HOLDEN, MAINE — When someone says the three best things about teaching are June, July and August, it's usually not a teacher talking. Seasoned teachers know the best experiences happen during the school year, and summer is only an interlude.
For us, June, July, and August are much like Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In June, we're in our classrooms until the third week of the month. After performing the closing duties, we head out of our buildings dazed by the passage of time, but lighthearted. Then, like a Friday night, the end of the month is ours without the responsibilities of planning, correcting, and attending meetings.
July is the Saturday of summer. It greets us with possibility. Between the promise of family time and various appointments lies the possibility of attending or presenting at conferences. Or we might register for that graduate class needed to maintain certification, the one that meets from 4 to 7 p.m. two nights a week during the school year, but is offered for four consecutive weeks for four hours a day during July. To supplement our salaries, we consider the possibility of teaching a section of less-than-eager students during July. Hey, there's always August, right?
Ah, August, summer's Sunday. Sunday is a day of contradiction. We don't teach, but we're often in our classrooms. We don't see students, but we're grading papers. August is the same. There are a few more weeks to relax, to enjoy days at the beach and meals from the grill. But something happens that changes our focus. We wake up feeling recharged with an eye toward our teaching. The conferences we attended, the courses we completed, have fueled our minds. We've been mentally drafting better lessons. We're thinking of ways to handle the rebel, while planning instruction that challenges the gifted students we're going to have.
We're not seeing students, but we're meeting with parents to discuss school histories and learning styles. There are department meetings. Supplies need to be distributed, stamped, and put away.
For me, summer's Sunday is the month of letter writing. A letter to parents encourages them to compose a positive profile of their child; what shouldn't I wait to find out? The responses usually begin like this: "Dear Mrs. Kaback, we're delighted to share our insights about Marc. Boy, are you in for a year!" or "Dear Mrs. Kaback, Kelsey has been looking forward to fifth grade all summer." I return to these letters throughout the year to remind me of my obligation to value these borrowed treasures.
And there are letters to students. Along with an introduction about me and an outline of fifth grade, I invite them to help set up our classroom at the end of vacation. Kids pour into the steamy room waving goodbye to relieved parents. Strangers meet washing windows, weeding butterfly gardens, sorting textbooks, stapling borders onto bulletin boards, and taping names of classmates onto desks. Concerns leak out. "Where are the eighth-graders' lockers?" "Which day do we bring our lunch money?"
It's a Sunday night in August. The classroom is ready. A week's plans are written, although the first week of school can never really be planned. Teacher dreams begin, the ones featuring a classroom of unruly students, a helpless teacher pleading for order. But then, with dawn, those thoughts fade. The weekend of the year is over, and the three best things about teaching begin - the students, the learning, and the challenge to perfect our craft.
* Suzanne Stroble Kaback, a teacher at the Holbrook Middle School in Holden, Maine, is a doctoral student at the University of Maine. She enjoys Saturdays and the month of July.