What are teachers really doing over the summer?

Professional athletes can’t afford to sit around during the offseason. They’re working out, getting quicker and reflecting on the good and the bad of the previous season. A teacher’s life is no different.

Students scatter after the final bell. Teachers, however, roll up their sleeves and prepare for a summer of self-improvement.

Angela David, a teacher at Capital School District’s South Dover Elementary School, said no one really understands how they spend their summers.

“The way I explain to people is that we do 12 months of work in nine months,” David said. “So we have a lot that we do in a short amount of time.”

In the other three months, when the kids are enjoying a break, some teachers  are serving as instructors in summer school classes, while others take professional development courses to enhance their skills or work directly with the Delaware Department of Education.

David decided to take the professional development route.

For one week she sat in a room at the district offices with other Capital teachers learning how to effectively use tablets in the classroom.

Making class fun and interactive was a key lesson. For example, they brought endangered species to life in digital form.

David agrees everyone needs some downtime. But she made a personal decision not to waste any time.

“It depends on the teacher,” she said. “This is the fifth training that I’ve attended this summer. As a new teacher I have a lot to learn.”

Chantalle Ashford, a chorus and English teacher at Indian River High School, was one of 31 educators in a Department of Education fellowship program from June 20 to Aug. 4.

It offered educators from teachers to college students a peek behind the policymaking curtain.

“It helped me see where the policies that affect my everyday practice or affect my students come from,” Ashford said. “What are the mindsets that set them up? It gave me an interesting and hands-on lens that helped me understand how policies are formed.”

Ashford was studying diversity within education in Delaware. She interacted with state officials and other teachers to find ways to improve teacher recruitment.

She came up with policy ideas she hopes will lead to increased diversity, a topic she takes seriously.

“If students are taught by teachers who look like them there is a lot of data that shows that it positively impacts those students. But currently in this state 86 percent of our teachers are white,” she said. “They are being taught by people who definitely love their students, who care about their students, but those students might not easily connect with those teachers.”

Networking with other teachers was unexpected benefit.

“It helped me to create links with teachers across the state,” she said. “Sometimes as teachers we get stuck in our bubbles.”

Ashford, who has been teaching for three years, believes a teacher’s concern for students can’t be measured by how a teacher spends summer vacation. Simply spending the summer resting is important, Ashford said.

“I think that’s important because they need to rest, to recharge and be 100 percent for the kids,” she said. “In order for me to recharge I like to take leadership opportunities, do professional development and I really like to push myself over the summer so I can be even better for my students.”

Ashford’s summer hasn’t been all work. She’s taken some time to recharge her own battery by going to the beach and taking a trip to New Mexico.

Milford: next generation

Delaware’s school districts are preparing teachers for the Next Generation Science Standards, which use a philosophy of hands-on education.

In Milford School District, some educators spent their summer working with the Delaware Nature Society and Abbott’s Mill Nature Center. Bridget Amory, director of elementary education, said educators spent their summer working on a nature-based curriculum.

“One of the opportunities that we’ve been looking at is how can we expand [scientific] instruction beyond the classroom,” she said. “We wanted to include field experiences so students can see the benefits in their own community.”

Despite the multitude of roads teachers take during summer vacation, they all say it comes back to preparing for the next year and the next group of students.

“I think teachers are always thinking about their kids and always working, even if it doesn’t look like we are,” Ashford said.