How Was Your Summer?

 

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Dear teacher,
On the first day of school,
When you ask me how my summer was,
You’re assuming that it was good.
You’re assuming it was
something remarkable,
Something incredible,
Something shareable,
Something fun.

And maybe it was.

Maybe I went to Six Flags.
And maybe I flew in an airplane.
And maybe I went on vacation to the beach
with my mom and my dad and my sister
(but we left our dog at home,
so my Uncle Dennis came over every day)
Maybe I participated in the summer
reading program at the metro library,
and I read four books above my grade level.
And maybe I got to spend a lot of time with
my mom because she is a teacher like you.
Maybe, just maybe, I had a pass to the pool.
Or maybe I interned at the zoo.
Or maybe I went to STEM camp,
or church camp, or the lake.
Maybe I played summer ball.
Maybe life was good
because I slept late,
I did whatever I wanted,
And I didn’t have to come here
and eat that nasty cafeteria food.
Maybe my summer was great.

Or Maybe it wasn’t so great.

Maybe I didn’t leave my neighborhood at all.
Maybe I’ve never been on vacation,
Never been out of Oklahoma.
Maybe I couldn’t leave my house all day
because I was in charge of my two
little brothers and my baby sister.
Maybe I’ve never been to the city pool
and I still don’t know how to swim.
Maybe I haven’t opened a book since May.
Maybe I got a summer job
to support my family.
Maybe I went to bed hungry every night
because there was not enough food.

Maybe we moved twice in one month
and I just found out yesterday
that I would be coming to this school.
Maybe I was physically and emotionally hurt
by someone who is supposed to love me.

Maybe I don’t want to be here,
But it damn sure is better than being at home.

Maybe I left my house every morning walking
and didn’t come home until after dark.
Maybe, just that one time, I was at home
by myself
for three whole days and nights.
And even when I wasn’t by myself,
maybe I went whole days
without talking
to anyone.

Maybe I don’t have any friends,
But at least when I’m at school
I can pretend that I do.

Maybe my summer was ok,
But maybe I have the feeling
that I deserve so much better.
Maybe the first day of school
is the most exciting thing about my summer.
And maybe that’s why I am so loud,
And want to talk,
And don’t want to sit down,
And want to touch people,
And want to run in the halls,
And don’t want to do math.
(at least not the first couple of days)

What I am trying to say is,
You don’t know how my summer was.
So just in case it wasn’t as great as yours,
Maybe you might find a better question
to ask me on the first day of school.

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87 thoughts on “How Was Your Summer?”

  1. Great post! This reality has always been in the back of my mind when planning for the first day of school. As educators we always have to be concerned with the positive things that could occur in our students’ lives as well as the not so positive. Thank you for putting this out there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My daughter is a teacher. She created a first day questionnaire that asks exactly this. “What do you want me to know? What do you want me to ask you? What is your biggest worry this year, etc.” I was a teacher as well, and I used her model.
      thanks for this poignant post.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would sometimes ask for just one memory (from summer, vacation). It was less loaded than “what did you do?” And especially after the Christmas holidays. So many don’t celebrate the holiday. If I asked for a memory, sometimes it was that they got to see grandma, or some other family member instead of a toy that they got. It was interesting to see what they came up with.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree. I merely say ‘welcome’ to the new school year. I introduce myself to the class, telling a few things about me. We come up with questions to ask about a classmate they do not know. I then have them use 3-5 of the questions to interview a classmate. They use the responses to introduce their classmate to me and the class.
        We end with my asking my students to write done 3-5 things they hope to learn this year and their expectations of the class for this year.
        This isn’t done over multiple periods.

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  3. I think it’d be fun to have a choice to write a fiction or realistic piece about “your summer” and see if the kids could pick out the fake ones! Writing, oral language, social interaction and fun!

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    1. Respectfully, that still doesn’t sound fun to the second type of student described. They’re still being asked to pretend, because they aren’t going to want to share with their class the details of their actual summer. And they will be picked out right away as having a fake one because they haven’t experienced the things their classmates have.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Is there a way to have a writing assignment with a little more flexibility so kids can choose? On the one hand, if it’s a possibility that such a question would make one child feel bad, don’t ask it. On the other, if 20 kids in the class are eager to share their summer experiences, can’t we ask the question?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We can ask it, if it’s one of several CHOICES of questions students may answer, and have students answer in writing. Even though there may be twenty students who would love to answer the “how was your summer” question aloud, there are others who will start their school year feeling worse about their situations upon hearing the disparity between themselves and their classmates. Not the way I want to begin to build relationships with ALL students.

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      1. I appreciate the response. I was talking about writing assignments, not having the students respond to the class. When I used the word share, I meant sharing with the teacher. My apologies for the confusion.

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    2. Especially if what the child remembers MOST is Mom’s funeral… or Dad’s. I know a few kids that could apply to this school year.
      I like the idea of giving them options, like “Answer one of the following questions in writing:”
      1. What is something I should know about you?
      2. How can I help you to have a successful school year?
      3. What did you learn over your summer vacation?
      4. What do you hope to learn this year?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I never use the word ‘vacation’- for far too many children it ISN’T! I always refer to time away from school as ‘school break’.

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    3. I haven’t taught in awhile, but some of my favorite writing prompts were multi layered. Three or four or more questions in sequence that approached a theme from many angles. Always instructive to see which students responded to which part of the prompt. And often I woukd discover that my last question (often the one I considered as an after thought) was the one they connected to most.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. No. Why would you sacrifice the feelings of even one child for those other 20 when there are so many other choices…

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  5. Reminded me when my son’s 5th grade teacher asked for a time line with photos from birth to that year. He was panicked since he was adopted at 3 and had no early photos. We talked to her and the assignment changed to favorite items for each year. He eventually shared his adoption story with his class.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Explain to kids that even if their summer was boring, bad, or horrible, it’s still a life. It’s still worth sharing. It still has meaning – It has this wonderful & amazing person in the story and therefore, no matter what it was, it means a everything. Maybe they can get some help if they share something awful.

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    1. I like your idea to say out loud that all experiences are valid and the person matters. How you said it is real. That’s damn important to hear. I still would not have them write to one prompt, because they want to deliver what adults and peers want (what the student thinks they want).

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    2. I agree that everyone has a life & a story! Kids, however, should never feel forced or obligated to share it. It’s THEIR story & THEIR life. The need only share if IF they want to and WITH WHOM they want to.

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    3. I get what you mean, but to essentially encourage a kid to “share something awful”–likely something very personal–at the beginning of the school year…?

      I remember myself in 7th grade when a teacher tried to get me to talk about my parents’ divorce; internally I was giving that teacher and pretty much the whole class the middle finger for that experience.

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  7. May I please utilize this with my staff? We are implementing trauma sensitive strategies this year and this follows our summer read brilliantly! Thank you for considering.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My dad past away when I was 12. I was fixing to go in 7th grade. It was hard for me to say I had a great summer. I was worried about my mom. She didn’t have a job outside our home. She did baby sit for grand children and a few others that was close to us, but didnt make much money at all. We didnt have life insurance to bury my dad. So my older siblings tried to help pay some things. I remember all to well my mom crying. I shared her bed for months. I was not doing to good in school because I didn’t know how to express my feelings. I kept everything inside. I had few friends and didn’t ever ask for someone to come over, because that was extra food on the table. I felt all alone. I don’t think anyone knew the pain I was going through. Teachers only seemed interested in the smart kids. My grade didn’t do so good. I tried my hardest but my mind wouldn’t cooperate. I just had a lot on my mind. My mom was an angel on earth. She tried so hard. She never drove a car. We walked a lot. My school mates saw us walking. I didn’t like school after that. I could go on but I won’t. Thanks for reading.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sandy, please find someone you can talk to. There are many people willing and able to help that have resources and can guide you in the right direction so you can succeed in spite of your circumstances. But unless you confide in a neighbor, a teacher, a church, even a policeman, no one will know how to help you. Don’t give up.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “Teachers seem interested in the smart kids.” So true. I’ve been there just like you. Teachers should love and care for every child in his or her classroom. I can’t believe they are still asking that question. I’m 51 years old, and I remember having to answer that question year after year. I would always make up a happy Summer to write down on my paper. Change the question teachers; it’s 2017. 😜

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  9. Normally I wouldn’t have given that question any thought. But, since my 12 year old son has been in an out of state hospital all summer, I would NOT want my child to be asked that question. He has not had a summer break what so ever.

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  10. I’m a school bus driver so I usually have the same kids on my bus everyday, and every new school year. Instead of asking them a question (because believe me, I hear many stories about their homelife)…I tell them, “I sure have missed you over the summer, and I’m so glad I get to see and talk to you again!”. I’m not sure what to say in some situations, but I always listen and try to understand. Everyone has bad days, I understand that and react to them in such a way. But, there’s a few who have bad days everyday when they get home!! So heartbreaking for me. I just choose to be a bright light in their day. I tell them every morning that I hope they have a good day at school. And every afternoon, I say, “I can’t wait to see you in the morning”!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m really happy that there are bus drivers like you! You are a very important part of their day! What a wonderful thing that you do everyday by showing them all that you care about them! 👍😊

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you for being a bright light to those children, and to all of those reading this post. I wish I were Ellen or Oprah, so I could give you $20,000 for you and your family, and $20,000 for your passengers. 🙂 Keep sharing the love!

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    3. You are the best bus driver ever! And I must say, I am 36 years old and can still remember my childhood bus driver, Dusty Rhoades. He sang Happy Birthday to every kid when it was their bday, and got the whole bus to sing, he would go off route and drive down the street to drop you off directly in front of your house if it was raining, he brought treats for holidays, etc… Bus drivers do make a difference! Some days I looked forward to waking up just because I got to ride the bus.

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    4. Emily i was so moved to hear your story. I recall hearing a story of a teacher who would go to school early EVERY morning, and sit at a troubled student’s desk and pray for that child. This teacher was so invested and sensative to the needs of his students. I too pray daily that God will help me to love my difficult students unconditionally, have a compassionate heart and a deeper understanding of there needs through out the school year. I’ve always taught my children and am now teaching my grandchild that when you are trying to get along with children that are not kind, know that they may be experiencing a difficult home life. Therefore, continue to show kindness while praying for patience. Now that my daughters are adults, i see the lives that they have had an impact on, and those that have found a friend to walk through life’s pain and struggles.

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  11. I feel the exact same way after Christmas break. Many years ago, I stopped asking my 1st graders what they got for Christmas……because sadly, many received nothing.

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  12. I am going to be the devil’s advocate here. While I support the idea that the questions we ask after breaks should be sensitive, and and asking about things like gifts or vacations can be sticky,”How was your summer?” is a fairly neutral question. Plus, it is the kind of thing people in polite society are going to ask for the rest of student’s lives. Such is the nature of polite conversation, which we should model too. I do think “I’m glad to see you!” is better, but notice in Nikki’s comment above, the big thing is to pay attention to the response you get. Sometimes the answer to the question, and the body language that goes with it, is the clue to who is having troubles.

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    1. I think How are you? is less obligatory than How was your summer? Even better…. I’m glad you’re here! & Im excited about our year (or time) together! Those two statements (rather than a question), if sincere, provide an open invitation.

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  13. It would be interesting to share this poem with my 8th graders and ask them to write a commentary on it. Then, we can share and discuss their thoughts about the poem. I think it will be more meaningful than asking them to write about their first day. It will be a great lesson on empathy.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Thanks so much for posting this. It is hard for teachers to
    imagine some of the things that our students experience not only in the summer, but all the time.

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  15. Very eye opening. I usually think about the “other side of the coin” when starting the year. Not everyone lives at Disney Land.

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  16. And yet the question in question helped the writer create this incredible poem… this makes me want to use the poem for an exploded text activity. You read the poem aloud to the class– they star parts that make them think of something (a connection, a question, an image– anything). Then they write off of one or two of those starred pieces of text. They can do this right in the margin. The teacher rereads the poem and anyone may jump in to share what they wrote (a word, a sentence, a paragraph). Sharing is voluntary.

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    1. I like this strategy- for any number/type of texts! Sharing, in my teaching at all levels, preK-college, is always voluntary!

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  17. I lost my husband last Christmas. We have 3 girls and they didn’t want to go back to school the first day after Christmas break, because they knew they would hear “how was your Christmas?” over and over. What were they supposed to say? “Dad collapsed at work the day after Christmas, which just happened to be Mom and Dad’s 18th anniversary. His funeral was Friday. The whole last week is a blur.” Needless to say, I kept them at home.

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  18. Wonderful!! I have 4 grandchildren and I always worry about how their school year will start. They have what they need, but don’t have a lot of extras. I hope the teachers at their school are wise enough to take this into consideration.

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  19. Chiming in as a School Social Worker/Guidance Counselor…There are always ups and downs in life. It would be fabulous for teachers to help teach students that it’s ok and healthy to talk about things that aren’t perfect. It is a great opportunity to help teach empathy. The child(ren) that had a crappy summer are not best served by keeping it in and feeling terrible and isolated. They are best served by feeling supported by both their peers and teacher. Isn’t that the kind of classroom atmosphere you really want?

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    1. Yes! Is the answer to your question. Building that sense of community is a process over time. Thus, sensitivity to what questions we ask, when & in front of whom is essential, as is our expectation for response.

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    2. Yes but I remember feeling obligated to answer the questions given by the teacher even if I didn’t want to speak in front of my peers on the topic. I by no means had bad experiences in my summers growing up but there were topics that I wasn’t happy to speak up on. There were very few teachers who made a point to express that answering a question was optional to a rule follower like me. Or even that if we had concerns to approach them apart from the class.
      I didn’t know I had anxiety until adulthood but we all know hindsight is clearer and I didn’t know how to express it aside from tears back then which brought ridicule rather than community.

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    3. Thank you! This is such a better option than shutting down interaction. The people saying that they just say “I’m glad to see you” or some other statement mean well BUT questions are what fuel a conversation and an interaction between the adult and child. The key is not judging the answer or implying that some answers are better than others. As for this question being a writing assignment, I was taught not to do that long ago in education school. Who still uses that? It was seen as a bad assignment 25 years ago already!

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  20. I love this article and all of the thoughtful comments. It’s great to see teachers and other adults thinking about the hearts of students. I completely agree that we have to be sensitive with the questions we ask. I do think we have to ask those hard questions! Not as a back-to-school writing prompt or an in class share time, but individually and with caution and respect. That’s how we reach all of our students!!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Reblogged this on Finding MY Bees Knees and commented:
    As August has begun rolling and the school supply lists have arrived, I am sure my own kids will answer this question in essays and shares and many times in the hallways. I know mine will have great adventures to talk about…but not everyone does. A good read I am thankful to have stumbled upon today.

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  22. Reblogged this on Dealing with My Grief and commented:
    My heart goes to the kids described in this blog post, I have an enormous amount of respect for our teachers and the compassion they show. I wish there was more we could all do as a society to help those less fortunate than us. 💚😢

    Like

  23. If a writing prompt is what you are looking for you could have kids write about “What I didn’t do this summer”. It’s a twist that gives them some freedom and allows imagination and dreams to surface. If it’s just a question you verbally ask students, I’d say we could do better.

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  24. As a former student, this hits home. I spent most summers not talking to anyone and not being allowed to go out, and just tried to sleep through it as much as I could. Not that I ever took offense to the question since it is only natural to ask, but I agree that it would be more beneficial for everyone to focus on the future like others have said above (ie. asking what student wants teachers to know about them, likes/dislikes, best ways of learning, etc.)

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  25. Im a teacher and this past year my husband was in the hospital for 3 months waiting for and receiving a heart and kidney transplant. He was admitted just before thanksgiving and released late february. I didnt qualify for family leave because i had just started at that school so i had to keep working. He was at a hospital an hour and a half away from me so i saw him only on the weekends and school breaks and would sleep in the chair next to his bed. Every monday and the first day back from breaks i hated it when co workers would ask “how was your weekend/break?” or worse…”did you have a good weekend/break”. its a small talk socially polite question that people expect you to say something like “it was nice” or “too short”. Not “horrible because i have to keep leaving someone i love behind for a week and i dont know if ill get a call that theres a heart available in the middle of the day”. Its been almost 6 months since he had the transplants and now even writing this im thinking “wow, thats a stupid thing to feel anxious about”…but situations and depression can change the way you would normally react and view different things. I think its important to remember that with students on the first day they are strangers to you and some of their classmates. I like what others have suggested about asking multiple open ended questions. I also like thr greeting “its good to see you again”

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I am considering placing Post It charts around the room and asking kids to sign up for tasks they like (water plants, notes to office) and hobbies (reading, sports, music) and favorite foods- just to build connections. Hopefully that will be non threatening, yet help them build connections with me and their classmates.

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  27. Although my degree is in education, my heart is social work geared. I have found that every last one of us carry a bag on our shoulders that contain some treasures, hurts, misunderstandings, questions, etc. A good, very simple question can be asked that will give you a head’s up on where each student is in the growth process. Treat your classroom as a garden. Some plants need to know that even though they aren’t in the “blooming” season, they have potential like every seed that grows. The question is, “What’s in your bag?” Follow with the explanation that your classroom is a place where all that has been can be unpacked, so that for the 7 hours that they are present in your room, there is freedom, and no weight to carry. Your classroom can be the “safe place,” they use to do the best and most growing. You are in charge of your classroom, no matter what restrictions are put upon you by the powers that be. Let LOVE be your guide in the womb of trust.

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  28. Too many kids dislike this question. Even if their summer was okay, it’s too personal, especially since in most cases they don’t even know the teacher yet.

    For a writing activity, something non-personal is best, especially for children of upper elementary age and up.

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  29. Excellent. We should never assume anything about our students- good or bad. The best thing about this poem is that it is completely honest- something the teacher can use as a guide for teaching writing.

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