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Mindset & Motivation, Truth for Teachers Collective   |   Jul 10, 2022

How to rest & recharge as a teacher when you have a summer job

By Erika Walther

5th Grade ELA

How to rest & recharge as a teacher when you have a summer job

By Erika Walther

My first-year teaching let’s just say I learned as much about money as I did about education.

I was not prepared for budgeting a 10-month salary over 12 months. I was a young professional at 23, still learning how to budget for myself. The school district I work for allows teachers to have their salary split over 22 or 26 pay periods throughout the year after their first year, but that makes budgeting for the first year all the trickier.

I did the best I could with the knowledge I had at the time. I learned to track my expenses, and even figure out how much I could realistically afford to save each month. However, by March I started to think ahead to the summer months. I would have no income coming in during those months and no idea what kind of temporary work I could do to make ends meet.

That first summer, I ended up working two jobs. I worked a summer school program in the mornings, and I drove for a rideshare company during the afternoons/weekends. It was a difficult summer, and I did not feel completely prepared for the next school year. I felt I hadn’t had an actual “reset” from the year before. I felt exhaustion set in earlier that second school year. I made it through that year, but I also knew what I needed to do differently in the summers ahead.

Many early-career teachers cannot financially afford to “take off” for the summer months. Many more teachers have children and family members to care for who will still need full-time care during the summer months. However, teaching is a career that by design requires frequent recharging for both physical and mental wellbeing. The cost of emotional labor will sneak up on you one way or another, whether you start to notice more health problems than usual or start to struggle with your mental health more than years prior. To avoid this contributor to burnout, it is crucial that teachers know their limits and have strategies prepared to rest and recharge.

Whether you teach for 10 months with 2 months of summer break or teach in a year-round school with shorter, more frequent breaks throughout the year, the tips below will help you plan for making sure you are rejuvenated at the start of every school year, ready for each new challenge ahead.

Tip #1: Budget based on your needs

Making sure your finances are in order regardless of whether you need to work through your summer reduces the overall stress and pressure that you could feel during those off-contract weeks. Evaluate and adjust your budget every year as your income and expenses change. I use an excel spreadsheet that I’ve been adjusting for the past seven years as I’ve learned to budget better over time.

Make sure your budget matches where you are in your teaching career. Early career teachers have different financial needs than those who are 10-15 years in. If you are in the first five years of your career, you will want to see what financial services your district and/or teacher’s union offer and take advantage of those services. Many districts have partnerships with financial planning services and as a result, can offer teachers many services for free or low-cost.

Take advantage of pay-all year options as soon as you qualify if you can do so. This will take your salary and split it across 12 months so that you receive a regular paycheck during the summer months. This does mean your checks will be slightly smaller than they would be over 10 months, but if you can adjust to the difference in your monthly budget, the peace of mind is well worth it. Even if you still must work during the summers with year-round pay to make ends meet, knowing you will have consistent income coming in will give you more options when it comes to budgeting any additional income you earn during your off-contract months.

While I’ve had to work most of my summers for the past ten years, having a reliable budget takes a lot of the anxiety and uncertainty away when it comes to summer finances. I have a separate budget for the summer months when I spend my money differently than during the school year. This helps me stay on track when my earnings might be higher (or lower) than expected.

Tip #2: Apply for your job early and choose it carefully

Decide on what job you will hold during the summer as early as possible. The last weeks of the school year are stressful enough. Worrying about how you will pay your bills is not an added stress you need during this or any time of year! If you are looking for summer work, I recommend starting your search by March/April at the latest, depending on when your summer vacation begins. Choosing the right summer work for you is half of the process of making sure you can build in time for rest and rejuvenation.

Narrow down your options by availability and earning potential. Summer school often requires less face time with students and therefore less prep time on your part, making it a great choice for many teachers looking for summer income. The hours are typically shorter than the traditional school day, which makes it great for newer teachers or teachers with families and young children to care for.

If teaching during the summer isn’t what you are looking for, per diem positions in the corporate world are ideal for teachers since you can often choose the days you would like to work, based on the company’s demand. Curriculum companies love to hire teachers for professional development delivery. Colleges and universities also often hire teachers as adjunct professors since we are experts in internalizing and delivering content. Tech companies are known to hire teachers for trainings, presentations, and even sales! Know that you have options and a skillset that is more flexible than you might think.

#3 Plan to relax (don’t just hope it happens if there’s time!)

Once you know what your summer schedule and budget are going to look like, you can then move on to planning for ways to sneak in that crucial rest and relaxation time. While planning this out might seem strange at first, it is important to decide ahead of time how you are going to recharge your own batteries and keep your spirit-filled. This is more than just self-care. This is a deliberate decision to choose yourself and something that brings YOU happiness each day. This will remind you throughout the year that joy is not something to look forward to, but a state of mind to maintain full time.

You will want to decide on daily, weekly, and monthly re-charging activities. I recommend making your own list or choosing from the lists below and posting your list somewhere you will see it every day (perhaps somewhere in your kitchen or set reminders in your phone).

Ideas for daily restorative practices

This should be something you can accomplish in 10 minutes or less but spend more time on if you choose to. The key is to choose something that you enjoy, to remind yourself that you deserve to feel joy daily. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • mindfulness meditation
  • take a brisk walk
  • coloring pages
  • make yourself a quick but nourishing meal or treat
  • care for a plant
  • write in a journal

Ideas for weekly restorative practices

This should be a hobby that you can carve out an hour or so for throughout the week or on the weekends. Whether that hour is all at once or spread out throughout the week depends on your schedule and family needs. The point of a weekly activity is to make time for something with a product that you will see progress in immediately and be able to enjoy for a long time to come.

  • tending to a garden/yard work
  • DIY project in your home
  • working on a side business
  • writing for a blog/website about a topic you love
  • take a longer walk or hike in a park
  • start a new exercise program you are excited about (yoga, rock climbing, kickboxing, martial arts, dance, etc.)

Ideas for monthly restorative practices

This should be something that you deliberately plan for ahead of time at the beginning of the month. You are planning for a day that involves you and your family or friends having FUN! There is no pressure to go all-out on these activities, go with what works for your family, schedule, and budget.

  • day/weekend trip to the beach/lake/camping
  • sight-seeing at local museums/zoos/aquariums
  • sporting events
  • festivals/concerts

Tip #4: Reflect on what’s working and set intentions

To make sure one school year doesn’t meld into the next, it is important to take time to reflect on the year prior and set intention for the year ahead. This isn’t something you need to spend a lot of time on, an hour or so of time set aside for this process is fine. Some teachers spend an afternoon or even a day reflecting, journaling, and setting intentions for their school year coming up. You can do this work at any time during the summer, it does not matter if it’s at the beginning of your break, in the middle, or toward the end. The process is simple. Choose a medium to capture your thoughts (journal, word document, vision board, collage, etc.). Once you have your medium, ask yourself the following questions and give yourself ample time to respond to each one thoroughly:

  1. What was your biggest success this past school year? To what do you attribute that success?
  2. Describe your favorite lesson that you taught last year in 10 words or less. What made that lesson amazing?
  3. What was the hardest piece of feedback you received this year? How will you put that feedback into practice next school year?
  4. How do you feel about your previous school year? Explain as much or as little as you need to.
  5. How do you feel looking ahead to next school year? Explain one thing you are looking forward to and one thing you are apprehensive about.

These questions are intended to give you time to reflect honestly and candidly for yourself. By engaging in this activity in writing, you can get those feelings out, positive, negative, or a mix of the two. You don’t want to assign judgment to your responses. Just get them out of your mind and onto paper or computer screens. Once they are written down, acknowledge them as your true experience of the last year and your honest expectations for the year ahead. Once you have a good handle on your feelings toward your work, you can make decisions as needed to improve your outlook.

While you may or may not be able to look forward to a true summer “off”, there are ways to make sure you can recharge your mind and body for the work ahead. These ideas are simple and don’t require a huge time commitment (unless you want them to!). I’m confident you can incorporate these strategies into your schedule for an intentional, restful, and energizing summer ahead.

Erika Walther

5th Grade ELA

Erika Walther has worked for Baltimore City Public Schools since 2012. While working as a case manager for youth in the juvenile justice system, Erika realized that relationships between students and their school communities were a major indicator for student...
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