It’s about this time of year that the attention of our students begins to focus elsewhere. Spring is in full swing and the blooming flowers let them know that summer is just a month or so away. Summer vacation, almost three months of no school, is on their minds. And, the kids are thrilled.
By this time of year, there have been almost one hundred and fifty days of classes and everyone could use a break. Everyone in the school building is counting down the days. And it’s not only the students. Teachers and school administrators need to recharge. Anyone who has taught or administrated knows of the massive expenditure of focused energy that is needed on a daily basis in order to sustain the levels of excellence we strive to provide. Time away from the grind of teaching all day, every day, is a necessity.
Additionally, teachers and administrators alike need not only to recharge, but also to rethink. As a school principal I did my best thinking in the summer. The constant demands that the school day places on our time often forces us to focus on the immediate but ignore the important. During the school year, we must ensure that there are enough desks in the room; the summer break could allow us the time to assess whether we might enhance learning by changing the classroom chairs. While classes are is session, we are required to ensure that the curriculum is covered; the summer break allows us to assess whether the curriculum is of value.
That said, summer vacation is, for an educator, a bummer. Let’s get real. Does anyone really think that sending kids off to their homes for almost three months is a good idea? Does anyone even think it’s an OK idea? We all know the truth; it’s a terrible idea. Sure the summer camp industry loves it. And, how would we ever learn how to make those plastic lanyards – which, by the way, no one has ever figured out what function they serve – if not for summer camps? However, educationally, for many students the summer months are a disaster.
The significant problems caused by a summer without school are not isolated to inner city youth. Obviously, those who cannot afford the distractions offered by summer camps are thus sentenced to months of boredom, usually resulting in less than desirable behaviors. Those negative behaviors and harmful social associations continue to impact our children even after they return to class. But, even those who can avail themselves of supervised activity suffer from the inevitable damage caused by ten weeks devoid of structured learning.
Every teacher knows exactly what I’m talking about. Not only is the drop-off in skills alarming, the disruption of study habits can take weeks, if not months, to rectify. And yet, we the educators let this go on unabated as if three months off in the summer was an inalienable right, anchored in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. We need look no further than other countries in which the school breaks never last for longer than one month and are spread out more evenly over the course of the school year. We must seek change in a ridiculously outdated system or, at the very least, demand some continued education over the course of the summer. This may be the perfect opportunity for schools to experiment with online courses, requiring students to invest a significant amount of time availing themselves of the many educational resources found on the Internet. Remember, just because we’ve always done things a certain way doesn’t mean change is not essential. Curing the summer blues is a perfect example.