Summer: A time to balance work and play

Summer break: three glorious months to relax, unwind, reflect on the school year and… feel restless?

I remember back in elementary school how the promise of three months of nothing-to-do enthralled me. I couldn’t wait for the moment when I could pick up my report card, hug my teacher goodbye and run home to the world of freedom with my best friend, Annamarie.

Our 1970s summer days were quintessential Norman Rockwell. Roller-skating around a nearby church parking lot. Mixing up different combinations of lemon, lemonade powder and sugar to concoct the perfect lemonade. Riding bikes to the local swimming pool and reading Nancy Drew mysteries, lying on our backs in Ann’s yard.

There was nothing we had to do, except maybe an occasional beading class at the junior high, and we loved it.

As an adult, though, I seem to have lost that ability to just do nothing and enjoy it. When I tape up the last box and turn off the lights in my classroom, I still feel excited and ready for a break, but a few days into it, I start feeling restless. Is it just me?

It’s not quite accurate to say I miss being at work. I didn’t wish I was up at 5:15 a.m. today, and I don’t wish I could stay for a staff meeting this afternoon or cart home papers to grade.

I met with a colleague today to set goals for next year and identify problem areas in our curriculum, and I was more than happy to leave when we were done.

I know how lucky I am not to work this schedule year round, and yet, I feel like there’s something missing when school is out, maybe part of my identity.

I love having the time to relax with friends and family, play a little tennis, read all the fiction I couldn’t get to during the school year, barbecue in the backyard — but I miss the crazy energy of days spent with high school kids. I miss their jokes and odd comments; I miss the a-ha moments and the satisfaction of a lesson that went well. I even miss their misbehavior.

Earlier in my career, I really struggled with feeling lost in the summer. The withdrawal was like a mild depression, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t even talk about it. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that you miss school, kind of like being a new mom and wishing you were back in the office, but worse, because everyone knows babies are stressful but who doesn’t like summer?

Over the past few summers, I’ve found a little better balance. I’ve started teaching a few courses for teachers, taking graduate classes for myself, reading a lot and writing this blog. I no longer feel quite so out of sorts when I wake up to an empty day. The summer days tick by with a nice balance of work and play, even if others tease me for “never relaxing.”

I wonder how many other teachers feel like I do. I suspect quite a few, but we never really discuss it. We talk about summer vacation plans and how much we need a break, but not about how much we also need the work that defines us.

When you’re a teacher, it’s not quite so easy to leave the school year behind.