Curious Colorado: How A Fort Collins Teacher Spent Her Summer Break

Aug 14, 2018

In June KUNC posed a Curious Colorado question to listeners: "Are you a teacher - or do you know one - who has to get a summer job to make ends meet? Share your plans with us."

Sarah Weeks, a K-5 media specialist and STEM teacher at Lopez Elementary School in Fort Collins, responded, saying she loves her job but can't live off her teaching salary alone.

Her summer break essay follows:

Maya Angelou said, "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style."

I'm discovering that this quote captures the essence of my philosophy of life and my career as a professional educator.

When I left Arthur Anderson and the corporate world for education, I knew that would mean I'd have to hustle to find additional ways to supplement my income. Even with a master's degree and a Colorado professional teaching license, I still make less money than my husband who works in supply chain for one of our local breweries.

Over my summer break I worked like usual: two weeks on extended school contract in tech support and one week of summer school at STEM Institutes.

Sarah Weeks increases her online fitness and nutrition coaching business during the summer.
Credit Sarah Weeks

Essentially, I work as a K-5 tech teacher and STEM coach, which allows me to combine my jobs and passion for education. I hope to inspire our next leaders to become inventors, explorers, microbiologists, computer programmers, nurses and even teachers! But moreover, I want to start a new generation of problem solvers on the right foot, to becoming lifelong learners who follow their passions. These are the reasons why I keep hustling even though my retirement is unsure, and why I continue to care about "my kids" and our families even when the state underfunds our schools.

I work into June, a week after our students are out, and then I'm back to work a week before most teachers in early August. I also continued to build my online fitness and nutrition coaching business and our eBay side business.

Although I slow down my online coaching business during the school year, I pick it right back up even before classes end. I'm hosting my accountability groups in My Challenge Tracker app. I'm sharing my obesity survival story publicly. I support goal attainment by exchanging texts, emails and calls with the incredible people I coach.

To help grow this business I attended a 4-day professional summit with over 20,000 other fitness and nutrition coaches in Indianapolis in late June, which was super inspiring. Before I left for Coach Summit, I taught Minecraft summer school education for one week and then I had some free time in between all that.

I coached some more. I planned for the next academic year and then I had fun with friends and family in Indiana, North Dakota and Canada. I also gardened, read books, practiced yoga and spent quality time with my husband and dogs.

My story is one of working year-round to thrive, not just to survive at juggling life's responsibilities and expenses. Yeah, I must work a few jobs and continue formal education to make ends meet, but this is not unique in my field as a professional educator. Just like many other workers, state certified teachers continually develop their skills through ongoing education, often on their own time and expense. License renewal alone is $90, and teachers typically spend their own money on some student supplies, celebrations, incentives and stuff like that. Fortunately, my coaching business offsets some of these financial needs and allows me the flexibility to tackle my demanding teaching job during the school year.

As part of her coaching business, Sarah Weeks hosts accountability groups through her My Challenge Tracker app.
Credit Sarah Weeks

I consider myself one of the lucky teachers because I work in a school where I'm encouraged to develop professionally and personally as a leader. Some of the same personal development books recommended in the coaching world are also helpful at my school, where we practice a version of Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." I'm so fortunate to work with colleagues who are also lifelong learners. I get to teach incredible kids at Lopez Elementary, a Leader in Me School in Fort Collins.

I'm looking forward to seeing my students next week because they're the ones who inspire me to stay healthy and fit and to keep learning. They always have the best stories after summer break, which makes for great learning connections and something to build on the whole school year.

This story was edited and produced by KUNC's Stephanie Daniel.