“I always ask them why they want to teach,” Mark shared in a meeting.
Before he could continue, I glibly tossed out “I’d say because I get my summers off, for sure.”
“That is not a good answer,” he retorted sharply and we both smiled.
Glib my comment was, but I found that it played on my mind for a time and I thought it best to take a closer look. Perhaps there was more to this summer off thing than just sleeping in and beach time.
Teaching as a vocation came into my world when my father, giving up after years of trying to persuade me to become an electrical engineer, said, “you should be a teacher so that you will have time to do the other things in your life you find important.” On its surface, this comment seems to echo the same sentiment that teachers just teach to get long holidays and the summer off, but I thought I should take a deeper dive.
Teaching has cycles, rhythms, and rhythms within rhythms that I have realized mesh with my inner drive. Mondays rarely looks like Fridays and week one of a semester never looks like any other week. Each semester has its own seasons of sowing, nurturing, and reaping giving me a strong temporal sense as the students and I traverse our fifteen weeks together. Professionally though, it is the annual cycle of teaching that I have found to be the most reinforcing to my inner life rhythms.
The fall semester ushers in both new students and fresh ideas, a spring planting of sorts not at all unlike my home garden. Across the next eight months, I work to nurture both and, like all of my annual gardens, some students and ideas grow and mature while others, for any number of reasons, fail to find their potential. I have noticed something else about this teaching cycle that reminds me of gardening. Just as the fall in my garden finds me thinking about each bed’s success or failure, the end of spring semester finds me looking back across the past year to reflect on the successes and failures with an eye toward next fall.
It is here that I suggest that the summer is the winter of my teaching, and is as important to my professional and personal life as the winter is to my garden. My garden beds rest over the winter, sometimes with the help a good cover crop to improve the soil and make it ready for the spring planting. For me, the summer allows for the important processes that make the fall semester a welcome time of renewed optimism and opportunity. The summer provides time to pursue many of my passions at a much deeper level, allowing me a richness in those pursuits that is directly proportional of time invested. These passions inevitably work their way into my teaching both directly and indirectly. Without this period of sustained rest and refocus, my teaching would soon stale and I would bring nothing new to my vocation.
Perhaps going forward, I should be more proud to say that I teach because I get my summers off.