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Summer vacation is over and not a moment too soon!


9 months agoSteemit7 min read

The first week of the new school year is in the books and it was an exciting and fun rollercoaster ride. The week was only 4 days long but it felt like two weeks. School starts at 9:00 AM but I was there at 6:00 AM every day and worked long past the end of the school day. The first week of school is such an important one and teachers need to be on their game. For me, that first week is so crucial. This is my opportunity to set the tone for the entire school year. This week can determine how your year might go. It is imperative that I am able to start building those relationships with my students from day one. These are the relationships that will build trust and hopefully lead to greater student success.


As I mentioned in my post earlier this week, I am in a unique and cool situation this year. Over half of the students in my grade 8 class are kids that were in a grade 2 class that I taught six years ago. To me, this is a really cool opportunity but it is one that has some pros and cons. The biggest advantage of this situation is that I already have relationships with many of these students and they know me very well. On the other hand, them knowing me so well could be something that I need to be careful with. First of all, they know me as a grade 2 teacher which is a different person than me as a grade 8 teacher. They will need to adjust to some of the differences in my teaching style which are mostly related to the fact that they are 13 years old and not 7 anymore. The age difference requires some different tools and teaching methods. The other issue that I can already see needing some management is that some of the kids are a little too comfortable with me. At no point have there been issues of respect or any problems and I feel that they know me well enough to make sure that doesn’t happen but there is certainly a sense that they feel like they might have more rope with me.

I really don't keep rope in my classroom
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My class this year is quite a diverse group with a wide range of abilities. I have some students who are at a very high academically and then I have several that require quite a bit of extra support. A big part of this first week is collecting information about my students and doing some diagnostic testing to get a sense of where we need to focus our attention going forward. This process is a fantastic tool for me and allows me to get a closer look at each of my students.

I have struggled over my years of teaching with how big the gaps are in the information retained by students from the previous year. Going through review material on concepts from the previous year can sometimes be a scary task. I can’t even begin to explain how often I go through what should be review material and the students have a blank stare on their faces. They literally don’t remember working on that concept the previous year. This is a common occurrence for so many students, even my strongest learners. Last year I had a math class who literally felt as though they had not been taught many of the concepts we were discussing during the review. Two months away from school for summer vacation and it feels like we are starting all over. If my strong students are having a hard time remembering concepts covered and retaining that knowledge then imagine how difficult a time some of my lower students and students with learning disabilities must be having.

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This problem has had me wishing that we could make a change to the way that the school calendar is organized. I personally feel that an 8 or 9 week summer vacation is too large a gap in the learning for our students. This is two months of time where the majority of kids are not doing very much at all to engage the mind. Why do we need a two month break anyway? I get that we need the break and that some time away from school is important. Kids need to have other things in their lives that are important and help to create well-rounded people but two months all at once? I have never quite understood it. I was once told that the two month summer vacation came to exist because of the needs of the agriculture industry. Back when farming was how a majority of families made an income it was said that kids would be out of school over the summer to help tend to the farms. I recently found out that this was a myth and actually, the story makes very little sense when you think of it.

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It’s commonly believed that school kids started taking summers off in the 19th century so they’d have time to work on the farm. Nice as that story is, it isn’t true…. Before the Civil War, farm kids never had summers off. They went to school during the hottest and coldest months and stayed home during the spring and fall, when crops needed to be planted and harvested.

The reality appears to rooted more in the issues with heat and the lack of air conditioning at the time. Bigger brick and mortar school became extremely hot during the summer months and it led to many families just deciding against sending their kids to school. With more and more kids missing school it was finally decided by administrators to turn the hot summer into a vacation time.

We have made advances in air-conditioning over the past 60 years.
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My solution to this problem would be moving to a full year schedule for schools. I don’t necessarily think that we should get rid of the breaks for students but rather, I think they should be spread out more throughout the year. Again, why do we need 2 months of straight vacation? Too many gaps in learning are being created and it is having a negative impact on our students. I would propose reducing the summer vacation to 4 or 5 weeks and then making the spring break two weeks instead of one and possibly adding a week in the fall. With these breaks being spread out throughout the year, the risk of lost learning will be reduced and students will retain more of the knowledge and learning.

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The issues of the past that are no longer a problem and many countries around the world have adopted a full year teaching schedule. In fact, there are several schools here in Ontario that have started to explore the full year schedule. There is a school in the same neighbourhood as the school where I teach that has been piloting a full year program for the past couple years and so far the feedback has been positive. Not only are they seeing improvement in student learning, parents are finding it much easier to manage vacations and time off from work.

There have been some rumblings that our school board want to try this out in some schools. If this is ever an opportunity at our school I will be over the moon excited. I think that there is so much potential to improve student learning and to foster a better learning environment. I have my fingers crossed that our school is chosen. I will certainly update you if there are any further developments.


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