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DeKalb County teachers tackle summer projects

DeKALB — When school's out for the summer, English teacher Ben Doty has no boss but himself.

That's why the Sycamore High School teacher says he makes a point to spend his summers sharpening his teaching skills. He's taught in the Sycamore school district for seven years and spent past summers attaining a master's degree in English education from Northern Illinois University.

"The job continues," Doty said. "It's just sort of a different season of that job."

The summer is no time for many DeKalb and Sycamore High School teachers to kick back like their students. Many teachers work second jobs, teach summer school or take certification classes, according to the National Education Association. Others spend the summer break furthering their own education.

This summer, Doty is developing a new course for Sycamore High School students that will allow them to take dual-credit English courses for the first time. Students will be able to earn college credit for the course by applying through Kishwaukee College, but he'll be the one teaching it at the high school.

"It will be an opportunity to get that college experience but not leave our building to do it," Doty said.

For Tobias Hatch, who's been a DeKalb High School social studies teacher for 10 years, the long hours and nights that go into teaching can spill over into the summer. Nonteachers don't always realize that, he said.

"They don't realize how much work teachers do during the school year," Hatch said. "... You're only getting nine months worth of pay and it is spread out during the summer."

Hatch and several other social studies teachers had to revamp the entire U.S. history curriculum for the upcoming school year in three days this summer. The new course of study will follow the Common Core State Standards, which emphasizes literacy in every school subject.

As a result, Hatch will not be showing any movies or documentaries in his classes next school year. Many fun projects Hatch used to do with his students may not be possible any longer.

"The extra fun stuff is sort of out the window," Hatch said.

Rebuilding the U.S. history course of study took hard work and sacrifice, he said. He has no idea if the revised curriculum will be effective with students when it comes time to take their exams. One of the requirements of the Common Core Standards is making history education uniform across high schools.

"History as a discipline is large and comes with so many options that there is no right way to teach it," Hatch said.

Although summers can make teachers' lives busier, summer also can open opportunities to pursue other life goals or connect more strongly with students.

"One of the most remarkable things about being a teacher in America is that you roughly have two months when you're on your own," Hatch said.

Scott Horlock has spent past summers taking students on trips to Costa Rica and working on his master's degree.

This summer, the Sycamore High School biology teacher will continue his students' education rather than giving it a break.  He will be working with more than a dozen students to collect data on retention ponds and river sites in DeKalb and Kane counties. They're working with Northern Illinois University professors on the project and hope the information will be useful to local agencies that supervise land, he said. He's also working with other students on environmental research.

Growing up, Horlock learned from many knowledgeable people in his life outside of school. He learned from his father, who was biology teacher, as well as local environmental activists and scientists. Working with students over the summer is his way of paying it forward.

"As I look back at it now, it was a pretty amazing experience and I try to provide the kids [at Sycamore High School] the same opportunities," Horlock said.

The summer isn't paid time for teachers, but that doesn't mean learning stops, he said.

"We want our students to be life-long learners and a lot of teachers are life-long learners," Horlock said.

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