Summer Recharge Fueled by Cleaning, Connecting

Like many teachers, I do my spring cleaning in the summer – literally and figuratively.

My springs are consumed with state standardized testing, Advanced Placement testing, National Honor Society induction, letters of recommendation, special education meetings and paperwork, field trips, research project presentations, materials requisitions, final exams, graduation and, of course, just teaching.

But during summer break, I clean my house. I clean my classroom. And I cleanse my mind of the worries, concerns and disappointments from the previous year.

Summer is the time to recharge mentally and physically. I read novels, plan curriculum, investigate those wonderful online educational resources I haven’t had time to look at during the school year, and take long walks to clear my mind and improve my neglected health.

Last week, I participated in one of my favorite renewal activities – West Virginia’s summer Advanced Placement Institute. The week-long session at Capitol High School in Charleston gave me the chance to reconnect with other AP English language teachers and colleagues. Our instructor, who taught AP for some 40 years in a small New Jersey High School, turned out to be my niece and nephew’s AP English teacher. (Talk about a small world!).

Sharing ideas and strategies, we demonstrated some of our most effective lessons, making copies or emailing everyone the requisite materials. One teacher described how she asks students to closely follow and write about both conservative and liberal columnists for a period of time as an introduction to rhetoric.

Other colleagues offered strategies for using visual rhetoric – cartoons, photographs, film, paintings, billboards, television ads and other visual means of persuasion. One shared an intriguing lesson involving a painting called “The Innocent Eye Test,” by Mark Tansey. Another demonstrated how to use American artist Edward Hopper’s work to help students learn rhetorical strategies. I shared my lesson based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a vulture stalking a starving African child. All demand close attention to tone, purpose, point of view and rhetorical appeals.

This year, like most years, I came home with boxes of materials donated by publishing companies, including a small class set of an AP literature text. I even picked up sample copies of AP history and government textbooks and additional literature and language resources for my Cameron colleagues. (Summer is also the time I scrounge in used book stores for my classes.)

In our daily sessions and even during meals shared with AP teachers from other disciplines, we commiserated over common concerns such as summer assignments (everyone does them), the caliber of our students (a noticeable waning of work ethic) and administrative support (athletics always trumps academics).

Meal times gave me another type of renewal – renewed hope and faith in the teaching profession. I shared meals with young professionals excited about excellent teaching practices. These technologically savvy teachers know how to reach our young clientele of digital natives. They are knowledgeable and passionate about the content. And they are willing and committed to working well beyond the old models of separate subjects in separate rooms with separate textbooks. I talked to young history teachers who insisted they couldn’t adequately teach history without using poetry and novels, and math teachers whose students write extensive learning journals. Like the young professionals in my own school, these teachers demonstrate that the future is in good hands.

Yes, I am rejuvenated and ready to embrace the coming school year. And contrary to what the poets say, summer is my season of renewal.

– Linda Shalaway is a National Board-certified teacher and author of “Learning to Teach … Not Just for Beginners” (Scholastic, 2005). She teaches at Cameron High School.