As one who has lived most of his life on the academic calendar, I appreciate and savor the healing gift of summer. It’s not even the specific of summer so much as the connected quilt of unplanned days. Something gentle happens in my mind when I have several unplanned days ahead of me. I have come to need and love the chance to step away from my job as a high school English teacher for over two months. It doesn’t hurt that this comes in summer, a season whose warmth and lush green I also love.
It takes a couple of weeks of unplanned days before my mind begins to “power down” from the details and plans it needs to hold during the school year. But once that initial settling takes place, I discover a deep well of creativity in which I can write, read, run, play guitar, drum, and sometimes simply sit and look out the window. I need to do more of these things during the school year, for certain. But when the rhythm of my life changes and I can slip into this place, good things happen inside me.
I am keenly aware of the privilege that offers this time. I am paid enough that I don’t really need to work another job in the summer. My life has come together in such a way that I rely on this time. I know everyone doesn’t get it and I wish they could. I am grateful for it and savor it. Some say teachers need the time away because teaching is so demanding. In part, that’s true. But teaching isn’t working on a hot roof every day in the summer. Teaching isn’t road construction in humid Washington, D.C. I know I work hard during the school year. But I also know that others have far more difficult jobs than I.
During the school year, I am constantly reviewing my readiness for teaching: Is my main objective clear for the next class? Do I have the materials I need for that class? How will I ask the questions I need to ask the class? What student(s) do I need to pay particular attention to today? Will my plan work in the allotted time for this class? What will I cut if I end up with less time than expected? These are just a few questions that swim through my mind as a teacher of many years.
But once the details of the school year begin to fade away, I am able to sit in quiet to read and relish new authors. I’ve read more this summer than most other summers and I’m a serious reader. African fiction was my gig this summer and I love it. I am also able to write, read my drafts aloud, revise, and read aloud more. I am able to start poems, save the drafts, and return to them after a couple of errands. This kind of pace is impossible to find during the school year. I wonder if I could find ways to practice it more during the school year. I will try.
The unclaimed time that summer gives me offers a kind of healing. It is slow and sometimes imperceptible. But sometimes, late in the summer, like today, August 1st, I can tell I am calm, peaceful, and eager in ways I am not when the school year has just ended. My insides swirl frenetically on the first day of June. Today, the first day of August, they are much more slow, smooth, peaceful, and creative.
Eventually, I will be excited about the new school year and I will be eager to think about the ways I’ll teach better. But not quite yet. I still have a few weeks of August to enjoy. I will hold it gently and let it do its healing work.
Photograph: I took this earlier in the summer near Pulpit Rock in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.