Teachers, Summer & Always Learning
Have you ever asked a teacher what he or she does during the summer?
Some of them take it easy and take a vacation. Some don’t.
In the summer of 1997—20 years ago—I had quite the eventful experience. I was a social studies teacher and as usual during the summer months, I was working in my dad’s construction business.
I always told people that in the summer I needed some extra pay and my dad often needed the extra help, so it worked out well.
Teachers get a decent salary but it doesn’t make them wealthy. As a result, a teacher may take on work that has nothing to do with his or her instructional responsibilities. One of my education professors said when he was a classroom teacher he used to take on additional jobs to, in his words, “support my teaching habit.”
But in the summer of 1997, in addition to construction work, I was also taking a journalism class at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.
I was living in Poplar Bluff, Mo., about 80 miles to the north of Jonesboro. My dad’s business was in Corning, in Northeast Arkansas, between Poplar Bluff and Jonesboro.
Each day I drove down to Jonesboro for class, and then hurried back up to Poplar Bluff, where I could work with Dad’s crew on a job site each afternoon.
When I got done with the summer term at Arkansas State, I told Dad I could work all day long every day, instead of just the afternoons.
“Where is the job site going to be?” I asked.
“Jonesboro!” was my dad’s reply.
So I spent the rest of the summer driving south to Jonesboro for work, just as I had been doing all along to attend class.
In my journal at the end of the summer I simply wrote, “I went to summer school at Arkansas State. Also did construction work. Had a blast. I am now certified to teach journalism and social studies.”
Because of the journalism class and because of where I lived and because of the location of the job sites, the summer of 1997 was one in which I burned up the highway in Arkansas and Missouri.
But to keep from driving like mad every day, I kept a bag packed. There were times when I slept at my house in Poplar Bluff. At other times I slept in Corning at my parents’ place. Sometimes I slept at a friend’s in Jonesboro.
Funny how some things change your life. Since that summer, for the last 20 years, I have a habit of keeping a small bag packed in case I need to stay somewhere else on the spur of the moment. I rarely do, but it is also rare that I can’t because I don’t have toiletries and a change of clothes.
It’s like 1997 made me as prepared as a Boy Scout.
The summer of 1997 was also important because I was able to make new friends via the journalism class. It’s amazing how meeting new people and building new relationships can enrich and broaden one’s perspective.
And while I learned much in an academic sense in the classroom, I also learned a lot in a practical sense by working alongside the construction workers each day.
The conversations in class and the conversations on the job site—as you might imagine—were very different, but both settings provided an opportunity to grow.
To this day, even though I have five college degrees, I know I would benefit greatly by spending a day on a construction site.
People know things. And people from different walks of life know things that I don’t know.
The summer experience in 1997 reminded me that schools and classrooms don’t have a monopoly on knowledge; there is simply much to learn from people everywhere.
In addition, the brutal summer heat in 1997 served as my annual reminder that teaching inside and out of the elements wasn’t a bad arrangement at all.
I used to tell people that in May I was glad to get out of my classroom and work with the construction crew, but by August I was ready to get back to teaching, and back to the air conditioning.
By the end of summer in 1997, I was drained and tanned and ready for a change. For several weeks I had been a student, a road warrior, and a construction worker, and the entire experience had helped clear my mind. It felt good to return to the classroom and help young people prepare for their future. DAVID WILSON, EDD, IS A WRITER, CONSULTANT AND PRESENTER, WHO GREW UP IN ARKANSAS BUT WORKED 27 YEARS IN EDUCATION IN MISSOURI. HE NOW LIVES IN SPRINGDALE. YOU MAY E-MAIL HIM AT DWNOTES@HOTMAIL.COM.