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Summer vacation is a critical time for teachers. It is time to decompress from all of the stress of the school year and realign your teaching for the new school year. Many teachers use this time to travel and “catch up” with their families while others use the time to earn money to stabilize their financial future. During my thirteen years in the classroom, I did what many teachers did for summer vacation- I stayed at home and worked on lesson plans. During difficult years, I worked summer school to make “ends” meet during other times I simply rested and relaxed with my family.
During those times, however, I made one crucial mistake. I was more focused on what I had to do for my school rather than what I needed to do for my professional life. What do I mean? I can remember spending every Saturday at my school either tutoring our working on lesson plans. Only to spend an extra three – four hours after school working on school related things. Ultimately I was giving my school so much of my time that I was unable to really cultivate my professional plans for the long run. I kept this cycle up until 2012 when I shockingly experienced a reduction in force at my job.
After the shock wore off of me possibly losing my beloved job, I knew I needed to refocus on what I wanted to do professionally. Would I stay in the classroom or would I try to find another profession that would make me happy? To start I decided to revise my resume to see what I could possibly do well in outside of education.
By the time I finished my resume, it was not only three pages long, but it put into perspective what I did in the classroom. I also realized I didn’t want to leave. I loved the creativity of my job and the students I served. But, with that realization came an even bigger question- what could I do to protect myself professionally from the evident change in education that was occurring?
After much reflection, the answer was simple. I needed to work harder on my brand and I needed to take some of my “down” time during the summer to perfect what I already knew I was great at–teaching. The reconfiguration of what my summer “vacation” looked like would be critical in how I strategized how to secure further our professional brand.
Now before I go on, some teacher is reading this and saying, “I don’t want to be a brand. I just want to rest and then be ready to teach in the fall.”
Wrong. This way of thinking has to change. We are no longer in a world where teachers can stay at the same school for 30 years and retire with enough money for them to survive on after retirement. Instead, we live in a world where more teachers are either voluntarily leaving or being forced out of the profession which could ultimately affect how we provide for our family.
This job insecurity means that we as teachers we have to be strategic on how we spend our summers so we can be ready for what will (or could) happen during the school year. Using this time to strategize during the summer does not mean that you don’t do the “normal” things teachers do, but it means that we are purposeful in how we spend our time and it starts with these things:
Brainstorm where you want to be professionally within the year. After going through a strenuous period where I had to reapply for my job in 2012, I knew I did not want to be there again. So I had to think about where I wanted to be a year from then in May 2013. So, after the school year ended, I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and started to write down where I wanted to be as a professional. After “doodling” for several days, I realized I wanted to teach still, but I was very interested in working as an Instructional Coach/Consultant with new and beginning teachers. This realization took a lot of time to reflect on what I went through the previous year and a lot of time to think about what would ultimately make me happy. During this time I met with a lot of my friends who were in education, but it was equally important for me to be quiet and listen to my inner voice.
One of the first things I did was start a blog– a place where I could discuss my expertise in education.I was nervous about writing about what happened in education, but it was critical for me to have the confidence to realize I was the expert in education. Knowing that I could not be the expert in all things education, I gradually began to reach out to others in education to see if other teachers felt the same way. I was shocked to find other teachers felt the same way that I did. Our blog allowed us to realize not only some steam but allowed us to reflect on our professional practices.
In addition to starting a blog, I wanted to connect with more educators from around the country so that I could learn what was happening outside of my building. So I began to use social media and connect with other educators so that I could see what was happening around the country. Engaging in Professional Learning Networks over social media, gave me access to real teachers who were involved in coaching and consulting. I was able to ask questions, get advice and adjust my goals accordingly. I did not have to make up examples of the education “experts” featured on the evening news. Instead, I could watch “real” teachers and use them as my role models.
Find professional learning opportunities that fit within your plan. During that first summer after surviving a reduction in force, I needed to find professional development opportunities that spoke to my soul. So I used the internet to find opportunities that allowed me to learn without all of the bureaucracy. I attended some local conferences and for the ones I could not afford, I followed their Twitter feed and hashtags so that I could still learn from the presentations.
In the end, I took the eight weeks of summer, and I started my plan to secure myself professionally. In order to not be overwhelmed and to still be ready for the school year, I scheduled two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening to work on my goals.
By the time I went back to school I was not only refreshed, but I was excited about the plans that I had for myself.