What is a teacher to do during the summer?
Back in my childhood, what I saw happening was teachers in my public school morphed into hired farm hands, or working on a home building site, or painting houses; in some way supplementing their meager 9 month income. And while that might still hold true for some, there is still the question of professional duty. What should a teacher do during the summer to prepare for the coming year.
Assuming they have not been given all new curriculum, or new teaching assignments, there is still much that could be done. I am not saying it should be done, as that would imply I have authority where I don’t. But theoretically, no teacher has arrived at perfection, and therefore has work he could be doing.
Let me quickly review what has been covered in the past on this blog. True education is the embodiment of ideas. Ideas go way beyond “facts.” A fact is an act of memory. An idea is a call to action. If I teach language, English or otherwise, I present the ideas of language that allow a student in the end to converse in that language well (either in oral or written form). If I teach mathematics, my student receives from me the embodied ideas of number that enable them to work out the problems presented to them by life in the world of number. And if I teach in the Humanities, my teaching should call the student to action through right choices and moral living.
So no matter what, a teacher faces several months of summer with the opportunity to look over their teaching preparations with an eye to improving it. As teaching ideas involves the following steps, these are the parts to be examined.
- Teaching an idea involves preparing the student’s mind to receive the new idea – so what can be done to arrest the student’s attention and focus it on the new idea better?
- Once prepared for it, the idea is presented to the student’s mind – are my materials and manner of teaching this idea clear, and at the appropriate level for my students?
- Once presented, the idea is compared with some other like or opposite thing – do I use excellent, clear, compelling contrasts and comparisons in my material? How do I help the student to see the idea become embodied or “real”?
- Then finally, the student presents the idea back to the teacher. We call this assessment, so most folks think purely of tests or essays, but this is an area wide open for creativity and improvement. How do I know my student has captured and embodied this idea? How do I determine that they have permanently acquired it?
Few if any teachers have the time during one summer to fully cover all their course assignments in this way. That is why I counsel teachers to keep notes on their teaching, finding some effective way to highlight those lessons/units that just did not sing as well as they would like, so that in the coming summer they can come back to the places they struggle most and work on them. Improving any part of a year’s work is improving the whole year. So jump in. Don’t burden yourself with this “full time” but use time as well to fill your fountain of love for your subject(s) by free reading and interaction with your discipline. The day you stop learning is the moment you stop being able to teach…