There are always a few education radicals running around the place claiming that we do not need summer vacation anymore. They cite the fact that we are no longer an agricultural society so we do not need summers off school in order to provide farm workers. They claim that parents work and that air conditioning makes year-round school more logical. STAVE OFF THIS CRAZYNESS, PLEASE.
After spending a summer with my ten-year-old in tow, I now realize what you have known all along: The person who needs a summer vacation from school is not you and not the kids. The one who needs summer vacation is me. Because I do not appreciate you nearly enough.
I admit it. During the in and out of the school year I let myself forget what a useful, steadfast, valiant job you do. I forget that I am not, in fact, one of those marvelous people who can home school. I forget that you don’t do babysitting. Anyone can babysit. Anyone can plop the kid down in front of a video game or make them stand in line at a camp. Here are the things summer vacation teaches me about you:
You tolerate the fact that they never go away. I don’t know if you noticed this, Teacher, but these kids never go away. They never stop talking. They need three meals a day, someone to play with and something to do all the time. There is not actually an on/off switch on my son’s back. I have checked. You are so organized that you have something useful for him to do that does not require even a minute of Zelda, Warrior Princess. Do you have any idea what an accomplishment that is? I do now.
You teach them things. Now that my son is in adult size shoes, the Sketcher’s Velcro trick of never tying a shoe is over. For the life of me, I cannot teach this kid to tie a shoe. “Don’t worry, Mom. Mrs. Taylor will teach me,” my rising fifth grader said kindly. Cuz Mrs. Taylor has taught him everything he knows. All summer long I have fielded questions from him about whether we are driving through the Piedmont or the coastal plain. He knows types of rocks and trees. The things you teach him stick in his head. The things I try to teach him—like the pleasures of brushing one’s teach twice a day—are much less useful and thus forgotten instantly.
You inspire them. All summer long I have been practically kneeling on my son’s chest to get him to read a book. I take the kid to a library or bookstore every week to try to get him to read or listen to a book on CD. This week the kid starts reading. “Mrs. Taylor says that if you don’t read all summer your brain will turn to mush,” he told me. Then he reads more in one afternoon than I have been able to get him to do all summer.
So I have learned the lesson of summer vacation, Teacher Dear. I need you. I can love this kid and teach him to respect adults and make him clear the table and empty the dishwasher. I can sing to him and catch fireflies and trot him to his grandparent’s house to make ice cream. And all that is fairly beautiful. But I need you, Teacher. My kids learn things from you that they could never learn from me. There is a touch of the miraculous in that— which is only revealed in the long hot days of summer.