Teachers Should Not Feel Guilty About Taking The Summer Off

It’s that time of year once again. The time of year when teachers try to convince people who don’t teach that they really don’t have summers off.

Teacher Nicholas Ferroni, who enjoys a large Twitter following of mostly fellow teachers (it might have something to do with his looks, though his pandering to teachers probably doesn’t hurt), got an early jump this year when he asked teachers to share with him all the work they’ll be doing this summer.

He’s calling it #NoSummersOff and he’s been sharing videos of teachers explaining how many humps they’ll be busting between this year’s final bell and next year’s welcome-back-to-school-time-wasting-PD-day.

Ferroni explained that the campaign is “not intended for sympathy or to complain, but to crush the myth that only NON-educators believe: teachers have summers off.”

But why do teachers feel the need to crush this myth instead of embracing it?

I believe it’s because of guilt, that feeling teachers seem especially susceptible to.

Teachers who don’t work over the summer might feel guilty because we live in the most overworked country on the face of the planet.

  • In the U.S., 86 percent of men and 67 percent of women work more than 40 hours per week.
  • According to the ILO, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.
  • According to the BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950.

We embrace work. We glorify busy. We live in a culture where work is valued much higher than leisure. People regularly brag (although they mask it as complaining) about how many hours they put in on the job. Even when they have opportunities to take breaks, they refuse. According to Glassdoor, Americans use only about half their vacation time. Just one in four uses all the time they’re entitled to. 10% take no paid time off at all.  When they do take a vacation, 56% of surveyed workers admitting to checking in with the office during it.

The idea that we teachers could have two months free from work feels like a luxury that we should not indulge. And so a lot of us work, not because we really need to, but because we’re surrounded by people who work too much and who place too much value on it. In short, we’d feel guilty if we took this time for ourselves, so we don’t.

You can see this guilt in the explanations teachers give for why they’ll be working this summer. People only go out of their way to explain their actions this much when they’re worried about what others think, and we teachers are forever trying to convince non-educators that hey, we work summers too! We’re essentially saying, “Look! We’re just as foolish as the rest of you!”

As teachers, we also suffer from the feeling that we can never do enough. This guilt follows us around like a new puppy and it’s reinforced almost daily. There is rarely a lesson that goes perfectly; some student always needs more help. No matter how much time we put in, we could always put in more to make the lesson, or the bulletin board, or the student materials just a bit better. With new research and new technologies and new instructional methods, there’s always more for us to learn.

Another book to read.

Another conference to attend.

Another Twitter chat to join.

Given all we don’t know and can’t yet do as well as we would like to, how can we justify taking two months off every year?

I don’t know. But I do know that other professionals don’t feel the same way. They don’t feel the need to justify their perks. CEOs rarely bother trying to convince non-CEOs that they’re actually worth the outrageous amounts of money they’re paid. Business execs feel no shame over their season tickets and access to the company luxury box. Doctors don’t feel bad about their summer cottages.

Let’s call time away from the job what it is: a perk. And let’s stop apologizing for it. Let’s stop being guilted into giving it away. Instead, let’s embrace it.

The next time a non-educator tries to make you feel guilty for having two months off by asking, “So, what are you going to do with all that time?” smile and say, “As little as possible. It’s great!” Then tell him, “I hear there’s a teacher shortage. You should become one!”

Instead of videos of guilted teachers talking about how many classes they’ll be taking, or the curriculum they’ll be writing, or the lessons they’ll be planning, I’d much rather see a string of videos of teachers explaining how they will be taking the summer for themselves and their families. I’d rather see them proudly doing nothing on a beach, or visiting national parks with their kids, or catching up on their favorite Netflix shows while eating a giant bucket of popcorn.

And they shouldn’t feel the need to justify or apologize for any of it.




I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort starts in July, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to join!

4 Replies to “Teachers Should Not Feel Guilty About Taking The Summer Off”

  1. I’ve never felt guilty about having summers off. Some years I’ve taught summer school and some years I take the summer off. This year I’m off. I tell people I’m doing like they do in Europe: Allowing people the freedom to enjoy their own, free time.

    I recall listening recently to a teacher interviewed on NPR talk about her school district changing to a 4-day school week. Apparently she felt she had to let everyone know that she uses that extra day off during the week to go into the building to work on her lesson preparations, grading, etc, even though students were getting the same amount of instructional time.

    You don’t hear about nurses, for example, who will choose to do 3-day or 4-day work weeks (hours still being the same as a 5-day work week) but having to justify having more days off by saying they nonetheless return to the hospital on that extra day or two off to check on patients or do some catch-up charting.

    I love my time off. I have lots of outside interests that I can really focus on and enjoy. I come back to the school year refreshed.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree that teachers should embrace their summer break! I find that it’s the only way to catch up on personal interests and refresh myself after dedicating 10 months to teaching. Balance and rest do not indicate a lack of dedication, but rather a wise investment towards physical and mental health.

  3. I just now watched the video clip of those teachers feeling they have to justify their “summers off” by saying they’re actually behind-the-scenes still teaching, taking classes, working on lesson plans, curriculum, etc.

    Teachers! You got a break! Use it! You don’t have to justify your summers off by working. Enjoy the break you’ve earned and have been offered to you to do what you want with it. Think like a European! And don’t feel guilty about it.

  4. I haven’t worked during the summers since my 2nd or 3rd year of teaching (just finished 22!). I even stopped feeling guilty about not getting to all the things I thought I might. If I do, I pleasantly surprise myself :). I can’t imagine being on a non-academic schedule and you’ll never hear me justifying my summer off!

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