As the end of the school year winds down, there is a sigh of relief and reflection on the year gone by. There’s always a list of things that we feel we should have done, a quandary about why things turned out the way they did, and perhaps remorse that we didn’t accomplish all that we intended. No matter the outcome, teachers need to realize that summertime must become a time of renewal. As committed educators we want so much for our students, but without finding in ourselves those many things we have done right, the many positive impacts we have made, we can deplete our self-confidence and spend days commiserating instead of renewing the spirit that took us into teaching in the first place.

My challenge to you, as a dedicated teacher, is to give yourself an inexpensive, stress-free vacation, a renewal of energy, hope, and feelings of self-worth. Vacation, you say, how in today’s tight economy can I afford a vacation? With teacher furlough days, I am barely making ends meet. I have no time, I have Teaching Credits to obtain to keep my license, kids underfoot, friends who think my three months off give me time to do things and be with them. I have a secret for you: If you don’t take care of yourself, there will be no one there for your children; yours, your family, your students.

Summer is the time for renewal. Time to get back in touch with yourself. Time to analyze how you are different. What strengths do you possess that make you the great person you have become? It is time for you to develop a sense of celebrating your achievements and honor the success you have achieved.

Just like during the fall, you need to schedule YOU TIME. You built in time to plan, to grade, to attend staff meetings, workshops. Therefore, it is time to create a schedule with YOU TIME so you can redefine yourself and cherish all the qualities you possess. Teaching is stressful, and none of us can continue in a high-stress life forever without time for renewal.

Begin with your calendar—find a time each day for yourself. It may be a half-hour in the morning before the children awake or after they go to sleep for the night. Your time may be beside the local pool, as your youngsters swim. What about the half-hour before everyone arrives home for dinner? The evening meal may be a bit later, but with the long day folks seldom notice.

Can’t afford that time, as there is so much to do? Laundry to do, clothes to fold, household to tidy, meals to make, errands to run, bills to pay, children to chauffeur, classes to attend, Little League to coach, and a part-time supplemental job. Let me ask you this: What happens if it all doesn’t get done? Does the world end? Granted, paying bills must be a priority, but do it, then reward yourself with time. You are the only one who can give you this privilege and you deserve it.

Next, what do I do with this time? For those of us in the hurry-up world of today, there is always a pile of to-do’s at the end of the day. Slow down. Give your multi-tasking lifestyle a break. Stop: Smell the roses!

Take a moment and reflect upon what passions you have and how you have put them aside. If your passion is reading, find something new, different from your normal focus, and stretch your mind. Read a novel that piques your interest, not a text to teach from tomorrow. Hit the library, the Nook or Kindle corner for their free or 99¢ offer. Wander outside and find a quiet corner. This is a good poolside benefit, or an early morning soothing trip for your mind.

If music is your passion, hunt for a favorite CD. Sit and listen. Give it more focus than just as background noise. Put it on your IPod and listen in your bedroom, then make the bed, instead of doing both at the same time with a get-it-done attitude. Look in the paper for outdoor concerts; many are free on the village green. Take the family or a friend along to share the enjoyment.

Maybe your passion is reconnecting those neurons you worked so hard to establish when you learned French. You have a dream of going to Paris and you want to be able to converse when you get there. Hold on to the dream. Check out French language discs from the library. Use them as your time away from life. A regular session of listening, or for the more visual, the interactive language training series for fifteen minutes a day will raise your competency, make you feel fulfilled, and renew your desire for travel and adventure. If languages are not your thing, explore travel videos, travelogues on the TV, or other fantasy trips to places foreign and unique.

Or maybe cooking is your passion. Use it to the fullest. Find new and exciting meals that support a healthy lifestyle. Enlist your family in picking out the fresh produce; fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and unique pastas so abundant this time of year. Explore farmers markets and local produce stands, selecting for even the pickiest eater. Moving from the McDonald, Burger King, Chick-Fil-A lanes to the household fruit bin does wonders for everyone’s attitude, activity level, and zest for living. That is where we want to go.

If you love the out-of-doors, plan picnics to the local parks, walk wilderness areas, hike the forgotten trail, bring others for a day of fun and exploration. If you’re lucky, you may have a beach or lake close by. If you have small ones and can’t find a sitter, create a secluded hideaway in your own back yard, even if it is under a beach umbrella in a far corner. Walk, bike, swim, play tennis, or just find a park bench and sit enjoying the view. You do not have to be active every moment of the day. Our brains need plenty of outdoor time, as well as plenty of time to just float and reflect.

Remember that it is hot in the summer, and for Atlanta it is already well into the 90s. Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate. For yourself, drink plenty of water and make it a family choice to run with the water bottle in hand. The way we act models for those around us.

You may really love summer because you can watch special shows you never have time to see during the year. Do it. However, make it a mini-vacation by turning off the lights, and really look and listen. For those with technological genius genes, record the show, edit out the commercials, and really have a wonderful viewing session. Most of us are watching while folding wash, editing a paper, or doing myriad other things. Remember: Multitasking really means not doing any of the tasks well. Shut off the distractors and focus. We need that discipline as much as the kids do.

Practice relaxation techniques. Take yoga via a CD, at the Y, or a local class. Learn the art of focusing within. You may also choose some of the other Eastern meditation techniques, or study Qigong or Tai Chi. Relaxation techniques are wonderful once mastered and help to give you the feeling of being centered and at peace with your surroundings. Lowering stress is so necessary to keep in focus and balance with all you have to deal with.

Reconnect with family and friends. Get reacquainted with neighbors and folks from your church or synagogue. Connect with the older members of your family and learn their stories, as they are so prone to tell them. Later you will be glad you did. Create a drop-in barbeque where everyone brings a dish to share. Pot luck at its finest! Have it in the backyard, so you don’t have to clean the house. Or go to a local park where no one can dare to look inside. This is time to enjoy friends: reconnect with some, get acquainted with others. Toxic folks not invited. This is your time to enjoy and renew. Do not let the toxic negativity of others have you question your motives, strategies or reasons. Your reason is simple. They make you less than you are, so stay away. Bring out the balls, bats, frisbees, and horseshoes. An old-fashioned ice cream social, here we come.

Find old friends via chat rooms, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like. Join Skype for free and create a new sense of warmth between long-distance friends. Again, shy away from those whose negativity gets you down. Be careful you don’t become an Internet slave—relish, enjoy, and delete a lot. Remember, an early day look at your email may last all day. Don’t be kidnapped by the Net!

Why is all of this about you? Because, Teacher, we value you so. We want you to have the best summer ever. We want you to feel the love we have for you between the pages of each book, the song of each bird, the sound of lapping water, and the soft breeze as it passes by. You are special to us and we need you to know this. Have a peaceful, renewing summer filled with pleasant enjoyment.