CRYSTAL LAKE – Trips to NASA to handle moon rocks and tours of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii may seem like a vacation, but they can be a lot of hard work.
For Michelle Dare, those experiences are all part of her “summer vacation” as a science teacher at Crystal Lake Central High School. Like many teachers, summer break offers a reprieve from her classroom but not from the work needed to grow professionally and prepare for the next academic year.
Dare spends most of her summer attending highly competitive professional development workshops that require a lengthy application process. In 2007, she received a grant to attend the Space Exploration Educators Conference where she obtained the rare certification to handle one of the less than 100 samples of moon rocks from NASA.
This year, she was one of only 12 teachers in the country selected to attend a two-week workshop in the National Botanical Tropical Garden in Hawaii. To receive admission, she had to submit an essay, letter of recommendations and a curriculum vitae.
And she still has to pay for the trip out-of-pocket.
“I used to be a lab technician and remember thinking as a parent how outraged I would be about all these teachers with their summers off, but I converted,” Dare said. “I understand why people think we have all this time, but many of us do not.”
Even when teachers get time off, it is often not for long.
Sara Bauman, a math teacher at Prairie Ridge High School, is frantically planning the majority of her wedding – which is only two weeks away – after having little time to do so during the school year.
After the brief break, it will be back to working toward her master’s degree, preparing the curriculum for August and doing camps as part of her additional responsibilities as tennis coach.
“I don’t know any teachers that take the summer ‘off,’ “ Bauman said. “I do empathize with other people who don’t get to enjoy a nice break, but at the same time, if you break down the hours between the school year and summer it’s similar to a 40-hour a week office job.”
Some teachers never even make it out of the classroom.
Joe Jauch, a math teacher at Cary-Grove, has headed up the district’s summer school program the past four years and had taught during the summer sessions before taking charge.
Jauch said preparing for the summer session by interviewing possible teachers and coordinating schedules can add up to more than 100 hours of work during the school year. Once the summer comes, it is six weeks of additional instruction for those who teach.
He said teachers also have a challenging workload in the summer because each class is equal to six days worth of material during a regular school year.
“A lot of people ask us if we are going to a full-year model, but in a way we already are,” Jauch said.
But there is a reason the break is called summer vacation and physics teacher Jenny Morris makes sure to keep it in mind.
Morris, who also is working toward her master’s degree this summer, said she picked up a second job for the break but made sure the work was enjoyable. As an employee of North Beach on Lake Michigan in Chicago, she can’t complain.
“Obviously we enjoy our summer, too, and spend time with family,” she said. “Teachers enjoy time to recharge, too.”