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Summer Bucket List for Special Education Teachers

Teaching is a demanding profession and, unfortunately, burnout is common – and occurring at a greater rate among special education teachers. According to findings by the Learning Policy Institute, turnover among special teachers is nearly twice as high when compared to educators instructing typical classrooms. So, yes, special education teachers need a summer break to relax and recharge!

Well, listen up special education teachers: AmeriDisability is tasking you with homework assignments to cram in well-deserved chill time during summer break — by using the following school subjects as inspiration. We know you’ll ace it!


Perhaps you already earned your master’s degree in education, but have you created an artistic masterpiece? Maybe it’s time because art therapy boosts creative expression, ignites a relaxing effect and relieves stress. Grab your fellow teacher friends and create calming memories together at an art workshop. For example, popular for date nights and girls’ nights out, companies like and allow artists of all abilities to unleash their inner Picasso (and, in some cases, studio sessions include wine). Classes are typically themed and led by a professional who provides step-by-step directions on how to transform your blank canvas into a colorful expression.

For a simpler approach, grab an adult coloring book. Admit it, you’ve watched students color and doodle throughout the school year and, well, you want a turn too! According to the Mayo Clinic, coloring is a healthy way to relieve stress. It calms the brain and helps the body relax which can help improve sleep while decreasing body aches, heart rate, respiration and feelings of depression and anxiety.


The parent volunteers that worked in your special education classroom were a huge help all school year long. If time allows, volunteer for an organization or cause that’s important to you. Research suggests that when someone does something good, a happiness high ensues – it’s called the “do good, feel phenomenon.”

Class Pet

The National Institute of Health (NIH) says interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support and boost mood. Now that you have more time on your hands, reconnect with Fido or Fluffy. Take a long walk together, play fetch in the yard or just snuggle up on the couch.

Also, add animal-themed activities to your summer bucket list. Visit the aquarium or zoo, wander in a butterfly garden, volunteer at an animal shelter or try equestrian therapy.

Person and dog playing in park


You may be used to your role as head of the class, but maybe you’ve always dreamt of being something else as well. Character acting, such as at a community theater, can increase confidence, creativity and communications skills. And if you like laughter endorphins, opt for an improv class. However, if you’re riddled with stage fright, skip the performance part and snag tickets to enjoy a theatre show (or any performance) as an audience member.

And, yes, do allow yourself some Netflix and chill time to binge-watch whatever drama (or comedy, thriller, etc.) you want! You likely missed episodes of your favorite shows during the school year because you were busy lesson planning, grading papers and updating Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) plans.


Every teacher has heard comments like, “It’s not fair that teachers get the entire summer off.” Really?! Let’s face it… a special education teacher’s workload far exceeds the classroom after the bell rings and even trickles into break sessions (spring break, winter/holiday break, summertime and weekends). In general, educators are not compensated well, and many take on summer jobs and/or teach summer school to make a living wage. Plus, in addition to attending department and district meetings in the “off season,” teachers often tackle continuing education requirements, revamp curriculum and lesson plans, and shop for the coming year’s school supplies. Nothing further to debate here…

Home Economics & Shop

A busy work schedule sometimes puts a wrench in time to enjoy hobbies or even tackle household chores. Summer break can be an ideal time to get back to that DIY project, crafting, cleaning (because who had time for spring cleaning, right?!) and re-painting a room in a better, mood-stimulating color.


Your school library likely doesn’t stock your genre of choice. Now’s the time to leisurely stroll the aisles of your local library or bookstore to (finally) check out a more age-appropriate read. You might also want to discover library-led classes for poetry, fiction, spoken word, storytelling and beyond. And book clubs are another fun opportunity for literature lovers. [Pssst… don’t forget to enjoy titles with inclusive and diverse themes.]

A man reads disability books to his two kids, one of which has Down syndrome.

Lunch Time

Holy cannoli… you don’t need to quickly scarf down a sandwich before the next school bell rings! Special education teachers can feed their soul by eating nutritious meals as leisurely as they want. Perhaps summertime is ideal to spice up lunch time and satisfy your hunger for foodie fun by trying a new restaurant, mastering a recipe, taking a cooking class or shopping the farmer’s market.

Do set a lunch date with pals in a location other than the school cafeteria or teacher’s lounge. Studies show that the simple act of communal dining can boost happiness, foster a sense of security and belonging, and alleviate depression.


Certainly, from time to frustrating time, you’ve felt like you’re not speaking the same language as your students, right? Maybe now is the time to focus on your own inner voice. Meaning, meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices inclusive of positive mantras can be an excellent way to integrate mindful use of language.

If an international summer vacation is on your agenda, study a foreign language – for your enjoyment without the worry of grades. Take an online course, listen to an audio CD in the car or hit the books.


According to a survey by, more than half of educators reported that one of the biggest challenges their students face during the school year is not having access to basic learning materials. Teachers often close the gap themselves. In fact, a report revealed that the average teacher spends $820 out-of-pocket on their classrooms every year. And, because additional resources are incorporated into special education classrooms, teachers instructing students with disabilities may devote even more of their personal budget. So… maybe summertime is the right time to splurge on yourself instead.

OK, we’re not saying break the bank but, according to the Cleveland Clinic, retail therapy really does makes us happier. It grants a sense of control (decision-making on what to buy), offers a distraction from anxiety, can offer sensory stimulation and more.


Do you really need to set the alarm clock over summer break? Sleep in… take a nap – and don’t feel guilty about it. You’re tired because you rocked your special ed class this year and you can take the time to rest up. Stay in your pajamas all day if you want (there’s no dress code).

family taking a picture on the beach; mom holds camera, dad using wheelchair, two children


When you’re ready to get out of those pajamas, grab your workout attire. Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative mood, and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function, says the NIH. Physical activity has also been found to alleviate symptoms like low self-esteem and social withdrawal.

Potty Time

You don’t have to uncomfortably hold it because you’re in the middle of teaching class. Go to the bathroom whenever you want! Your bladder was tested during the school year so let’s give it a well-deserved break too.


Brain breaks are essential… and it’s your turn to enjoy unstructured play. Take time to do whatever is fun for you. Ride a bike, play a video game, grab a coffee, partake in self-care rituals, hit the beach, etc.


Some believe that moongazing grants a sense of calm and mental clarity. You watched your student stars shine all year; now get outside and marvel at the night’s twinkling stars and glowing moon. Science is so cool!

adaptive yoga

Also Try:

  • Music: Music therapy, as defined by the American Music Therapy Association, “is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional.” Crank up your favorite tunes!
  • Social Studies: Focus on geography and explore – travel, staycation, etc. No chaperone needed.
  • History: Rekindle your love for special education by thinking back to what called you to this rewarding profession. Let that passion spill over into having another wonderful school year as a special education teacher.

AmeriDisability wishes a rejuvenating summer to all special education teachers!

Want more content like this? Read:

Nancy DeVault
Nancy is the managing editor of AmeriDisability. She is an award-winning storyteller passionate about health and happiness.

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