Summer’s not down time for many District 39 teachers
Wilmette local elementary school teacher Christina Heyde keeps record of her books through the website http://www.goodreads.com. | Tamara Bell~Sun Times Media
ON THE JOB
WHO: District 39 teachers
WHEN: During summer vacation
HOW: Curriculum projects, summer school, studying for advanced degrees and more.
Updated: August 13, 2012 1:13PM
The summer holidays are here for hundreds of Wilmette School District 39 students, and that means holidays are also here for all their teachers, right?
In fact – all those jokes about teachers and three months of vacation aside – there is a good chance that many of the district’s roughly 300 teachers will be nearly as busy during those so-called vacation hours as they were during the school year.
They may be teaching summer school, or helping the district revamp its curriculum and preparing for next year’s classes. They could even be hitting the books themselves as they study for advanced degrees.
“I would guess that it could be as much as 50 percent,” of teachers who spend some or all of the roughly 10-week-long summer hiatus on education related tasks, District Superintendent Raymond Lechner said earlier this month. “It’s definitely a significant amount of the faculty.”
One of them is Highcrest Middle School teacher Christina Heyde, who is juggling studies for her doctorate in educational leadership from National Louis University along with helping colleagues benchmark student writing papers as part of a distict project.
“Our district moved recently to a new writing (standard), so we wanted to assess real student writing with the new rubric in mind, so that we could put up some papers as models on a web site that will help teachers determine what level of writing they’re getting from students. I’ve been working with a team on that,” she said last week.
Heyde also makes room in her summer schedule each year to read dozens of books contained in district and state book lists for her grade levels.
“I enjoy reading, so I don’t think of it as a chore, but I guess each summer I read about 20 books. Some of them are books I’ve read before, but need to remind myself about, and usually about 15 of them are new to me,” she said.
Heyde, a former attorney who enthusiastically switched careers seven years ago and has been teaching at Highcrest since 2005, said many district teachers seek higher levels of education and certification. While some costs of some classes can be subsidized by the district, it’s up to teachers to find time to study – and summer is often that time, she said.
Fellow Highcrest teacher Ben Baird, who is a learning behavior specialist between September and June, is doing that this year. He’s in his fifth year of teaching, and his second year at Highcrest and in the district. He’s spending much of this summer at Roosevelt University graduate school, studying for an advanced degree in educational leadership – and he’s also tutoring students in a subjects like reading, writing and math.
“I love it. It’s kind of nice to work when the kids aren’t stressed out by homework or things in the classroom. You’re actually able to focus in on them, and on their skills,” he said.
As if that wasn’t enough to keep his appointment book filled, Baird is also working with other district teachers on making changes to one of the district’s writing courses.
Baird, who jokes that tutoring and graduate school “keeps me out of trouble” during those long vacation weeks, admits that “it was a learning experience to find out how much we can do in the summer. I didn’t quite expect the time commitment that there is, but the summer is the best time for things like this.”
Beth Cummo, a technology teacher at Wilmette Junior High School, has taught for 15 years, the last 10 in Wilmette. She’s taught summer school classes for five of those years, including this summer; she’s co-instructing three cooking classes of about 20 students each every weekday morning for several weeks.
“It ends up being a lot of fun because often the classes are more interest based, and the kids who take the courses are really excited,” Cummo said.
Like Heyde and Baird, Cummo spent some time after school ended working on district curriculum. In her case it was reviewing the fifth grade technology curriculum, and working on guides to help teachers learn to use technology in the classroom. And she spends time before school starts preparing the school’s website, getting documents ready for delivery to parents and looking at scheduling.
At least one reason district teachers keep busy with continuing education is because District 39 puts a premium on it, Lechner said: “there’s not a specific policy requiring it, but we certainly encourage it. To be a teacher in a state of the art system, you absolutely have to be on top of your game.”
Lechner said that can be private studies, such as Heyde’s and Baird’s, or in-house professional development offered by the district during the summer.
And, he pointed out, most teachers in the district never really leave their job behind, even when they do head out for some vacation time.
“Teachers are pretty much engaged with us every day, checking emails, getting messages and updates from us. In that sense, even when they do find tie for renewal,100 percent of our teachers stay on the job,” he said.
And what about all those jokes about free time in the summer?
You’re not going to change some people’s minds about what teachers do in July and August, Cummo said wryly, adding, “sometimes you just have to laugh it off.”
“Often, comments like that are because the speaker does’t know what we do, but I would like to get the message out that we do a lot to prepare for the job we do with your children every year,” Heyde said.
“Usually I’m too busy to chat with people who make those jokes,” Baird laughed.
“But I’d like to let them know that we’re also working, finding ways to contribute towards our goals for next year, honing our craft, and just trying to improve personally, just as you would at any job.”