I love telling people that I am an educator. I feel proud about it, passionate about it, and know that the person listening most likely has a very different preconceived idea about what it means to be an educator. Especially an early childhood educator. How fun, simple, and cute my job must be... Furthermore, those preconceived ideas they have developed from their own experiences, television, and movies etc usually promotes a first response (especially this time of the year) of a judgement based (and somewhat condescending) message about how I must love having summers off. As if the only reason and only value I hold about my profession is the amount of time I have off in the summers to get away from it all. In actuality, all educators know you don't "get summers off". That is pure silliness.
Whether you have the weeks off or not, an educators mind, curriculum, and hours are actually consistently dedicated to work on themselves as a professionals. To a fault. Some teachers rewrite their curriculum, some educators find PD that occurs over the course of a few weeks where they get real time and reflection on a specific element they (or someone else) has identified as needing work. Even on my week off, I did attend a Reggio meeting with wonderful reflective and empowering educators because I know being with them was part of recharging myself. Teaching is a passion that we can't get out of our brains.
And as for "having summers off"-I work at a year-round school. When I do get the comment about "how nice getting the summers off must be" I reply by letting the person know I work at a University and there are multiple reasons why we work year round. I do get two weeks off in the summer that are spread out but the envious image they are picturing in their minds and what I actually have are two different things. They deflate for a moment as if I have just crumbled an image of what the life of a teacher must be like. Sorry people, I am not at the beach all summer laughing at you while holding a book in my hand.
Welcome to the iceberg! What you think you know about teaching is above the water and what it actually is lies beneath. The "summers off" comment just caused the proverbial "summers off" offenders to bump into the iceberg and some ice fell away covering their face with cold icy truth. Blink away the melting cold water and don't worry! I have learned not to be offended. We all have images in our heads about what ideal vacations and get away's from life must be like. However, I did just have a week off. And it was with that week that I committed to myself that I would take time to be with myself, my husband, and my dogs to experience joy and time together. And what a week it was.
I feel refreshed. Let me expand on that a little more... I feel rejuvenated, realigned, and I have some giddy-up in my step. I feel like I can breathe deeper, appreciate more fully, and there is an expanded relaxation within me that I don't know if I have ever felt because I was so worried about the "what if, when, what will they think, am I doing enough to please others" mentality. I spent time in nature, I went to new places, read 3 books (THREE!). I had unexpected adventures with friends and reconnected with professionals I haven't seen in such a very long time. I took naps. Yes, naps were had. It was unstructured, unhurried, and just. what. I. needed.
To say I needed a vacation is a vast understatement, as it is with most people I know. But the difference in this past week off from my work space was that for the first time ever, I committed to having the vacation experience that I wanted and needed as opposed to trying to see everyone and do everything that other people were used to me doing: driving all over New England visiting family and friends, trying to figure out the where and who we are going to stay with, what to do with the dogs, how much time at each space, and did everyone feel like they got some of my time? As much as I love my family and friends and enjoy the time we get to spend together, I end up feeling more anxious and exhausted when the week is over than I do feeling fulfilled. But, exhausted no longer! This year, I needed my time. My husband needed my time, and I needed and craved time with him. And I feel more connected to myself than I have in years.
So it's hope that when and if you have some upcoming time off, whether because you are an educator and you are "getting the summer off" or you have a Friday long weekend, that you commit to using some of that time to do what you need to do to recharge. Meditate, go for a walk, exercise your body, eat foods that fill your soul with goodness, and breathe deeply. Self care is a major missing link in being an educator, but I am telling you that spending that time to let yourself "go" will positively impact your mind and body when it is time to go back. And with that being said, I need to go pack my lunch and head on the road to get back to my workplace. I can't wait to hear children's laughter, watch their wonder, and reconnect with a more fulfilled positive me.
Brittany Courchesne is an early childhood educator, teacher mentor to teachers in training, public speaker, and blogger.