Ahhh, summertime! If you’re a teacher, just reading or hearing that word can flood you with feelings of relief and respite.
And for good reason. Teachers work hard, and the school year can be just as grueling as it is fulfilling. Educators are multidisciplinary professionals doing everything from creating lesson plans and giving classroom instruction to reading and grading hundreds of papers and tests. On top of that, they devise games and presentations, chaperone field trips, lead clubs, and meet with parents. They also continually develop their skills through professional development. Lastly, teachers provide pastoral care and emotional guidance for their students, who can be in vulnerable or sensitive stages in their development. It’s an important role that can take an emotional toll on teachers.
With their summer break, teachers have an opportunity to choose with intention whatever activities most restore and fulfill them. Summer can be their chance to explore travel or hobbies they don’t have time for during the school year. They can also use the time to develop their professional skills and qualifications by working toward a degree or achieving a new certification. Or they can get a summer job, whether education-related or not. Most decide to do some combination of these ideas.
For best results, plan ahead!
The vista of an empty calendar can make it seem like you have all the time in the world to catch up on whatever you missed during the school year. But while summer itself is three months long, a teacher’s summer break is typically shorter, sometimes as little as two months. When your hectic year ends, you risk being blindsided if you haven’t already given thought to how you want to make use of your eight to ten weeks off.
It might seem silly, but you could put a reminder in your calendar to start making plans during your winter or spring vacation. To get the most out of your summer break, it makes sense for you to be intentional in your choices about how to spend it. And that means thinking about it well before the calendar reads “June.”
If you haven't made plans yet for this year, don’t worry! There’s still time to design a great summer break. Keep reading for ways to make the most of it.
Be sure to get rest and relaxation
Do lots of …nothing?
Is it really OK not to do anything? Sure, you’ve earned it! There’s no shame in powering down for your summer break—and it might even be the best choice for your health. According to Henry Ford Health in Michigan, here are six important health benefits of doing nothing:
Better problem solving. By taking breaks, you’re more able to think logically and make decisions.
Enhanced creativity. When you let your mind wander, a bright idea is more apt to pop into your head.
Improved learning. Downtime lets you process information.
More productivity. Breaks improve your concentration, so you’re more efficient when you return to work.
Increased kindness. This one might be a surprise, but being alone and reflective often inspires you to find meaningful ways to help others.
A mood boost. Rest helps you recharge and regulate your nervous system. By slowing down, you also remember what it’s like to savor the simple act of being.
Doing nothing is best in short, regular sessions to restore and refresh you. It can get old after a while! You’ll likely want to mix in some of the ideas below along with idleness and rest.
Pack your bags and get out of town
Summer’s a great time to travel, especially If you didn’t have time for it during your school-year breaks because of family obligations, papers to grade, or not enough time.
Travel for escape and recreation
Maybe you’ll finally take a touristy trip to another continent. Or you could cross off your bucket list a state or two you haven’t visited yet. Don’t forget about local travel, especially If you’re on a budget. Take day trips to locales close to home, whether it’s the beach, mountains, lakes, or amusement parks.
Another way to travel on a budget is to sign up with a housesitting app to take care of people’s homes—and sometimes their pets—while they’re on vacation. In return you get free accommodations.
Explore educational or volunteer travel
Other types of summer travel for teachers have an educational or service aspect. Fund for Teachers awards educators grants for educational and cultural-immersion summer travel. Its teacher-designed fellowships include studying gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park and learning Mandarin in China. Teachers can then share their learnings with students when they return to school.
The Peace Corps and similar organizations also offer teachers summer travel opportunities all over the world with their volunteering programs. These are great, affordable ways to expand your horizons and pack a lot of meaningful, life-changing experiences into just a month or two.
Hone your skills with professional development
You can also broaden and improve your skills with professional development (PD). Traditional PD includes workshops, conferences, and training, many offered by state teaching associations. Summer is a great time to get additional certification or knowledge because the time off provides more breathing room and space to soak it in with less pressure.
There are also less traditional types of PD to apply for, like the summer programs offered by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Racialized Spaces on Route 66, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Vietnam War are just a few of the in-person and online opportunities.
Stay busy with hobbies
If you managed to read a whole book during the school year that wasn’t related to your job, that’s impressive. Many teachers find that summer break is the ideal time to catch up on hobbies or take up new ones. What’s better than getting lost in the pages of a novel in a hammock or on the beach?
Well, there’s also cooking classes, piano or drum lessons, salsa dancing, a soccer league, painting classes, chess, foreign language learning—the options are as unlimited as your imagination or your bucket list. Ask yourself what your soul is craving to explore, and give yourself that gift.
Lean into other human connections
Make time for family and friends
Focusing on your students for most of the year can make it challenging to keep up with family or friends. Or focus on parenting your own kids! Teachers with children sometimes don’t get enough time with them during the school year, and the summer break is the perfect time to reconnect.
Relationships need continued nurturing. And staying connected is important for your health and well-being.
If you, your relatives, or your friends have kids, they’ll be on summer break too. Picnics, barbecues, or days spent at the park are some ways to spend quality time with your loved ones and make more great memories.
Meet new people
You might want to take advantage of your free time in the summer to make new connections. If you recently moved to take a new teaching job, you’re probably still getting to know your area and your neighbors.
If you’re looking for new friends, MeetUp connects people through their shared interests. Community-based places like the YMCA or public gardens are also ways to get involved in your community and meet new folks.
If you’re single and want to date, the free time and casual vibe of summer is a great time for it. You may even want to focus your search on meeting other teachers. The education profession attracts people who are compassionate and caring, so it makes sense that teachers might want to date others in the same field. They’ll also understand the special challenges and stressors that come with working in education. And they’ll likely have vacations at the same time!
Look into summertime employment
Wait, get a job…on your vacation?! Well, many teachers do just that. According to the Pew Research Center, about one in six public school teachers holds a summer job, and that figure jumps to 30% of educators in their first year of teaching.
That’s likely because newer teachers are earning less than their seasoned peers and may need to supplement their incomes. But there are other reasons to get an extra summer job, including staying connected to your community, challenging yourself, and gaining new experiences.
Summer jobs in the education field
There are tons of jobs teachers can do to keep flexing their teaching muscles in the summer. You can teach summer school, if a nearby community offers it, or offer private one-on-one tutoring for kids who need additional instruction. Companies hiring teachers in the summer also include ESL instruction centers or ones that help students prepare for tests like the ACT or SAT.
Sometimes teachers are in demand to teach special skills, like gardening, Zumba, skateboarding, or a musical instrument. These can be for kids and adults alike, either at a community or fitness center or community college.
Jobs for teachers outside of education
If you’ve decided to work in the summer, maybe you’d like to do something totally different from an education-related job. A lot of bars and restaurants beef up their staff and need extra summer help, especially if they have outdoor seating or are in tourist areas or beach towns. Cat sitting and dog walking are fun if you love animals, and it’s in demand in many cities when pet parents are traveling in the summer.
There are plenty more jobs for educators outside of teaching, like being a camp counselor or kids’ sports coach. Not only do you still get to work with kids, these jobs can be fun, active, and fulfilling. To maximize your outdoor time before heading back to the classroom, consider being a seasonal lifeguard or park ranger.
Return to school refreshed, with a wealth of experience
Hopefully you’ll design your rewarding summer by choosing several different ways to spend it. Maybe you use a couple weeks for a vacation or staycation, then take an exciting professional development course to broaden your—and ultimately your students’—horizons. Or perhaps you get a part-time job and still find plenty of time to read on the beach and catch up with friends and family.
If you’ve spent your summer well, you won’t be dreading the start of school after a dull break that seemed to go by too fast. Teachers who come back in the fall refreshed and satisfied from doing things they love will be ready to teach with enthusiasm and spread joy and learning to their students.