06/01/2015 05:17 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2016

Summer Vacation, Teacher Style

Summer... the time of year that everyone awaits with monumental anticipation. It always seems like light years away, and yet when it arrives everyone wonders how nine months went by so quickly. Vacations are planned, play dates arranged, summer camps registered, and library books checked out. It's finally time to catch our breath and recharge.

From the first day I accepted the esteemed title of educator, I recall taking the hits from my peers and family members who were unable to take advantage of the same summer vacation schedule I inherited. "You are SOOO lucky to only get paid to work nine months each year!" "You have the cushiest job of all with so much time off!" "If I could only enjoy the same extended vacation you lucky duck!" It was always after these comments that I would smile and... hold my tongue.

Well, I have held my tongue long enough. This year, in honor of the outstanding teachers I work with and skilled educators around the world, I am going to be fully transparent and offer a surprising confession. In an effort to clear up any longstanding misconceptions you may have, here is the highly confidential list of what many teachers typically engage in over those "long, lazy, hot summer months":

DEEP SUMMER CLEANING - That's right, we actually do find time to get that summer cleaning in over the summer, however just not in our own homes. Believe it or not, we teachers are taking stock of our own professional supplies and classrooms over the summer and making decisions about how best to use them with our students next year. Perhaps a set of class novels needs to be replaced, or furniture needs repairs. As a matter of fact, many of us will actually haul bins of binders, folders, books, posters, sticky notes, and materials home in an effort to make sure we are well prepared and resourced to receive our students in the fall.

BOOK READING - If you ask us to provide you with our summer reading list, many of the books may be unfamiliar to you if you don't work in the field of education. I have been so proud to work with teachers over the years who pride themselves in reading professional material over the summer months (in addition to more than a few pleasure reads, I might add). Daniel Pink, Sir Ken Robinson, Alfie Kohn, Susie Cain, Paul Tough, and Carol Dweck are more than likely positioned on more than a few bookshelves or bedside tables. Countless committed teachers around the world have been putting these aside for the past several months and waiting for the summer bell to ring, so we can read with professional abandon!

RENDEZVOUS WITH FRIENDS - If you had a smart GPS that could magically locate teachers, I have no doubt where you would find us during June, July, and August. You might actually pass by one of us as you are walking down a crowded street, sitting outside at the neighborhood cafe with a friend or two. You might even find delicious pastries and hot tea spread across the patio table, covered with a beautiful shaded umbrella. What you might not notice until you lean in, however, is the story behind this lovely date. These are actually colleagues, teachers from the same school, who are taking time out of their vacation to meet and plan for the upcoming year. They may be updating or revamping the curriculum, organizing student groups, creating new units of study, or planning exciting learning trips for the next year. Other places these savvy teachers might be found deep in planning mode include parks, dinner restaurants, beachfronts, libraries, and local bars. Be on the lookout!

EXCITING TRAVEL - The next time you happen to be on a plane or train during the summer and realize you're sitting next to a teacher, you might actually be surprised to learn that what appears to be idle play on their laptop is actually summer curriculum planning. I'm not asking you to aggressively spy or anything, but when he turns to gaze out the window, simply take a quick, subtle glance. Notice the organized spreadsheets, the copious notes, and the smiling faces of students. Trust me, this is not the exception! He is actually being proactive and guaranteeing that his preparation for the first day of classes doesn't wait until the week before students arrive. If you have an opportunity to speak to this very wise passenger, you might even discover that he is on his way to a professional conference! That's right, many teachers take advantage of growing professionally during the summer months, and will eagerly attend conferences, workshops, and institutes in an effort to make sure they remain fresh and innovative. We always tell our students that learning lasts a lifetime, and teachers certainly espouse to that. Even family summer trips without any professional agenda often turn out to be worthwhile. I can't tell you the number of teachers who return in August with photographs of playgrounds and museum displays they visited with their children and grandchildren. Educational pamphlets and brochures often flood my mailbox during those first weeks back as my colleagues share some of the exciting resources they picked up during their travels, in hopes it will inspire us as a school community.

SHOPPING SPREES - Did you ever bump into those people in July and August who are running like mad people throughout the stores, credit cards in hand, buying what appears to be everything in sight? Look closely in their shopping carts and you won't see bags of clothes, shoes, jewelry, or even housewares. These are actually teachers eager to begin purchasing their supplies for the classroom. Sharpie and Dry Erase markers, fabric rolls, dress up corner supplies, paperback novels, games, puzzles, and one thousand packs of Scotch tape. Try to ignore the look of panic in their eyes. They just realized that they ran out of the five cents pencil grip special on aisle two.

RELATIONSHIP BUILDING - Finally, summer is always a fine time to forge new friendships and bond with peers. This is most apparent in the life of an educator. As we have witnessed, the tides of change are ever present in schools, as new teams are created, roles shift, people retire, families move, and new journeys are taken. Summer is a chapter in our lives when everything slows down just enough to ease into some of these healthy, organic transitions and cultivate new relationships. School orientation meetings and get-togethers are often scheduled, and/or teaching teams might get their families together in an effort to create closer bonds with one another. As an administrator, I always find the summer months offer ideal regrouping moments for my admin team. We often are caught up with the daily work in our respective offices, so finding time to remind ourselves of our true purpose is always helpful. It is true what they say. The students keep us grounded.

And so, as your families head off on your summer adventures, don't forget to let a teacher know how lucky they are to have these three months of vacation time and how lucky WE are to have passionate, hard working educators like them in our lives. After all, the amount of work we will accomplish in that short period of time will impact more children than you know!