Contrary to popular belief, summertime, for teachers - good teachers - is not a time for lounging by the pool, taking long vacations, and spending entirely too much time watching Netflix. That's what Christmas break is for. Summertime, however, is the allotted, much needed, time of evaluation and preparation without the interruptions of meetings, students, and grading.
Because a good teacher is willing to take a step back and reflect, and there’s no better time than during the summer.
I recently came across an article entitled, Fifteen Summer Assignments for Teachers and thought it had some decent ideas. "Try one, two, or a few of these," the article asks, "and see if they get you thinking about your profession—one of the most honorable around."
So I am, and I'm inviting you to join me.
1. Write alternating paragraphs about the best and worst teachers you had as a student. Then, identify when and why you’ve shared any qualities with them during your time in the classroom.
2. Write a two-sentence description of your class from the perspective of a student sitting front and center. Then write descriptions of the same length from the following perspectives: the student who dropped your course, the student who asked you for a recommendation letter, the student who wouldn’t stop talking. How do they each perceive you?
3. Describe the most fantastical, surreal fire drill evacuation possible. The only rule is that it must occur in the midst of one of your major assessments.
4. Why do you teach? Why don’t you do something else?
5. What is one stereotype about teachers that is a lie? What is one stereotype that is absolutely accurate?
6. Read a few pages of Gertrude Stein, and then a few poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and then a few pages of Toni Morrison. Explain what each writer is trying to do (with their language, their content, their style). Don’t say whether you like it or not; just try to understand.
7. Vent about one of your worst days during the past year. Fold it up, hide it, and forget about it.
8. Write a letter to the person who you identified as your worst teacher above. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
8a. Write a letter to a teacher or person who has inspired you the most in your teaching, then give it to them. Then, identify where you share those same qualities.
9. One of your most wonderful, compassionate students tells you that she wants to be a teacher. What do you say? What do you think?
10. Read an issue of a contemporary literary magazine. Try New England Review, Image, The Kenyon Review, Colorado Review, Salamander, West Branch, or others. Visit the current issue of an online publication like Booth, The Collagist, or Linebreak. Find work there to share with your students. I recommend Traci Brimhall, Kaveh Akbar, Saeed Jones, Erica Wright, Eduardo C. Corral, Morgan Parker, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Marcus Wicker, Tyler Mills, Adrian Matejka, Rigoberto González—find a writer who speaks to you, and who might speak to the lives of your students.
11. What is a book that you teach that your students hate? Why do they hate it? Be objective: are they correct? If not, what can you do to better teach the book—to better reveal why you think the book is important?
12. Write a letter to a student you’ve failed—not in terms of a grade, but as a mentor.
13. Write a dialogue scene between one of the writers whose work you teach and your students. Don’t have them talk about the writer’s book or writing style. Imagine how they would communicate in everyday life. Let them be people together.
14. List three times that you’ve experienced joy as a teacher. Be specific about the setting, the situation, the people involved. What can you do to capture that feeling again?
15. Praise yourself. Write a paragraph about what you do best as a teacher. After that, enjoy the rest of your summer. You’ve earned it.
Some of these are perhaps a waste of time, some are invaluable. But what's interesting is the emotion felt while reading them because, like my students, some fill me with dread. "That's stupid," I think and therefore cross it off the list. But that is probably why I should do them all, to remind myself what my students think, at various times throughout the year, about my assignments. And reminding myself what it feels like to be a student just might be what is best not only for me, but more importantly, for my students.
Let me know if you have any more ideas to add to the list!
And yes, although it isn't written directly, writing in complete sentences is probably required. So is grammar. You can relax on the MLA formatting though, because it's summer, and you deserve a break.
For more on . . .
BE SURE TO SCROLL DOWN AND SUBSCRIBE - THANKS FOR READING!