From Playing Music To Training For A Marathon: How Teachers Have Been Soaking Up Summer After A Stressful School Year

Kali Jankovich
Kali Jankovich, a music teacher at Clark Elementary & Glenwood Elementary runs the Lakefront Trail as a way to recharge during the summer. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Kali Jankovich
Kali Jankovich, a music teacher at Clark Elementary & Glenwood Elementary runs the Lakefront Trail as a way to recharge during the summer. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

From Playing Music To Training For A Marathon: How Teachers Have Been Soaking Up Summer After A Stressful School Year

Summer break is always an important time for teachers to recharge. This year, because of the pandemic, it’s even more important.

As the school year nears, WBEZ caught up with some Illinois teachers to find out how they are shedding some stress this summer.

Kali Jankovich is an elementary music teacher in north suburban Waukegan

Kali Jankovich
Kali Jankovich has wanted to run the Chicago Marathon for years. This summer, the elementary school music teacher got serious about her training — and often joins others for runs around Chicago. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Kali Jankovich has been running. A lot.

She’s training for the Chicago Marathon to decompress after a long year figuring out how to teach music via Google Meet to about 500 students. This summer, she’s been meeting a group of runners by the Lakeshore near Foster Beach on Saturdays. Other times she trains with them near Millennium Park.

Running the marathon is something Jankovich, 36, has been wanting to do for several years. She first started training in 2017 but that year she tripped and broke her elbow. Recovery from that scuttled her plans. She wanted to do it again last year until it was canceled because of the pandemic.

But, for Jankovich, running is not a solitary sport. She loves being around people, which made the pandemic hard. She couldn’t see her students or sing with her choir. “I could never survive in an office, being on a computer by myself all day and I really had to discipline myself to make sure I was getting that feeding off of that human energy even though I could not be in the same room with them,” Jankovich said, “It was really tough just not having anything else to go off of.”

The last two school years were intense and unpredictable, she said. In the spring of 2020, only a few students would come to her music class. When she was back in the classroom earlier this year, it was grueling. She had to juggle teaching kids remotely and in person. When the school year ended, Jankovich passed on teaching summer school. Now, as the school year looms, she said every day is starting to feel like a Sunday. She is back in school next week.

Aside from running, Jankovich has been spending her summer checking out the symphony at Grant Park, Ravinia and local museums. “Just getting to see people again after so long and trying to date a little bit and failing because I am bad at that,” Jankovich said laughing.

Norm Brooks is a substitute teacher at Dubois Elementary on Chicago’s South Side

Norm Brooks
Norm Brooks is a substitute teacher at Dubois Elementary on Chicago’s South Side. Aside from practicing the trumpet to recharge this summer, he is also spending more time with his grandson. Adriana Cardona-Maguigad / WBEZ

In South Suburban Oak Lawn Norm Brooks, 53, has been recharging by practicing the trumpet. Like many teachers, Brooks said last year was very challenging. The most stressful part, he said, was keeping the students engaged.

“You have the students in class, you may have their attention, but now you don’t have the attention online and vice versa,” Brooks said.

He played the trumpet as a kid and then he picked it up again a few years ago when he was subbing at a high school.

“The music teacher and the students were actually helping me along with it,” Brooks said. “I am not Miles Davis but I am working on it.”

Brooks, who’s only been teaching for a few years, is not scared of another uncertain year.

For now, he is determined to keep practicing and achieve modest ambitions.

“I already know my major scales,” Brooks said. “By the end of the summer, I should be able to hold a tone or a tune.”

Nadia Corvera is a kindergarten teacher at Schubert elementary school on the Northwest Side

Nadia Corvera
Nadia Corvera, a kindergarten teacher at Schubert Elementary on the Northwest Side, is proud of a rocking chair she recently painted. She is teaching art and craft this summer. Making art with her students, exercising, and eating healthier is helping her recharge after a long and busy academic year. Photo courtesy of Nadia Corvera

This summer, Nadia Corvera, 28, is recharging by doing what other teachers dreaded — teaching summer school. But there was a catch: She agreed to summer school only if she could teach arts and crafts, she said.

“We are able to get dirty, we are able to talk a lot more, we are able to play with each other,” Corvera said of the 22 students she’s working with in person. “It gives them an opportunity to get that fun part and social aspect of school that they missed out on this year.”

Corvera has always enjoyed doing arts and crafts, that’s how she decompresses. She recently repainted a rocking chair she hopes to bring into her classroom. She is also exercising, enjoying her dog and eating healthier. “I think everyone needed a mental break from just being on the computer,” she said.

Teaching arts and crafts this summer is her own way of relaxing while staying connected with her school and preparing for another uncertain academic year.

“I know that it’s going to be tough with behavior and expectations with students, so I am just preparing myself and trying to get things settled in my classroom so that I am not stressing out,” she said.

Adriana Cardona-Maguigad covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @AdrianaCardMag.