The Dark Side of a Teacher’s Sunny Summer Vacation

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We’ve heard it all before…how lucky we are to be teachers.  We get so much time off. We don’t have to work over the summer….blah, blah, blah, blah.  

This post isn’t even about all the work we do over the summer to get ready for the next year.  That’s a whole other topic that I’m not even delving into right now.

What I want to talk about is something that not many teachers talk about to others (because they wouldn’t understand) and maybe a lot of teachers don’t even talk about it to each other (because we think we’re alone).

And I’d like to just see how many other teachers have experienced what I’m calling the “darker side” of our summer vacation.

This exploration started with a post in We are Teaching Well Facebook Group from a group member.  She eloquently stated something that I haven’t been able to quite explain as precisely before….

“I know we all feel some type of elation when the school year is over and our rooms are finally neatly packed away for the next school year, the summer break laid out before us like a buffet of possibilities. That is a great feeling. I would love to have a discussion about the flip side of that experience. While I am so happy that break has arrived, there is also an adjustment period for many of us. Personally, I feel rootless and at loose ends, not quite knowing exactly what to do with my life when it enters this less intense phase. I am happy to have a break, but I am also feeling something else as I let go of each school year.”

Have you ever felt that way at the end of the school year-rootless and at loose ends, not quite knowing exactly what to do with [your] life when it enters this less intense phase-and perhaps for some of us, feel this way all summer long?

I know I could relate to this feeling and so could many of the other group members, I reached out to some other teachers I work with and they too have felt this “darker side” of summer vacation.

It seems it’s not talked about because it’s hard to say to a non-teacher friend, “Wow I’m feeling a little off because I don’t have to work for 12 weeks.”  Or to a spouse, “I’m feeling a little down in the dumps because I don’t know what to do with myself all day.” Especially because both of these people may have been ones we confided in about how stressful our day-to-day job is.

But that’s precisely why this kind of dramatic shift happens.  We have been literally in the trenches of our job for nine months and then in a pretty quick instant…poof…it’s all over.  I don’t want to compare it to a war, per say, but the analogy is useful (and depending on our year it may have felt similarly to a war zone).

It might be a better fit to compare it to a race we’ve been training for or a surprise party we’ve been planning for a friend.  We have so much focus on that one thing and then it’s over in an instant. Our purpose and energy that was once consumed by this event is no longer needed.

So one thing that comforted me was knowing that I was not the only teacher who felt this way.  It didn’t mean I was ungrateful for the time off, that I didn’t appreciate having less of a schedule or wouldn’t find a way to spend my time, but it was a little uncomfortable at first.

And that was okay!  In fact it was good to just be with this uncomfortability.

As I’ve been exploring this “darker side” of summer vacation, I’ve been talking to teachers who shared these further frustrations about this time off…

  • I don’t know where to begin with the things that have been put off all school year.
  • I don’t know how to create a balance with more time.
  • I have goals but always get to the end of the summer and didn’t accomplish anything I intended to.
  • I don’t know how to just relax

As I’ve talked to more and more teachers, this is a consistent theme that not many people talk about and I just wanted to bring some awareness to it.  If you’re struggling with this darker side of your sunny summer vacation, you are not alone.

One consistent solution that I’ve heard is to have school year round.  Yes, that’s a solution, but not one that is going to be happening immediately.  So what’s a teacher to do at this time of year, given that we all want to make the most of our time off?

That will be the topic of our blog next week….what to actually do to make this transition smoother.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you about how you experience this time of year as a teacher and if you have any solutions for how to make a more natural transition between our school year and our summer break so that we can keep the darker side of our summer vacation as minimal as possible.

Leave a comment below or jump over to the We are Teaching Well Facebook Group to join in the conversation there.

If you want to jump right in with shedding some light on the darker side of summer, check out Teaching Well’s FREE COURSE 4 Simple Self-Care Solutions in Only Five Minutes a Day!


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21 thoughts on “The Dark Side of a Teacher’s Sunny Summer Vacation”

  1. Lisa Loschetter says:

    I am getting more into working on tetting training for meditation and teaching students (and admin) that it is valuable and almost vital to addressing the teacher shortage and the anxiety levels in our kids. The pressures keep getting greater and social media only makes them more disconnected and distracted. I feel there should be a movement for mental health wellness and this could be where to start. Ideas on how and where to get funding for this besides donorschoose.org etc. would be fabulous. Maybe a grant could be written. Many of my colleagues are on antidepressants and have been diagnosed with other health issues. The demands on teachers only grows, and the latest in AZ is suicide prevention. Most of us don’t feel equipped to enough to deal effectively with this topic, and a free training course is going to be implemented to educate us. I feel anything free is usually not too great. Instilling a proactive program to ease stress seems more effective.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with needing programs for teachers (and students) to help with stress and anxiety in the classroom (and in schools in general). I am completely onboard with a mental health revolution and feel that teachers can only help to fix our broken education system when we are empowered to actively take care of ourselves. We need to retrain ourselves to put the oxygen mask on ourselves FIRST, before we put them on our ANY ONE ELSE! Because if we don’t do that for ourselves, no one else will. For some immediate support check out We are Teaching Well

      I’ll also be adding some courses on our website within the next few months (in time for 2019 school year) that will address these very issues! Stay tuned!

  2. Pam Sitak says:

    OMG, so relieved to have found this! I struggle with this every summer but even more so since going through a separation and divorce.

    1. Danielle Nuhfer says:

      What has worked for you Pam?

    2. Jonathan says:

      Thank you VERY much for this piece. I suffer with this every summer for sure. This summer has been worse cause I got COVID on top of it. Fun times! Like I seriously don’t know how to relax and just “chill”. My mind and body is used to the performance of teaching and connecting with kids. There’s a level of high energy and focus that I dearly LOVE w/ teaching that just completely goes away once the year wraps up. It’s incredibly hard! My anxiety goes way up.

    3. Danielle Nuhfer says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Pam. In case you’re looking for solutions this summer…https://teachingwell.life/3-solutions-to-the-dark-side-of-summer-vacation/

  3. RLock says:

    I have searched and searched for other teachers who deal with the darker side of summers in teaching. Summer is nauseating for me. I feel like my “why” is always gone during this time. I am better when I am teaching. I understand the time for recovery and I know I need some recovery. But going from the fastest speed at the highest gear to almost stopping is gut-wrenching and dark. There are so many things I want to get done but cannot find the motivation, passion, desire, or energy to even begin. My body and mind become stuck! Stuck in a hamster wheel rut and I cannot get out. I want to overcome this but do not know-how.

    1. Danielle Nuhfer says:

      I’m so glad you found that others feel this way too! How are you preparing for this next break? How can you move into slowing down instead of just stopping completely when the summer comes? Recharging doesn’t need to be sitting still, it can be doing whatever you want it to be. What can be a challenge to focus on that can give you meaning in the summer time that you don’t have time for in the school year? I’d love to talk more. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to danielle@teachingwell.life

    2. Jonathan says:

      Thank you RLock!!! You are NOT alone in those feelings. The pain and struggle is absolutely real!!! Hang in there and I appreciate you!!

    3. Danielle Nuhfer says:

      You’re definitely not alone! Here are some solutions https://teachingwell.life/3-solutions-to-the-dark-side-of-summer-vacation/

  4. Steve Roland says:

    Wow, spot on…..

    I am currently headed into my 4th year of teaching, which I absolutely love the students, staff and administration. Previous to teaching I retired from police work after 20+ years. I was ready to retire and had an eye on the Law Enforcement Program/Career and Technical Education at our local ISD. The plan worked perfectly, the Law teacher had moved into an administrative role and I applied for the teaching position and subsequently hired. Never taught prior, retiring on a Friday and in the classroom on a Monday, 40+ new faces and whole new career. Overwhelmed? A complete understatement. The first two weeks were exciting, but I often thought, “What the heck did I do”. Fast forward, love it, wouldn’t change my career choice for the world. The administration is top shelf, as well as my fellow co-workers. Weekends off, holidays off, Spring Break and 10 weeks off in the summer. Geeze, I could reinvent the world.

    My first break was Thanksgiving, so we only had 5 days to unwind, refuel and get back at it. Christmas break, wow, 16 days off, I had so many plans, aspirations and mini projects to do and now would have the time to get them completed. Contrary to the developing thoughts, I didn’t get anything done, felt more anxious, less driven and somewhat depressed. As mentioned above, I would have felt like a bitter-selfish victim, complaining of the time off to my wife, parents or anyone else not associated with education. Spring Break brought the same, anxious feeling, guilt for not getting things done, lazy, loss of interest in hobbies sitting right in front of me. As the weather got nicer, I thought this would change as we headed into summer vacation. I didn’t, I felt the same way, got a couple things done, took boat out one time, no real excursions, just felt depressed.

    I did some sole searching and found that this had nothing to do with education, I love my job, love teaching. I feel it has everything to do with structure. As younger individuals need structure, in my opinion, so do adults. Now with school starting in 6 days, I have only completed 1/10th of what I originally planned. I did coach my son’s baseball team and my daughter’s softball team, so there was accountability structure there, however, when it was up to me to account for my out structure, it’s a complete failure.

    Next break, I’m going to come up with a concrete tree list of to-do’s. I have to parent there is a boss that will fire my ass if they are not completed and completed correctly and timely.

    We are truly blessed to be teachers, we do have extended periods of time off.

    The struggle is real and I have not discussed it with really anyone. I think it would be rude to do so. No one would really understand and you may get assaulted by approaching someone outside of education. I wouldn’t blame them either..

    Any help would be greatly appreciated..

    1. Danielle Nuhfer says:

      I hope that you found some relief as this school year has progressed, Richard! It sounds like you had a great plan going forward. I’d love to hear how things are going now. Concretely, what seems to help for me is to get away for a few days right when school is out and then ease into the rest of the break. I hope you’ve been finding some ways to get a routine and rhythm. I’d love to continue the conversation and see if I can support you in any way danielle@teachingwell.life

    2. Jonathan says:

      Steve – thank you SO much for your words!! They matter a lot to me and I 100% agree and share in your feelings and issues. Would love to connect and keep each other strong!!

      1. Danielle Nuhfer says:

        This might be helpful as the summer moves forward! Just know you’re not alone!!

        https://teachingwell.life/3-solutions-to-the-dark-side-of-summer-vacation/

  5. Maggie says:

    wow! thank you for posting this! I get sooo much anxiety near the end of the school year. I lose my appetite, I start losing weight, my anxiety just shoots up…! I “should” be happy but it’s like I have Stockholm Syndrome or something…lol.

    1. Jonathan says:

      Yes!!! I have experienced ridiculous anxiety this week and have literally lost 9 lbs!!! Not sure how the COVID affected that but I think it was a perfect storm, so to speak.

    2. Danielle Nuhfer says:

      Hope you’re feeling a little bit better now that the summer is progressing. Here are some solutions if you need them….https://teachingwell.life/3-solutions-to-the-dark-side-of-summer-vacation/

  6. Sarah Snyder says:

    I google searched for this exact topic today , to see if anyone else was feeling the same way. It is comforting knowing I’m not alone. We just got out on Wednesday and Ive taken two days to just nap and rest and mostly do nothing. I feel lost and without my purpose. I had a number of trips planned coming up so that will help I think , but these first few days I just feel like a loser. I guess I should allow myself to relax , but I also feel shame for doing nothing. I agree with another post on here that structure is important. I need a schedule just like my studets do , or I will be left lost.

    1. Danielle Nuhfer says:

      Hopefully you’ve given yourself some grace in these last few weeks. If you’re looking for any other solutions…this might help https://teachingwell.life/3-solutions-to-the-dark-side-of-summer-vacation/

  7. El says:

    I have taught for 30 years and have felt this every year. It usually hits me about one week i to vacation and lasts a week. This year my teacher load was lighter as an interventionist and I thought maybe I wouldn’t feel it this year. I was wrong. Luckily, it usually passes, especially if I give myself a structure or routine every day.

    1. Danielle Nuhfer says:

      The struggle is so real and you’re not alone. Here are some other solutions that may be helpful: https://teachingwell.life/3-solutions-to-the-dark-side-of-summer-vacation/

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