As the school year comes to a close, high school students look forward to months of rest and relaxation. But for teachers, summer is not only a time to take a break from school—it's a time to develop skills and obtain credentials for the next school year.
"I think of my summers as my playground and my time to explore and be creative," says Stacey Roshan, an AP calculus teacher at The Bullis School in Maryland. "There's no better way to learn and grow because that's really when you have the time to do it."
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Working through the summer may also mean a salary increase, notes Joe Elorriaga, a special education teacher within the New York City Department of Education.
"I personally enjoy the academic rigor of a course [and] I like learning new things," Elorriaga says. "And then there's another element that as an NYC DOE teacher, if you acquire 30 or more credits above your master's degree, you get a pay increase."
For teachers interested in professional development, here are a few options to consider this summer.
1. Take an online course: Although summers may offer teachers more time to focus on their professional skills and certifications, their parental responsibilities and travel schedules may limit their course options. Online programs can give teachers more choices and greater flexibility, says Tracey Tedder, dean of the Florida Southern College Division of Education, which hosts online teacher workshops.
"It's allowed individuals in far-away places who need some kind of coursework that we have to offer … to take it wherever they are in the world," she notes.
For Elorriaga, being a father of two young children makes it difficult to attend development courses each week, even during the summer. By taking advantage of the NYC After School Professional Development Program, Elorriaga has been able to take online education courses without sacrificing time with his family.
Currently, he is enrolled in a program with Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS), an online service providing professional development, state certification, and master's degree programs. KDS has offered a more comprehensive lineup than other professional development programs that he's tried in person, Elorriaga says.
Alvin Crawford, CEO of KDS, says that being able to deliver programs online may be more beneficial for teachers than in-person courses.
"The key for us is that [studies] say that online learning happens faster because you're not waiting for the slowest person to learn and you retain more because you're focused when you're actually engaged in the course," Crawford notes.
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2. Attend an in-person development program: While a proponent of online courses, Elorriaga concedes that face-to-face interaction still trumps online engagement. "There is no substitute for being in an in-person environment where you can ask questions and interact in real time."
Jeff Erickson, an assistant principal at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota, says that teachers influencing teachers in real time is the most effective way to see professional development happen. Erickson organizes the Minnetonka Summer Institute, a conference held in June and July that focuses on improving student achievement. He notes that the conference promotes open discussion during the event—which, if teachers were to attend online, "you'd miss that interaction and community building."
For Jennifer Isbell, a social studies teacher at Nipomo High School in California, in-person development programs are more beneficial when needing to learn new skills. Starting next school year, Isbell will be teaching at the newly created Central Coast New Tech High School, part of the New Tech Network that educates students through project-based learning.
This summer, Isbell will spend a week gaining hands-on experience with this different style of teaching. "For this particular training, I think it needs to be in person versus online," she says. "It's a whole new way of teaching, and it's best if you're day-by-day walking through the projects like you would a student in the classroom."