Sunday, 2 August 2009

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

Finnish teachers are spoiled with an unusually long summer break - this year for me a blissful 11 weeks! Frequently, a cause for a lot of envy, too. Watching non-teacher friends frantically perfect a tight schedule not to miss a minute of their precious 4-week holiday, I usually avoid talking about the length of my holiday. In summer, I wouldn't dream of revealing my profession to any strangers either. But should I really feel guilty that I can allow myself apparent non-busy days in summer?

Creative idleness

The truth is that to be able to give and inspire again in the new school year, you simply need to detach yourself and get inspired in turn. Creative idleness is what we need after the hectic and tightly scheduled school year. True, some colleagues spend a week or two in June going back to school to organize all the papers that have piled up in the rush of the year, plus go back a week or two early to start planning and preparing for the new year. Not me. I am like a horse in spring let out in a field for the first time, ecstatically galloping away, mane flowing wildly in the wind, without once looking back to the stable. Leaving the school building behind on graduation day, I won't go anywhere near it until the first day of autumn term, unless it's an absolute emergency! Summer is MY time, to do what I please with, when I please, to devote time and energy on myself, my family and my friends.

It's an eternal wisdom. "Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop", said Ovid in ancient Rome. Teachers in the last week of spring term look like wilted flowers or arid ground that has been drained out of all nutrients to be able to sustain any new growth. Their body and mind are in dire need of rest and replenishment to be able give birth to new ideas again. What to outsiders may look like laziness (a teacher lying in a hammock in the sun all day!) is actually a busy day for our brain. A bit like defragmenting the hard drive on your computer - time-consuming but essential. Summer is the time to reflect on the past school year to redevelop and refresh your approaches and practices and to find a balance in life again.

A very Finnish phenomenon is the summer cottage culture. People run away from the hustle and bustle of working life to a remote cottage by the sea or a lake to indulge in a primitive existence, filled with manual work to maintain the cottage and its surroundings. I try to spend at least some time at my brother's cottage every summer. No electricity, no computer, even mobile phone connections are unreliable. All you need is a pile of good books to keep you company while you sit on the jetty with no other disturbance than the occasional water bird or insect and the sound of the gently lapping water of the lake. Excellent revival for body and soul!

In fact, any nature-oriented activity, whether it is picking berries in our vast forests, sailing in the beautiful archipelago off my town, digging in their garden or cycling, is popular among Finnish teachers, or Finns in general. Whenever possible, I abandoned the car this summer and got from place to place on my faithful, red companion. Apart from keeping you fit both physically and mentally, also good for the environment - and your finances! A lot of these activities also bring instant, visible results, which often are rather elusive in teaching.

Personal and professional development

Of course, the long summer break also allows time for studies. According to statistics, in Finland teachers are among the keenest participants in all sorts of summer courses, professional or recreational. Or they catch up with the reading they have collected during the busy year that left no time for it. For me, summer is a good time to learn online. This year, for example, I have collected an array of valuable links for use in the classroom, thanks to twitter and other social networks. I have also read innumerable articles and blog posts, which have given me a lot of new insights that I will write about in another post soon. As for books, my summer reading mainly consists of escapist fiction. No need for early morning alarms, which makes my days very flexible. If I happen to come across a real page turner I can happily read through all the light nightless night, and sleep in the next day. Rare luxury during the school year and food for your imagination!

Travelling and cultural pursuits

Alternatively, many teachers widen their horizons by travelling near and far, or taking part in many cultural events. Finnish summer is overflowing with festival galore, even in the tiniest villages! Teachers typically flock to these. One of my summer highlights in my town was the Baltic Tall Ships races with fascinating old ships a week ago. Next week I will travel to England for some days to visit family and friends plus stay in touch with the language I teach. All this is not only entertaining, but also gives ideas for many lessons. A constantly inquisitive mind is the trademark of many teachers.

Compared to teacher colleagues in many other countries, who teach summer school or only have very short holidays, we seem to have it incredibly easy here. I sometimes think that here in northern Europe we simply need to go crazy over the short and light summer to cope with the close to 6 months of cold and dark winter ahead.

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