darkness summer, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
Can you hear it? That approaching sound of silence is summer! Students will empty our classrooms and spill into the hallways. They will cut through the quad and walk out of the front gate right into the summer sun. Picture us then: sitting at our desks, leaning back in our chairs, letting out a collective siggghhhhhhh. We feel at once a sense of relief followed by a slight unease. We are used to the constant movement and incessant chatter of the school day so it takes a little time to settle into the stillness around us. But (not to worry!) we will.
I am not sure if you recognize the lyrics at the start of this post. (And it may date you to admit you do!) Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel composed the song “The Sound of Silence” while living with his parents. He claims the song was written in his tiled bathroom, the perfect “echo chamber.” While the running faucet created a soothing white noise in the background, Simon would play his guitar in the dark and dream. Although the dark confines of a bathroom wouldn’t be my first choice for a place to unwind, I bet that we all dream of our own hidden sanctuaries somewhere beyond the brick walls of Hart High School. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” What makes “alone time” such a welcome friend, especially for teachers? I am sure some of it has to do with the fact that we simply need to recharge. We are constantly thinking of our next class, our next lesson, our next task. Even at the end of the night, I am thinking about what needs to be created and copied in the morning. My lesson plays in my mind as I drift off to sleep, thinking of possible challenges or time constraints that may arise. Teaching is all-consuming. As I posted in December, the best gift a teacher can receive is a break. By June (okay, May…April?) we certainly have earned our summer vacation.
I am sure we would all agree that our students also deserve some time to relax and recharge over the summer. But, as we find in the fall, if students are not engaged in continued learning in the summer months, they lose precious skills in reading and math. In fact, students who do not read over the summer lose two months of achievement in what is referred to as the “summer slide.” The bad news is that this loss is cumulative-from one summer to the next. According to New York Times contributor Jeff Smink, this loss “has a tremendous impact on students’ success, including high school completion, post-secondary education and work force preparedness.” So how do we combat the loss of learning? We encourage our students to keep reading, learning, and practicing by assigning summer work for some of our classes. At the very least we ask them to remain curious, exploring their interests and growing as individuals. So here comes a few questions that might be a bit uncomfortable… Do we ask the same of ourselves? What do we do as teachers to pursue our curiosities once school ends? Are we continually learning about our subject matters or about the art of teaching? Or are we also victims of the “summer slide”?
Okay, so I can hear you yelling at the screen right now. “I WORK SO HARD ALL YEAR I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT SCHOOL AGAIN UNTIL AUGUST!” I get it. I do! I need this summer break just as much as you do. I’m looking forward to spending time lazily dangling my foot in the pool while I float around on a raft. Yet, I also have a stack of books on my desk that I can’t wait to dive into this summer. And some of them actually are professional books (gasp!). I also have a Google Doc I created at the start of the school year where I recorded changes I will consider to certain units and lessons next year. I never do exactly the same thing from one year to the next. The direction I move in starts with my own reading, studying, and curiosities. Once I am in the classroom in the fall I merge my new understandings and ideas with my students’ skill levels, interests, and needs. But the planning all begins with my own studying and summer pursuits. So, yes, summer is a time to recharge, but it can also be a time to step back from our teaching practice and reflect. Certainly it is a time to explore new ideas and approaches that we can bring into our teaching practice. Teachers desire prepared and polished students in the fall. Students expect the same of their teachers. So how can we avoid falling victim to the “summer slide?”
- Feed Your Curiosity (but find a balance): Have you been dreaming of binge-watching Suits on Netflix? Do it! Scroll through Facebook, check out your Twitter feed. Read that trashy novel you have been saving. Decompress. Then spend some time in pursuit of your own interests. Follow other teachers, authors, scientists, mathematicians, historians, politicians, and artists on Twitter. Save interesting articles you can bring into the classroom. Read a professional article or book. Mark passages to share with students or colleagues. Choose something that makes you curious (this is KEY). Remembering what drew you to your subject and to teaching in the first place. Research a new trend in education or in your field of study. Watch a few TED talks. Or try reading a nonfiction book from the NY Times best seller list that will help enhance your content knowledge (there are currently two on physics! Science writing is certainly popular at the moment!). Below I have gathered a little something for everyone:
- The Immoral Life of Henrietta Lacks or The Gene would be the perfect choice for the science teacher. This TED talk playlist on the issue of bioengineering would also be a worthy use of time.
- P.E. teachers and coaches should check out the Sports Section of the TED website. Newly released sports biographies may also spark new interests!
- Math teachers will love Math Talks to Blow Your Mind and this list of new books releases! How fun does How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics sound?
- History teachers (and Gail & Anthony!) can read up on Broadway’s hottest musical, Hamilton (Thanks, Ozella for introducing me to this one!) or better yet, get tickets to the show (if you are lucky enough t0 win the extremely limited lottery! And I would be SO JEALOUS!). You can also check out Pulitzer-Prize winning author Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. Or try reading something on my summer reading list: Between the World and Me. The author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, has been likened to James Baldwin due to his insightful exploration of race in America.
- The arts will enjoy the artist is in playlist, 10 TED Talks Every Art Teacher Should Watch, and these books!
- There are TED talks and articles dedicated to food, cars, music, learning languages, and literature.
- I am planning on watching these TED talks about how language changes over time so I can create a unit around the study of language, how it has evolved and where it is going (for both my AP students and my EL students!). The talks will only deepen my understanding since I have already started gathering professional essays for both levels and begun reading S.I. Hayawaka’s Language in Thought and Action.
- Bill Gates recommends these 5 books as summer reading.
- Check out these podcasts: The Teacher Learning Sessions and the Heinemann podcast.
- Want a more professional text ideas for teachers? Click here and here.
- Reflect: What did you do well this year? What new ideas and approaches did you embrace? In what areas can you improve? I give my students an end-of-the-year survey using Google Forms. I ask what assignments were their favorite and why, what assignment(s) helped prepare them for the AP exams, what activities helped my EL students grow in reading, writing, and listening and speaking. Then I ask what they did not find useful. This is a hard question because I don’t always want to know the answer, but seeing my classroom and teaching through the eyes of my students is important and helps me reflect on my own practice. One student in particular wrote a reflection about the TED talk she designed for my final exam. She used what she learned in my class, in Paula Bae’s Human Anatomy class, and in Zach Koebel’s AP Psychology class to construct her talk about what she called the “science behind happiness.” She wove a scientific exploration of the body and the mind together with the writings of authors on the subject and crafted a personal narrative to illustrate her newfound understanding. This student said that being able to choose her topic and design a talk based on ideas that had been swirling in her mind all year made this one of the most engaging assignments she has had. There were many more reflections like this one. Even though this final exam assignment was due after the AP exam, required extensive research, in-text citations, an MLA works cited, visuals and technology, and annotating their own scripts for intentional rhetorical moves and strategies that considered purpose and audience–my students embraced it wholeheartedly. So this summer I will consider these questions: How I can design more learning opportunities such as this one? How can I tap into the interests of my students and encourage them to see the connections among my class and all of your classes? How can I use their collective knowledge as motivation to become invested in more assignments like this one? How can I incorporate technology to enhance my lessons? I love that these students became immersed in their own curiosity. I want to tap into that curiosity all year long!
- Drink: Okay, this is not what you think. Although a stiff cocktail may be just what you need to kick off the start of summer, I am talking about taking a tall drink of all summer has to offer. Do what you love, but also take advantage of the solitude to seek opportunities for growth. Sleep in late, go for a run…then stay up late and lose yourself in a book or a documentary that will stretch your thinking and inspire your teaching. Take notes about your thinking on current events this summer. Wake up early and go on a hike as the sun rises. Wander through a museum and document the experience to share with your students in the fall. Relax into summer, but never ever stop learning. Keep your body, mind, and soul hydrated. Plant the seeds now that will grow and sustain you through next school year.
Thank you for inviting me in to your classrooms this year! And for allowing me to write about your teaching lives. As I prepare for next year I will also consider how I can best serve you in my role as instructional coach. Please email me with any ideas you would like to discuss.
Now take a deep breath and soak in the silence…our old friend has almost arrived!