Fifteen Summer Assignments for Teachers

June 28, 2017 | 2 books mentioned 11 3 min read

There’s something beautiful about the seasonal refrain of high school. We start with the optimism of autumn, we survive the dark days of winter, we are charged with the anxious energy of spring, and then we part for the summer.

covercoverTeachers—like myself—often give students summer assignments. This year I’m assigning On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King to my AP Language students, and Everything’s a Text by Dan Melzer and Deborah Coxwell-Teague to my dual-enrollment seniors. I wasn’t always a fan of summer reading, but I’ve since been converted; after 13 years of teaching public school English, I’ve learned that an open-mind will save you.

Teachers, I want you to enjoy the summer. Sleep in. Lounge by the pool. Go to the beach. Watch Netflix. Read books that you can never teach in school. Embrace the freedom of these months, but save a little time for healthy reflection.

One of the best things teachers can do is write and read alongside our students. When I read John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” aloud with a group of 17-year-olds, I learn something new. I am reminded what it is like to see something for the first time; to be skeptical, and then slowly make an incremental but significant observation about the world through literature. You’ve got to be an optimist to be a teacher. You’ve also got to be willing to take a step back and reflect, and there’s no better time than during the summer.

In that spirit, here are 15 summer assignments for teachers. Try one, two, or a few of these, and see if they get you thinking about your profession—one of the most honorable around.

1. Write alternating paragraphs about the best and worst teachers you had as a student. Then, identify when and why you’ve shared any qualities with them during your time in the classroom.

2. Write a two-sentence description of your class from the perspective of a student sitting front and center. Then write descriptions of the same length from the following perspectives: the student who dropped your course, the student who asked you for a recommendation letter, the student who wouldn’t stop talking. How do they each perceive you?

3. Describe the most fantastical, surreal fire drill evacuation possible. The only rule is that it must occur in the midst of one of your major assessments.

4. Why do you teach? Why don’t you do something else?

5. What is one stereotype about teachers that is a lie? What is one stereotype that is absolutely accurate?

6. Read a few pages of Gertrude Stein, and then a few poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and then a few pages of Toni Morrison. Explain what each writer is trying to do (with their language, their content, their style). Don’t say whether you like it or not; just try to understand.

7. Vent about one of your worst days during the past year. Fold it up, hide it, and forget about it.

8. Write a letter to the person who you identified as your worst teacher above. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

9. One of your most wonderful, compassionate students tells you that she wants to be a teacher. What do you say? What do you think?

10. Read an issue of a contemporary literary magazine. Try New England Review, Image, The Kenyon Review, Colorado Review, Salamander, West Branch, or others. Visit the current issue of an online publication like Booth, The Collagist, or Linebreak. Find work there to share with your students. I recommend Traci Brimhall, Kaveh Akbar, Saeed Jones, Erica Wright, Eduardo C. Corral, Morgan Parker, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Marcus Wicker, Tyler Mills, Adrian Matejka, Rigoberto González—find a writer who speaks to you, and who might speak to the lives of your students.

11. What is a book that you teach that your students hate? Why do they hate it? Be objective: are they correct? If not, what can you do to better teach the book—to better reveal why you think the book is important?

12. Write a letter to a student you’ve failed—not in terms of a grade, but as a mentor.

13. Write a dialogue scene between one of the writers whose work you teach and your students. Don’t have them talk about the writer’s book or writing style. Imagine how they would communicate in everyday life. Let them be people together.

14. List three times that you’ve experienced joy as a teacher. Be specific about the setting, the situation, the people involved. What can you do to capture that feeling again?

15. Praise yourself. Write a paragraph about what you do best as a teacher. After that, enjoy the rest of your summer. You’ve earned it.

Image Credit: Pixabay.

is a contributing editor for The Millions. He is the culture editor for Image Journal, and a contributor to the Catholic Herald (UK). He has written for Rolling Stone, GQ, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Esquire, and the Kenyon Review. He is the author of Longing for an Absent God and Wild Belief. Follow him at @nickripatrazone and find more of his writing at


  1. When I was a teacher I enjoyed perhaps three breaks in thirty years. I was either teaching summer programs, working on a master’s degree (at my own expense), or working part-time to make those metaphorical ends meet. What Rush-Limbaugh-channeling world are you in?

    Beyond that, if one of my students turned in this recycled Oprah / Reader’s Digest syrup I’d tell him (the pronoun remains gender-neutral) to start over.

  2. Some great suggestions, Nick! Have a terrific summer

    Moe Murph
    Comprised of 80% Oprah/Reader’s Digest Syrup/20% Pure Evil

    P.S. Must have been a gas to have first commenter for a teacher. Maybe someone left an old bologna sandwich in his desk drawer the last day of school.

  3. Mack,

    FFS, this is a nice little piece about doing some self-reflection over the summer. Is this kind of hostility really necessary? You presumably don’t know the author, his financial situation, or what he might be doing for extra money, not that it fucking matters. Your comment is such a perfect little encapsulation of the current moment’s reflexive conservative assholishness.

  4. Also, sorry but have to lol @ the incredible fatuousness of “working on a master’s degree (at my own expense).”

    What a John Galtian hero! As though there’s some lavish academic bread line that all of us lazies were supping at while getting our own worthless advanced degrees. Get over yourself.

  5. Mark, while you were lazing around in your tenured union job I was busy mining coal by day and stocking grocery shelves by night. To pay the bills I fixed American made cars on the side and put my way through plumbing AND electrician AND nursing school (using money I made running a lemonade stand) so I’d never be ripped off by an elitist contractor or rely on health care handouts. I’ve probably slept a total of twelve hours since I was 18. Try WORKING for a living before criticizing others.

  6. I will also say that while teaching English in a public high school I managed to write every assignment I assigned, usually 25 times, write some very bad fiction and some that was published and won awards, complete an MFA in writing, and cook soup on Sundays. I worked most summers and was taking classes most summers and for 12 of those years I was yearbook advisor. I am still married and so are my sons. We do what matters and what we are willing to find time for.

  7. You take me back. How I wish there had been an internet where I could have gotten valid perspective . . . back in the day.

    The ideal of teaching and the reality of teaching are like a Venn diagram.

    I might do some of these exercises (if I ever have time) even though I only teach adults now and only teach online.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  8. How about reading one classic on education to refresh philosophically?
    I suggest Neil postman’s ‘Teaching as a Subversive activity’, short but shattering.
    Have a great summer!

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