- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

Were District teacher Julie Conrad to write an essay titled "What I Did This Summer," as many students are often asked to do on the first day of school, it might prove a dull read. So, too, would essays written by many of her peers.
While teachers appear to have as many days off as their students each summer, many area teachers know differently. For them, summertime is anything but free time.
Ms. Conrad, a fifth-grade teacher at KIPP DC: Key Academy public charter school in Southeast, understands the demands of her profession make her work well into her allotted break.
She has her weak moments, though.
"There are times when [I say to myself] 'Aw, man, why am I not at the beach?'" she says.
The needs of her students, however, keep her working hard all year long.
"We have students coming from some pretty tough situations. It's my job to bring them up to level and beyond," she says. "It needs to be done."
Ms. Conrad began her summer by accompanying 60 of her school's fifth graders to Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
On her return, Ms. Conrad taught two weeks of summer school, a requirement for all Key Academy instructors. Soon, she will head north for the second consecutive year to attend a weeklong program at Columbia University in New York City for teachers of reading and writing.
She will use the time to plan out her curriculum for the upcoming school year and pick up tips from fellow teachers.
"It really pays off in terms of planning my instruction. I get a lot done when I'm there," says Ms. Conrad, who did sneak in some leisure reading like Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible" this summer.
It isn't the first time she has used the summer months to take classes. She even has homework assignments to do.
"It's weird being on the other side of the desk," she says.
Ms. Conrad, who has been a teacher for six years, recalls a time when the summer truly meant a long break.
"My first couple of years of teaching I was so exhausted," she says and she was even working fewer hours then. New teachers, she explains, often need time to adjust to their profession.
"You're in the classroom the whole time. You can't take a break in the ladies' room. You're there and you're on and you have to be with your kids."

Barbara Allen, president of the Fairfax Education Association, says it is rare for teachers not to use their break time to good advantage.
"I don't know very many [teachers] who walk out the door in June and don't walk back until August," Ms. Allen says.
The teaching profession of today demands a more learned work force, and often teachers build up their skills to increase their salaries and career potential, she says.
Some teachers, she says, take on second jobs to boost their income.
This summer a few area teachers opted to continue their education not in stuffy classrooms but in the great outdoors.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which promotes the health of the region's waterways, runs five-day summer courses, called Teacher Training Institutes, which offer instruction about the environment along local rivers.
Teachers paddle their way up and down various rivers, studying nature and hearing lectures at colleges they float near. They learn such things as how to calculate the age of a fish.
Participants can either gain college credit for their efforts or earn re-accreditation, according to the foundation.

One Arlington teacher took the ultimate field trip this summer.
Hart Roper, a sixth-grade teacher at St. Albans school in the District, spent several weeks teaching English and physics in a small, private school in Nairobi, Kenya.
In an e-mail exchange earlier this month, Mr. Roper says he took the trip in part because of his "desire to become immersed in a different culture."
He found Nairobi students to be as full of enthusiasm and energy as children here in the United States, even though their surroundings differ significantly.
He says more teachers should look at their profession from the vantage point of a different culture. Summer is the perfect time to do so, he says.
Summer break for a teacher, he says, is a misnomer.
"Whether relaxing or working, we should remain constant learners in our profession," he says.
When Joy Bishop, who teaches first through fifth grade at Potomac Elementary Grade school, began teaching a decade ago, her summers were all hers.
Ms. Bishop recalls taking trips to the Middle East where she studied art history.
Lately, her summers have been devoted to various classes to help manage her classroom and prepare for emergencies.
The profession, she says, demands such tenacity.
"It's a constant learning process," she says. "There are new theories, there are old theories. It's an integration of both."
In addition, she says children are constantly changing, as are their needs, particularly in light of September 11.
Angie Como, a fifth-grade teacher at Brock Bridge Elementary School in Laurel took math classes at the University of Baltimore and Anne Arundel Community College this summer to sharpen her skills.
Ms. Como saw many of her fellow teachers seated at desks all around her.
"I never viewed it as a summer off," she says of her breaks. "Early on I was taking graduate courses."
Ms. Como has other matters on her mind this summer. She is running for a seat in the Maryland state legislature.
Sarah Hayes, a fifth grade math teacher at KIPP, says when she looks at all her summer responsibilities, including teaching summer school, she only has about a month of free time.
In a few days, she will be pitching in with Teach for America, a nationwide nonprofit that helps place recent college graduates in inner-city or rural schools for two-year terms as teachers
College, Ms. Hayes says, doesn't prepare teachers for the real world as well as the Teach for America program does. She went through the program herself after college and now volunteers her time for the effort.
Teach for America, she says, helps budding instructors to respect their young students and their families.
"As frustrated as you may get," she says. "That's why you're doing it, because you love kids."
Ms. Hayes understands that summers are anything but play time for teachers.
"I didn't go into teaching so that I'd have a summer break," she says. "But I thought I'd like to travel [with the spare time]. You get involved in it so much, you can't take a break."

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