It is summer time, so excuse me if the blog gets weird. During the school year, my thoughts stay pretty focused on the direct aspects of my teaching, but summer lets me take rabbit trails. In fact, this is about my thoughts of education and Summer.
- Summer vacation in schooling is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is nice to have time off, but on the other, it flies in the face of good teaching.
- Having summer off has not always been a thing. It derives, as best I can ascertain, from an agrarian culture long since lost in America. You had to give kids time to help their families get the harvest in.
- So why have we held on to it after its purpose has gone? I think it is correlated to the rise in the factory school system right as we moved from farms to town. So while we no longer need time to get the grain in, we need time to recuperate from the increasingly difficult and repetitive work we now call school.
- School, schola, used to mean leisure. I wrote on this already, so I won’t repeat myself, but leisure is different from work. Leisure is revivifying, work takes it out of you. Leisure may not need two and a half months of the year for recovery; something like factory schooling may.
- Given the cultural perniciousness of having summer off from class, it would be good to use it to further our lifelong pursuit of truth rather than to waste it. I do this through reading, writing, thinking about school, the subjects I teach, meditating on the nature of things, etc. I would invite others to do the same.
- It is sad that we continue to make school harder with the continuance of so long a vacation each year. It makes a good teacher have to review and remind and cajole up through and into October before they can really attack new material. Education is a long series of dominoes. If you place a large gap between any two of the dominoes, you will have to restart it all after the gap.
- Almost all the reasons given for continuing to have summers off say way more about our poor conception of learning than any positive humane considerations for the teacher or student.
Not sure if these wandering thoughts help anyone else, but as this blog’s readership increases, the comments section is a wonderfully easy way to discuss these things. Feel free, and be free during the summer break.
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…