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The Five “-ations”: Five Ways to Spend Your Summer as a Teacher!


As a student growing up, I never imagined that my teachers were looking forward to summer break as much as I was. But once I became a teacher and realized that teachers were human like everyone else, it occurred to me that they had probably been the ones most excited for summer all along. And if that describes you at the end of the school year—there is nothing to be ashamed of! Your break is well-deserved. What I want to talk about is how we can make the most of this well-deserved break. The last thing we want is to come back to school in the fall wishing we had spent our summer differently, or that it had been longer, etc. (well—the latter may be unavoidable, but at least the former is not). So, how can we best spend our summers? It will depend on personal circumstances, of course. What I will propose are five different but rewarding ways of spending summer as a teacher. Conveniently, all of their names end with “-ation”!

But first, we should talk about what not to do. As much as we may want to, summer is not a time to simply “veg out” and forget about teaching for a couple months. Consider the term work-life balance. Although it is a phrase that seems to only ever be used when that “balance” is absent, we can certainly affirm something good about its sentiment. We must work to live—we should not live to work. However, I take issue with the term to a certain extent, because it implies that there must necessarily be a conflict between “work” and “life.” Yes, it is often the case that we feel pulled in opposite directions by our professional and non-professional lives. But the employee’s experience of total self-alienation in the workplace is a modern phenomenon: it was born of the Industrial Revolution, and it has found itself a new home in today’s Office Space culture.

But in a society that truly lives and breathes Christianity, this sort of thing does not occur. Christ calls us to be whole, and he makes us whole. Since we are called to be like Christ in every aspect of our lives, every aspect of our lives ought to be mutually sanctifying. What it means to be like Christ in the workplace does not conflict with what it means to be like him in our homes. What if, instead of striving for “balance” (a fragile equilibrium between opposing forces), we strove for integration? Rather than viewing our work as simply a way to finance what we would rather be doing, what if we instead viewed it as a unique opportunity to grow closer to Christ on a daily basis? Easier said than done, maybe.[1] But how would it affect our mentality at work? Away from work? I believe it would help us find ways of allowing our work to enrich our leisure—and of allowing our leisure to enrich our work. Although there is plenty to be said about the former, since summer is upon us, right now I will talk about the latter.

1. Vacation

Without further ado, I begin with the most obvious “-ation.” If we can get a chance to travel over the summer—even if it is just a day trip—we should. But you do not have to take my word for it:

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” (Saint Augustine)

“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfilment.” (Hilaire Belloc)

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” (Mark Twain)

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” (also Mark Twain)

How can we vacation in an enriching and fulfilling manner? Go to the beach and relax? Far be it from me to say no! But as Mortimer Adler would likely say,[2] this would be an activity more akin to sleep than to true leisure. On the other hand, a recurring theme in the quotations above is the connection between travel and learning. In other words, traveling should not just be about “getting away”—it should be about going somewhere meaningful. Having lived in the Southwest for many years, one of my favorite places to visit was Santa Fe, where there are several historic and beautiful Catholic churches. I have come to realize that the vacations that stay with me the most are the ones with elements of pilgrimage.

Consider these words of John Senior:

“In my own direct experience teaching literature at universities, I have found a large plurality of students who find, say, Treasure Island what they call hard reading… To cope somewhat with this, I tried to get college students at the age of twenty to fill in children’s books… and discovered deeper still that the problem isn’t only books, it isn’t only language; it is things: It is experience itself that has been missed… Wordsworth is right when he says, ‘Come out into the light of things.’”[3]

Senior provides an excellent example here with Treasure Island. It was one of the most thrilling stories I read as a child, but not even a story of that caliber can affect the reader who lacks certain basic touchpoints (e.g., the structure of ships, how the ocean behaves, etc.). If you live in a landlocked area, perhaps you should take a trip to a port town—just to see the ships and smell the salt in the air. It will broaden your imagination and your grasp of the human experience. It will give you a new appreciation for our challenges and limitations as stewards of creation. 

2. Vocation

Speaking of human limitations, it can often be difficult to allot the right amount of time for each one of our daily obligations. And for many of us, teaching is not our primary vocation; rather, it is secondary to the vocation of parenthood. Nevertheless, if we have received both of these callings from God, then of course they can both be carried out harmoniously with his help. But we do need to be intentional with our priorities—and it is just inevitable that we will sometimes have long days at work. Because of this, we should make extra efforts over the summer to emphasize family time.

“If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.” (Saint Teresa of Calcutta)

“The home is the first school of Christian life and ‘a school for human enrichment.’ Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous—even repeated—forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1657)

As a teacher, spending family time is a great opportunity for allowing “work” and “life” to actually complement each other. I know that being a teacher has certainly made me a better parent (and vice versa). So, for those who have children at home, your teaching prowess should especially shine forth over the summer. Take your children to museums, or simply read to them. Let them experience you at your best as an educator and as a lifelong learner. Your own children, above all, deserve to remember you this way!

3. Occupation

We may find that a good use of our extra time is to get a summer job. Maybe we need to supplement our income, or maybe we are just trying to stay busy. In either case, we would have words of the wise in support of this choice:

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading.” (Saint Benedict)

“Work is a good thing for man—a good thing for his humanity—because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being.’” (Pope Saint John Paul II)

“There are moments when art attains almost to the dignity of manual labor.” (Oscar Wilde)

Regardless of our reasons for working over the summer, we should take the advice of the diligent Brother Lawrence[4] and “make a virtue of necessity.” Even if we need to work, we can still work in a way that glorifies God and draws us closer to him. Pray to Saint Joseph the Worker to help you with this. If you have the ability to choose the type of work you do over the summer, you might consider something that takes you outdoors and/or something that involves physical activity. If you do not have such preferable options, you can at least use this as an opportunity to be grateful you are a teacher most of the year!

4. Avocation

Pursuing hobbies are an integral part of cultivating true leisure. Remember that the term amateur is derived from the Latin word amare, “to love.” It is what we do out of love that characterizes us as humans. I found these quotes particularly inspiring:

“Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it.” (Pope Saint John Paul II)

“To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real.” (Winston Churchill)

Saint John Paul makes the case that if God has given you a talent, you have the responsibility to use it. Even if you do not “need” to—and perhaps especially if you do not need to. Adler defines leisure activities as “those activities desirable for their own sake (and so uncompensated and not compulsory) and also for the sake of the excellencies, private and public, to which they give rise.”[5] Only a hardened materialist would insist that something is not worth doing if it does not yield measurable personal gain. In reality, it all comes back to love. We imitate God and fulfill our nature whenever we act out of love for the good.

5. Education

It may be unsurprising that I conclude with this “-ation,” given our calling as educators. But rather than say something unoriginal about the importance of “professional development” over the summer, I will instead point to one more quote from Adler:  

“Now the Greek word scole has two meanings, just as the English word ‘pasttime’ has two meanings. In the dictionary the first meaning of ‘pasttime’ refers to the time itself, to spare time. The second meaning of ‘pasttime’ refers to what is done with such time, namely, play. It is this second meaning that we usually intend by our use of the word. So the first meaning of scole refers to the time; the second, to the content or use of the time. The first is leisure in the merely negative sense of the time free from labor, or spare time; but the second meaning, which appears very early in Greek literature, refers to what men should do with this time, namely, learn and discuss. It is the second meaning—what one does with time free from labor—which permits scole to become the root of the word ‘school.’ This, it seems to me, throws a fascinating light on a phrase that was used frequently in my youth when boys of sixteen faced, with their parents, the question, ‘Shall I go to work or shall I go to school?’ Making this a choice of opposites is quite right, because work is one thing and school is another. It is the difference between labor and leisure.”[6]

For me personally, this connection between leisure and school finally clicked when I began my graduate studies a few years after college. By that time, I had had enough experience with “work” that I was finally able to recognize its difference from “school.” And that is not to say that “school” was easy. There were countless late nights of studying and struggling to meet deadlines. But there was something markedly different about that academic kind of “work.” Something intangibly fulfilling. Best of all, it allowed me to return to the classroom as a teacher recharged and ready to share this excitement with my students. And while a grad program may be beyond the scope of your summer plans, you might consider a bite-sized course designed to help teachers refresh themselves over the summer.[7]

So, if I had to point to a common thread among these five very different ways of spending the summer, I would say that it is learning. And also love. Especially love. Whatever we can do this summer to challenge ourselves to use the gifts God has given us, to encounter him in new ways and to help those around us do the same—and to do all of this because we love—then we can be sure that whatever it is we do will lead to a summer well spent.


June 2, 2022


[1] Or maybe not. It certainly helps that the work of a teacher is itself one of the most noble and rewarding of all human activities. It should be fairly easy to keep the right mindset when we hear Christ say, “Let the little children come to me…”.

[2] See Adler’s “Labor, Leisure and Liberal Education.”

[3] Senior, John. The Restoration of Christian Culture.

[4] Born Nicholas Herman, a seventeenth century Carmelite monk revered for his willingness to do even the most menial of tasks for the glory of God.

[5] Adler, “Labor, Leisure and Liberal Education.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] The Institute’s Academic Retreat for Teachers and Advanced Formation Summer Webinar Series are options to consider.