A Perfectly (un)Productive Summer

A few weeks ago, Bored Teachers, shared a post that read:

Credit: Bored Teachers

When I read the post, I immediately shared it, joking that I felt attacked, because I was actually taking a break from purging and organizing my kitchen when I saw it.

While most people focus on spring cleaning, for teachers, it’s often the summer purge. We will spend the summer deep cleaning and organizing our houses, completing DIY projects, and of course, preparing for the upcoming year.

For me, this summer has probably been the most productive summer I have had in terms of tackling personal and household projects. In the first month, I have purged, organized, and deep cleaned, more than half of my house, and for the first time ever, I have a strong sense that I might actually be able to clean and organize my whole house before the new school year starts.  While some may not think this is any great accomplishment, for me, it means fewer stress triggers I’m having to actively ignore during the chaos of the school year. It means that I will actually be able to file important papers as they come in instead of relegating them to a box to be dealt with later. It means that cleaning things and finding things will be easier for everyone in my house, which also means fewer battles. In essence, by focusing on my house this summer, I am investing in an easier school year for myself and my family.

But all of this has only been possible because of the one thing I am NOT doing this summer. I am NOT actively preparing for the upcoming school year.

Sure, I’ve jotted down ideas as they come to me and started a box of things to take to my classroom for the upcoming school year, but I have not set specific goals for planning or creating materials as I have every other summer of my teaching career. I used to think that spending time planning and creating during the summer was the investment I needed to make to ensure a less stressful school year, but it took me way too long to realize that it never actually worked. Instead, I’d enter the school year already mentally fatigued and frustrated by all the things I had not accomplished (despite all that I had). And more than once, after spending the summer planning for one course, I’d find out a week or two before school started that I was teaching another course I had not prepared for, or even an entirely different course than the one I had prepared for. I started to feel that I was wasting my time – wasting my summer – by trying so hard to prepare for the next year rather than resting and recuperating from the previous year. And this year, with a number of changes happening at my school for the upcoming year, I finally determined that spending my time planning with so many things still uncertain was not a valuable use of my summer break.

So instead, I turned my attention to my house, knowing that cleaning and purging would satisfy my need for control and order. I’ve also spent more time with my kids, instead of begging them to give me time to work, and this introverted mama has let her extroverted daughter’s social life fill her calendar with pool playdates and trips to the movie theater and bowling alley with friends. I got a tan, I read books, I took naps, and we planned mini-vacations and beach days.

In short, I’ve had the most productive summer ever because I finally stopped trying so hard to be productive.

And this doesn’t mean I’ll be any less prepared for the new school year. Maybe I won’t have that new project idea fully formulated, typed up, and ready to distribute, but I will be physically and mentally refreshed. I will be able to look at my materials with fresh eyes and new ideas – ideas born of rest and reflection, not stress. When I come home from a long day once the school year starts, my house will no longer be a reminder of all the things I still have to do and of the chaos of life because I have recovered some sense of order in it. And most importantly, my girls will remember summers as times of fun and adventure, not as long days of boredom while their mom sat worrying about how to be her best for other people’s kids.

To all my fellow teachers working so hard this summer to somehow ease the stress and strain of the upcoming school year: make sure you are taking more than just a little time for yourself. You work enough overtime during the school year.

Kelly Vollmer
Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged, and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 16 years and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (11) and Hannah (6), and 4 year-old pup named Ember. Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy, a proud fangirl, and she is a passionate high school English teacher.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here