School’s Out, for Summer!

Pavitra Rao

cover-story1“In the summer time…,” a song blasts from the radio, while you start your day leisurely, sitting down with a hot cup of coffee in your hand, reading the newspaper to catch up on your daily dose of the news. The paper is filled with ads promoting various summer camps with activities for the ‘new age’ children. “Children don’t spend their vacations with their grannies or aunts anymore,” you wonder! Today it’s all about what new skills we are enabling our children to develop so as to help them become more efficient and productive in their day to day life. We want them to become smarter and brighter… with summer camps for everything from swimming to Vedic mathematics, the ever-growing pressure on children to outperform their fellow mates makes summer time the busiest for not only children but their parents too – dropping off and picking up their wards from one summer camp or another!

But teachers? For teachers, this long break used to be, and mostly is, the wonderfully relaxing time away from hectic schedules at school, the hustle bustle of the classrooms, corridors, canteens, auditoriums and playgrounds. It’s when they can sit back, toss their feet in the air and spend two months of vacation time all to themselves. There is no rush to get to school on time or the pressure of completing the portions or the syllabus, organizing sports meets or rehearsing for the school plays or setting question papers or correcting answer sheets and getting report cards ready. A time away from chalk pieces, blackboards and red pens!

The question that crops up at this point is – Has the meaning of summer vacations changed for teachers as much as it has for children? Do teachers also feel pressurized to be occupied with something constructive during this time? Or do they still enjoy the traditional way of spending vacations?

A time to recharge
“Vacations are a time for me to get back to doing a lot of things I don’t fi nd time for during school months. It is a time to recharge my batteries,” says Mahalakshmi Iyer, a teacher at Atul Vidyalaya, Gujarat. “On working days even though you are home by 4 pm, you are generally carrying school work back home. And along with that there are the daily household chores which need to be done,” says Geeta, a teacher from Hyderabad, who has a good reason to welcome summer vacations. “This is the time I can catch up on my sleep and actually wake up late,” she says. “At least for two months I don’t have to worry even if I oversleep. There is no fear of reaching school late and setting a bad example for my students.” Like Geeta and Mahalakshmi, for most teachers vacation is the time to clear their sleep debts besides finding time to do other things of interest.

Many take this time to travel and visit family and friends in other cities. “I am going to Jamshedpur to visit my parents and friends this summer. I don’t get to see or meet them all year, as I am busy with school. Summer vacations are the best time for me to catch up with them,” says Sonja Dutta, a teacher at Vidyaranya High School, Hyderabad. “From there I am going on a short vacation to the forests on the borders of Bhutan and West Bengal”. Visiting and exploring new places, its people and culture, the arts and craft also vastly interest her. She not only enriches her own knowledge of these new places but also shares these experiences with her students while teaching, making the subject as thrilling and exciting as possible for them.

All of us need a vacation to rejuvenate and rediscover ourselves. For a teacher who has been continuously talking in the classroom and been busy with school work throughout the year, summer vacations become a necessary time for catching up on some serious reading, which not only helps them relax but at the same time enriches them with the knowledge needed to guide their students. Sandhya Siddharth from Bangalore says, “I spend time peacefully reading books and listening to music during my two-month vacation. Reading and music helps me create some mental space for myself. It also gives me the freedom to expand my imagination, reflect and even dream!”

Some teachers, though, fi nd teaching so exciting that they teach at summer camps during the vacations!

Hardly a breather!
For some, however, vacation time is no breather from the hectic planning for the next academic year. Manju Gupta, Principal, Pallavi Model School, Hyderabad says, “Being the principal, I work through the holidays. I have to plan for the next academic year. I take just two weeks off. When school reopens in June, I am excited as I get to share and implement all the ideas I thought of during the summer for the academic year.” She is quite excited about a hand book she is planning for her teachers. “It will be a really useful gift to my teachers as it will have tips and suggestions about how to manage the first day of the academic year, how they can break the ice with new children and what they can expect during the year.”

“Holidays are days for getting away from the regular routine and fi nding time for planning, thinking, reading and relaxing,” says S. Sundaram, Principal of Atul Vidyalaya, Gujarat. “As a Principal, however, I cannot take a full summer vacation. There are urgent matters like teacher recruitment, repairs and maintenance works to be attended to in the school. The Board results usually come out around the third week of May and we get busy with admission procedures to Class 11 and other classes,” he says.

Simple pleasures
Whatever our individual ideas of what a summer vacation is or should consist of, it is still, for most of us, just about having the time for simple things like an early morning walk, yoga, crosswords, Sudoku, experimenting in the kitchen with new recipes, catching up on TV programmes and the latest movies. All these give us great joy and satisfaction, but we tend to put off not doing them during regular work days with the universal excuse – “I have no time!”

Vacation is all about taking it easy and doing things as they come. “I don’t plan my vacations. I take it as it comes. Sometimes I have children coming over to learn painting, sometimes I go to summer camps to teach budding artists,” says Jhanavi, art teacher at Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Hyderabad. The one thing that Jhanavi does try to do every summer is to paint. “I love to paint and that is something I find time for only during vacations. I can begin and complete a painting with out interruptions,” she says. As she points out, when something is important enough, one learns to manage time and make time to do it, even during the regular schedule of things.

hyacinta Most teachers recall that their memorable summer vacations are those they spend at home with the family. It is the time they laze around and allow life to take them where it will. “The most memorable vacation for me was the time my family and I visited a hill station and just spent time with each other,” says Vijaya; another Art and Crafts teacher. Jyothi Raghu, an Economics teacher from Bangalore, says, “The summer of 2005 was my most memorable as I dedicated those months to updating my personal book collection. I spent hours in bookstores doing what I enjoy most – reading!”

A changing outlook?
Coming back to our question in the beginning – do teachers feel pressurized to keep pace with the new age world during summer vacations just like their students? The answer to that lies in the fact that some teachers prefer taking courses during the summer which gives them a chance to improve their skills, advance careers or just keep pace with their students. And while these professional developments courses are offered throughout the school year as well, summer schedules are less hectic, giving many teachers more time to update themselves with the knowledge that will empower them to help students and themselves perform better. “This summer I am going to attend an art teacher’s workshop in Chennai,” says Jhanavi. “Teachers have to undergo continuous professional training. Teaching is not a cakewalk, it requires constant upgradation of one’s skills and a 24×7 involvement and commitment on our part,” says Mahalaxmi. “I am planning on completing my PhD this year. This summer vacation I will get the time to focus on my research and projects at hand,” says Sheela Prasad, Science teacher, Mahila Seva Samaja, Bangalore. Some even tend to make vacations busier than regular work days, because they would like to try their hand at doing the different things they don’t find time for during the rest of the year.

There is much debate these days about how long summer vacations should be, when they should start, when they should end and whether one should have summer vacations at all! With schools pushing for special classes for higher class students during vacation time, it not only eats into the holiday spirit of the students but also of the teachers. Irrespective of how long these vacations are, the next time one hears the words ‘summer vacation’, think not only about what students will be doing to keep busy but what teachers will be doing too! And note: no matter how much a teacher enjoys his or her time away from school during vacation, she is twice as excited to get back to school, to see and interact with their students and to be amongst all that noise and planned chaos. The prospect of going back to what they love doing the most – teaching – is just as enjoyable as any summer vacation!

Summertime pastimes

cover-story2 Want to spend this summer vacation doing something out of the routine yet not too strenuous or time consuming? Try some of these ideas:

  • Revamp your home. Be your own interior designer. Small changes like resetting the furniture in the living room, adding a painting to your bedrooms or bringing in some indoor plants will surely liven up the place and give you a sense of doing something differently.
  • Join a cookery class to learn a new cuisine. Lots of places offer short three to five day courses. Surely you will find one in your city or town.
  • Rediscover your own city/town. Everyday there is something new – a new art gallery, a new restaurant, a new store or a mall or a handicrafts exhibition. Plan your vacation to explore these places, so that next time you can discuss this with your students and connect with them on subjects that would interest them. Or be the one to suggest these new places of discovery to your friends and colleagues when you get back to school!
  • Try your hand at candle making. Candle making kits are readily available in the market. You can get creative with the shapes, fragrances, colours, etc. This not only works out as a great decorative piece at home but also a good gift item for various occasions.
  • Stitch kits are a great way to keep busy during the holidays. They are so easy to do that anyone can do it. Just follow the instructions and become an artist overnight! These pictures make great wall hangings. Plus you have the great satisfaction of doing it yourself!

The author is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad. She can be reached at rao.pavitra@gmail.com.