Oh, Shnikeys. It’s summer vacation. You’re a teacher. What should you be doing?

Who's ready for vacation?

Who’s ready for vacation?

This post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, classdojo

You always remember your first: your first car, your first kiss.

This is called the primacy effect, and it’s the reason why I remember the first thing we learned, on my very first day of my educator training, fourteen years ago.

The sage advice we learned on day one?

“When you’re really tired out,” said our professor, “take a day off. Call in sick.”

Amazing. It’s amazing that in one sentence, on day one, the professor taught something deeply sobering, deeply compelling, and deeply affirming – all at the same time:

“Your job will be exhausting,” he was saying, “but showing up and doing it anyway isn’t enough. It’s not even correct. You need to be grounded, rested, and present. If you aren’t those three things, stay home and watch season one of Orange is the New Black. This is a higher calling, and you need to take care of yourself. YOU are the resource. Protect the resource.”

All that I read into my professor’s words. I have not called in sick more than three times in my career, but I know I could, should, and would, and most importantly, I know why.

Allow me to suggest that your summer is for the same thing. Getting your soul in shape for climbing the mountain ahead. Go on vacation somewhere beautiful. Learn to snorkel. Drink Mai Tais. Treat yourself like royalty.

You are a member of the Fellowship of the Ring at Rivendell, before heading into Murkwood. If that went over your head, skip it.

What else should you do over summer vacation? Here are my five suggestions!

1. Figure Out What You’re Teaching

If you’re a new teacher, you must accept the fact that you will not be “ready” for the school year, per se. Otherwise, there’s no reason this funny meme would exist.


That said, emergency rooms teach us to conduct triage: taking care of the patient who, essentially, is bleeding the most.

Twice in my career, I started the school year unsure what texts we would study. As a new teacher, if you have unclarity about what you are teaching, that’s where the bleeding needs to be stopped. Make an appointment with your current or future supervisor, and see if you can get some commitments about what you will be expected to cover.

2. Block Out Your Units on a Calendar

A unit should contain: a day or two of an interesting introduction to the unit, several days for coverage, a summative (mid-unit quiz), and some sort of wrap-up project or assessment. Units are generally two weeks to a little over a month. Spend your summer designing as many of the projects / assessments as possible. You will be able to bang out a quiz at 11:30 the night before you give it. You will not be able to design a project at 11:30 the night before – although I have done it. And my students would be the first to say: they could tell.

One rule of thumb: every unit will go way too long. Be sure to put the least essential unit last. You might run out of time.

3. Get your tools ready

Going to use an iPad this year? A laptop cart? Googledocs? ClassDojo? You will have a harder time learning the apps, platforms, and websites at 5:30pm on a weekday after grading a pile of quizzes. Spend your summer learning (and exploring) new tools for teachers. Surf Edutopia.com for new ideas. Do NOT exhaust yourself learning every tool out there. Choose a few and practice.

4. Decide on your policies

How do you handle tardiness? Do you give extra credit? What behavior would lead you to send a student out of the room. What do you do if a student is passing notes? Surfing the web during class? How do you handle discipline? All these are complicated decisions with major implications for your classes. Don’t decide on the spot. Read and reflect on what your policies will be. If you’re not in your first year, reflect on what did and did not work.

Incidentally, for thoughts on the policies listed above and others, allow me to refer you to my blog entry: 10 Things I Wish I’d Known My First Teaching Year.

5. Cultivate Healthy Practices

It’s pretty hard to start doing yoga, exercising, journaling, or therapy. It’s even harder when it’s two weeks before midterms. Unfortunately, in schools, it’s always two weeks before some cataclysmic calendar event. Choose a couple of spiritually nourishing practices, and begin making a practice of the them while you have a teeny bit more time on your hands.

Those are my Five Tips for the Summer. I’d love to hear from you — what have you tried that made life just a little bit easier come September? Please comment below!

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