4 Ways to Refresh Your Practice This Summer
By Marianna Ruggerio
As the school year winds down and summer approaches I inevitably find myself more excited about next year than what I need to plan next week. While students are in a flurry studying for AP exams and final exams, I have the rare gift of time to begin to wind down and decompress a bit. Cognitive science tells us that creativity flows when we allow ourselves to get bored. Perhaps proctoring state exams at the end of the school year comes at just the right time for us as we edge towards the burnout of another completed school year. Once the freedom of summer arrives, finding the right balance of boredom, rest and curiosity makes for the perfect cocktail for the months ahead. Here are four ways you can find that balance, rejuvenate your mind and refresh the joy in your craft.
The demands of the teaching profession are comparable to some of the most demanding professions. It is suggested that teachers make around 1500 decisions per school day. In addition we bear the emotional load of working with developing humans, often with limited resources, including time. For myself this rest consists of catching up on a school year’s worth of neglected tasks, plenty of screen-free time enjoying nature and quality time with my friends and family. I regularly cook large lunches rather than dinners so instead of wrapping up my day with grading, planning and cleaning I can spend my afternoons with an iced coffee and a book and my evenings outside under the stars.
R&R is supposed to stand for rest and relaxation, I prefer resting and reading! Did you make a list of books you heard were excellent but just didn’t get a chance to read during the school year? Now is the time to crack those open! Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics by Peter Lilijidahl has gained a large following in math and science classrooms alike for strategies that both push student thinking as well as collaboration. Ambitious Science Teaching discusses teaching science through the lens of equity and culturally responsive teaching. Not everyone wants to do classroom reading over the summer. Perhaps, instead, you take your reading in a different direction to hone your skills as a science communicator with Alan Alda’s If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Of course nothing makes us better teachers than simply learning more and enjoying our content. For a dive into the end of the universe that sounds like a conversation in a coffee shop with a friend pick up Katie Mack’s The End of Everything, Astrophysically Speaking.
Summer is filled with a slew of opportunities for professional development. Most of us opt for those provided by the district; often in exchange for continuing education credits or compensation. At the same time many of us will agree that the best opportunities are embedded in workshops and conferences actually dedicated to our craft. As excellent as these opportunities are, cost is always a concern. Often we make assumptions about what our schools or districts are willing to provide. If we never ask, the total amount we will receive is exactly $0. Ask with a plan in place. Administrators cannot be expected to comprehend the “return on investment” if we are not direct about our intentions and the return for the district. If your principal says no, ask the next level up. Particularly in large districts often there are complex funding systems with multiple budgets. If there is a person hired by your district who manages the grant funds consider reaching out to them as well! There might be unclaimed funding available that needs to be used within the next few months. If your district funds you, be sure to share back key points you gained from attending. Many programs themselves also offer various forms of assistance. For example the College Board will pay for a summer institute for teachers whose schools qualify. The American Association of Physics Teachers has multiple grants for their national meetings and this year has a new grant that will fully fund high school teachers who are attending for the first time.
How often during the school year do you ask or hear, “does anyone have something for this topic that I can use tomorrow in class?”. One of the biggest challenges during the 180 school days is that we hardly have time to reflect, play and create in a meaningful way. Play doesn’t necessarily have to mean playing with new toys for the lab or new sims from PhET. Play might mean messing around with a new recipe for the perfect shade of blueberry jam or the best sourdough bread or playing with paint, or a camera. Maybe play even looks like spending time steeped in the historical documents of the city or state you live in. The best part of our job as science teachers is that science is everywhere. In the process of play we might happen to discover something interesting to bring into our classrooms like how the time of a yeast rise contributes to the flavor of a bread or how the blackest black not only lead to an accident at an art exhibit but also a weird artist feud, or that Pluto is considered a planet by law in the state of Illinois.
Summer is the best time to strike the perfect balance between resting and recharging while also learning and growing. Then when the fall rolls in we can infuse new life into our classroom practice and find a new spark to push us forward into the year.
Marianna Ruggerio is the physics and AP physics teacher at Auburn High School within the Rockford Public School district in Rockford, IL. She has taught for 14 years and is active in leadership positions with the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) on both the local and national levels. She is also an adjunct for Rockford University where she has taught physics and education courses. She is a fellow and mentor with the University of Illinois Physics department High School teacher partnership program which seeks to provide teachers state-wide with access to high quality resources and mentorship for their physics classrooms. She was awarded Outstanding Physics Teacher of the Year through the Illinois Section of AAPT in 2021 and is a 2023 state finalist for the Presidential Award in for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master’s in Urban Education from Rockford University