Summer Off? Not Quite.

Teachers Balance Work and Leisure—Here and Abroad!

By Miriam Longobardi

summer-off“Oh, you’re a teacher– you get summers of –how great!”  What teacher has not heard that? The reality is that during the summer most teachers are involved in some type of work, whether it is working a summer job to supplement income or some form of professional development. More than 240 Chappaqua teachers spent many days writing curriculum, developing units of study aligned with the new common core standards, and serving on district committees.  Several more collaborated with administration to create new local assessments mandated by the state.  Still others took graduate and in-service classes but whatever the endeavor once August comes we are right back in the classroom setting up the room and preparing lesson plans for the new school year and an ever-changing curriculum.  When your child walks in on the first day of school, those engaging, neatly labeled displays and thoughtfully organized rooms ready for learning did not happen overnight but took weeks during our “time off”.

Fifteen Chappaqua teachers were accepted into a special cohort called Teacher Action Research Project (TARP).  This intense two-year commitment involves collaborating with colleagues across schools and grade levels using classroom experience to examine student learning and how to ensure that students are thinking deeply and supporting their thinking as they acquire content knowledge.
I participated on the panel consisting of teachers and administrators that interviewed those applicants and evaluated their proposals. They began their work in July and will meet every couple of months to share their progress, submit reports, and revise as needed over the next two years, including more summer work and visiting one another’s classrooms monthly to provide valuable feedback. Colleagues have shared that the influence on their teaching is life-changing.

To Rome with Love
For me, once school let out, rather than hitting the beach, I was off to Harlem to Columbia University Teachers College for a week-long intensive writing institute to help me prepare for a new grade level curriculum.  I was doing homework–required reading, writing papers and lesson plans–and taking part in group presentations.  After that kick-off to summer I was ready for some “me-time” in the form of a three week vacation through Italy and Croatia!

I traveled alone, booked all my hotels, flights and train travel online in advance after months of research and planning (and saving money!).  I landed in Rome and instantly fell in love with the entire city and all its history, art and local personalities!  From Rome I traveled to Venice and was swept away by its beauty. Its tiny streets make it more difficult to navigate and unlike Rome it was not as conducive to traveling alone. My first evening there, I met a great group of  people that live just outside Venice and were there to spend the evening much like we would go into New York.  They instantly befriended me and took me along as we walked the city stopping at fun places all along the way that I never would have discovered on my own.  In Florence, I saw amazing works of art and made more friends. I hiked along a mountain in Cinque Terre and then headed to Croatia for some relaxation on the beach.

The entire trip was great for the soul and brought me in contact with ancient history, incredible works of art, and many new lifelong friends.  Once back in the US I unpacked, repacked, and went to a week-long leadership conference in Baltimore to prepare for my newly elected officer position within the Chappaqua Congress of Teachers and then–you guessed it–my classroom beckoned.

Training in Bhutan
Not all travel is for leisure, and Ellen Moskowitz, a colleague of mine at Roaring Brook, spent her summer in Bhutan training teachers how to educate students with special needs in a general education setting.

Until four years ago, Bhutan did not educate those students and, after the government recognized the need to do so, reached out to the US Special Education Advisory and began efforts to train teachers.  Moskowitz was one of three teachers selected from many nominated candidates to be a specialist in their school.

She showed teachers how to identify student needs and support them in a pull-out program and what small group instruction is and looks like. She introduced them to language used, such as IEP (individualized education program) and helped them develop IEP’s. In addition to the teachers, principals, and special education coordinators who came from all over Bhutan, she trained instructors at the university level how to incorporate this information into their curriculum to better prepare new teachers to meet diverse student needs.

The Bhutan Foundation behind this initiative also planned weekend excursions to different parts of the country.  She had the opportunity to hike through mountains, sometimes at cloud level, as well as through rice paddies. Her hotel faced the Himalayan Mountains and she enjoyed waking up and facing that beautiful view each day before school.

She found the teachers very receptive and eager to learn new teaching methods and remains in touch with them via email, answering questions and engaging in ongoing discussions.

As teachers we are fortunate to find time to reinvigorate for the coming school year, but it is a balance.  I am proud to be part of democracy’s greatest legacy and that for which Chappaqua is renowned –excellence in public education.

Miriam Longobardi is a freelance writer, first grade teacher and single mother of two daughters living in Westchester.  A breast cancer survivor, she also volunteers for the American Cancer Society and has completed four marathons.  Also, check out her weekly New York Modern Love column  at Examiner.com.

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