches a multitude of lessons about life and relationships. This part of the unwritten curriculum’s lesson planning unfolded in some difficult, but incredibly rewarding ways.

Andy Rooney’s voice is one that I hope lives on for a long time. I went looking…in anger…for PARCC test prep materials. What I found was an article that inspired me to get to know my students better and – through their eyes – get to know myself as a teacher. Sometimes we get something very different than what we’d been looking for. Sometimes we don’t even have to look. It comes to us.

Three visitors, bearing precious gifts

Last week, I had three visitors, each with a sealed envelope, each a fifth grader who had been in my class the previous year. Each had a smile on their face and a gleam in their eye.

“Should I open these now?” I asked, as they exchanged quick glances amongst themselves.

“No way! You’re gonna’ wanna’ sit down for these,” Jack laughed. The other two nodded.

“Are these what I think they are?” I asked knowingly.

“Yup,” Arden giggled, as Jack and Peter smiled conspiratorially.

“Okay, I’m going to take these home and read them while I’m all snuggled in on the couch,” I replied. “Group hug?” I asked, as the lunch bell rang. I stepped back to look at them. Amazing. They would be leaving elementary school on June 23rd.

Their entire class was hard to say good-bye to last June. We’d had a wonderful year together, but it was time to move on to fifth grade. Now they’re moving up to middle school, a new adventure.

What those letters said . . .

Later that night, as I sat curled under a blanket, I was again reminded of why I teach and I want to thank Alex Schmidt – Jack, Arden and Peter’s fifth grade teacher – for giving them an assignment that will forever touch my heart. He asked his students to write a letter to a teacher who had made an impact on their lives.

I wonder if these three kids, like so many other children who walk through the door of my classroom, have any idea of the impact they have on my life.

Here’s a sample from my Ultimate Annual Review…


I want each class to have a challenge . . .

At the end of each year, my students design a t-shirt to remind us of our fourth grade time together. It is our “group reminder to each other, a reminder of how we have touched each other’s lives.” The wonder of it all.


Each year, I also want each child to have an individual memory from me. This little book is my gift to them. It is a challenge for them, a challenge to seek what they love, to ask questions, and to have faith in themselves, their dreams, and their abilities. I hope that each chooses to make their “gift of possibilities” whatever it is they want it to BE.


This summer, I will teach by using my hobby as an asset. I will prepare to meet the next group of learners. I will take time to wonder what kind of classroom community we will BE.

Write-DrawThese are just some of the reasons that having summers off is so great…

Thanks for reading me, here at Middleweb. I hope to see you when school starts up again!

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and visit her personal blog (launched in 2021) Behind the Doors of the Teacher's Room for some adult conversation.

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