Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's the End of the Summer as We Know it...And I Feel Fine

When I was in grade school, the thing I (like so many of my classmates) looked forward to the most was not having to go to school. Whether this meant 4:00 (or 5:40 in middle school) when the school day ended or that magical time in June when school was out for two months, we counted down the time until we would be free.

However, once we came back from a summer vacation, we ran into the problem faced by many students all over the country – we forgot. I mean everything. I remember not being able to recall how to do simple algebra problems at the beginning of eighth grade. I wasn’t alone. Many teachers had to spend countless days and weeks going over the things from the previous years that we had supposedly learned already.

Even at that age, after a few weeks of vacation, I was ready to go back to school. Did I enjoy the vacation time? Of course I did! I had a blast over summer break. Was I upset that I had to go back to school? You bet! But in the back of my mind, I knew that I had gone nearly comatose lying in front of a TV for 14 hours a day. (This was before the internet made its way into my house and it’s not like I had a car to go anywhere, and most of my friends were still in sleep-away camp, as my camp always ended earlier than most.)

It always seemed to me that the summer vacation was too long. I much rather would have had a few smaller vacation periods throughout the year. Then I thought that maybe the teachers would rather have the summers off. It makes sense. If you had your summers off, you could get a second job for those two months of the year. However, these suspicions left my mind once I began to teach. I now know that as a teacher, I would rather have a number of shorter breaks throughout the school year than one 2 ½ month vacation in the summer.

For those of you who aren’t teachers, there are two times in a year that drive you batty. The first is October; you have no vacation days in October and it’s the same routine for that entire month. Once you hit November, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving hit and you get some sort of a reprieve. September is the start of the school year, and you don’t start until after Labor Day. December has Christmas break; January has mid-winter break; February has President’s Day/Week (depending on your district). March is the other time in the year that just drags on. No breaks at all; not even a random American holiday that extends your weekend an extra day. April has spring break; May has Memorial Day and June has school’s end. There are plenty of vacation times in school.

However, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I am against homework. Work should be done in school; once students are dismissed, they should be free to do whatever interests them. It is not fair to have them cooped up all day indoors and then turn them loose in order to do more work. Homework should be limited per night and per week. Having said this, I wouldn’t be against extending school hours. The New York public school students are in school for about six hours a day. There is no reason not to have them there longer.

A 9 to 5 school day is not a terrible idea. Additionally, teachers would be able to make a higher salary and students would get home not long before their parents (who would also presumably be working a 9 to 5. This would lessen the possibility of a child doing things they aren’t supposed to be doing. In my mind, the main time a child has for getting into situations that could only do harm is the time in between dismissal from school and parents coming home.

Having said all this, I am pleased to bring you this story on changing around the school year in Indianapolis, Indiana. The school year would no longer have a giant gap in the summer, but smaller periods of vacation spread throughout the year. Now, this would be detrimental for programs such as summer camps and other programs in the summer. Additionally, teachers would have to reschedule any long-standing summer plans of their own. However, I look at it this way. If programs like camps will be changing, it opens the door for other vacation possibilities. It provides a possibility of a three or five week program for vacationing students. Remember- although the students will be off from work, it doesn’t mean that the parents are off. There will need to be some sort of available program for bored children. Additionally, the article indicates that there will be an additional 20 classes a year. This (hopefully) means more pay for the teachers and less homework for the students.

As is written in the article, the vote goes up two days before Thanksgiving. I hope that a win for this rule is just the beginning of a nationwide trend, especially if the change helps “a district criticized for low standardized-test scores and high dropout rates.” I don’t know the actual numbers, but from how some people talk about New York, we can’t be too great on our standardized-test scores or dropout rates.


  1. I seem to recall the reason behind the current schooling system with the big summer break was due to the agricultural society where kids needed to go home and work on the farm with their parents. Considering that this is no longer the case, year-round schooling does make a lot of sense, aside from the educational benefits. I can definitely relate to the brain-wipe that occurs over the summer.

    I wonder if kids have summer reading anymore like I used to in middle and high school. As much as I hated it, it probably (or I should say certainly) kept me academically involved and thinking, at least to a minimal degree.

  2. Shades- I know that some schools have a summer reading list, but that generally depends on the teacher and does not help with math, science or history.

  3. Kids definitely still have summer reading and often don't actually do it. :P

    It's a problem, though. It's hard when teachers have to spend the first quarter of the year reteaching material the kids already learned the year before and forgot over the summer.

  4. As a teacher myself, I agree with having short breaks more frequently.

    I disagree with having a longer day, though. My school begins at 8:30 and dismissal begins at 3:15. By 2:30, a lot of the kids are mentally and physically tired and it's hard for them to really concentrate. I'm tired, too; plus teaching for a longer day would take more preparation/lesson planning/photocopying just to get through the day. And really, what would be the point? To make the classes longer? I already teach reading/language for 2 hours each day, math for one whole hour. How much longer can we expect kids to sit through the lesson for?

    I don't teach in a Jewish school, but even then, with the dual curriculum I think the days are long enough. How much material can you cram into a student's brain in one day before it is too much for them to take in?

    As far as reteaching material at the beginning of the year--I don't spend time doing cutesy ice-breaker activities the first week, I jump right into teaching the first day. For the first few weeks I am doing review stuff alongside the new material.

  5. Anon- I have stated numerous times throughout my blog that I strongly oppose homework. Once the school day ends, kids should be free to be kids. If the school day is longer, you can give your students their "homework" to do in class. Problem solved everywhere. Kids do get jumpy, but in the end, it's a fair trade-off. Even if they don't realize it.