Defending your summer ‘break’

Q: I always have the same annoyance this time of year. It feels like everyone I encounter tells me how lucky I am to have a job that allows me to “take it easy” all summer. Some people can barely hide their resentment. Occasionally, they’ll tell me I was so smart to choose a job with tons of time off and great benefits. I feel defensive, as if I need to justify my existence. I tell them I don’t get paid by the school system in the summer, and that while I may not be going into a school, I’m still working during the summer. I’m pulling together new projects for the fall, catching up on advances in my subject area, and completing my school system’s summer training requirements. Also, I’d go insane if I didn’t take a break from teaching. I need to recharge. My job is intense. I hate responding with long explanations, though. It gets me even more aggravated. Any suggestions for handling these types of comments?

A: For starters, remember that not everyone making these comments is coming from the same place. While some people may be resentful or judgmental, others are just making small talk and have no idea they’re hitting a nerve. My guess is that most are genuinely curious or have slightly clunky social skills. It might help to take a few deep breaths and consider giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I’d also try rephrasing your answer so it’s more declarative and less defensive. “Yes, I love summer. It’s a chance to recharge, catch up on reading, and attend professional conferences.” By staying brief and matter-of-fact, you’re likely to shut down the line of questioning. And if they’re parents, this answer should be satisfactory. Who wants burned-out teachers instructing their kids?

A second option is to change the subject. Teachers take many different approaches to summer. Some are in dual-income households and have the financial freedom to take time off. Others are working in camps, tutoring, teaching summer school, or taking classes. If you don’t want to share your plans, that’s your right. How you spend your personal time is your own business.

A third option is to turn the spotlight back on them. Ask them how they like to unwind or recharge, or how they stay current in their field. People are generally delighted to talk about themselves. And if they’re nakedly resentful, ask them whether they’ve thought about making any changes. What would they do differently if they could choose a career all over again? Would they be a teacher? Have they taught before? For all their talk, odds are they wouldn’t want to change places with you. For these individuals, the comments reveal much more about their lives than they do about yours. If you can keep that in mind, you may have a less intense emotional response. Besides, if you’re comfortable with your choices, you shouldn’t feel compelled to justify them to anyone.

There’s no winning here. I’m always amazed by some of the uninformed and disrespectful things people will say to teachers. Regardless of what you tell them, you’re unlikely to change their opinion of you or your situation. You obviously didn’t choose the profession to get rich or to score good health benefits. You chose it because you want to teach. And for most teachers that means summers “off.” So whether you’re using this time to learn the newest theories or practices, write lesson plans or catch up on sleep, focus on responding in a way that minimizes your irritation.

Have a question that you’d like Career Confidential to answer? Email to All names and schools will remain confidential. No identifying information will be included in the published questions and answers. 

PHYLLIS L. FAGELL (@Pfagell; is the school counselor at Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, Md., and the author of the Career Confidential blog. She is also the author of Middle School Matters, available at

One Comment

  • Gerard F Lentini

    Has anyone considered the explanation that teachers have a 190 day contract and a portion of each paycheck is withheld so that payments can be received during the off contract period? That would be the proper response to the person who thinks that teachers have a two and a half month “paid” vacation.

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