It’s Back-to-School time. I know, not because of the date on the calendar; I can just sense it. First, I’m starting to feel a bit worthless, feeling like I’m not contributing to society as I should be. I miss my work, my purpose, my colleagues, the kids. And, my body is sufficiently confused about whether it’s nap time or night-time. It’s no wonder. Summertime means goofy sleep patterns—staying up writing until 12:15, then waking suddenly at 3:10 a.m. (Is the nap over?), playing racquetball at 5:00 a.m., and then returning home to sleep some more. Yes, it’s time to get back to a regular schedule.
There are two unique things about teaching that I wish applied to all employed people. And, no, I’m not going to say June and July. The first does involve time off, but it’s not just those summer months and it’s more than not having to go to work. And the second has to do with the cyclic nature of my profession.
Of course, as a teacher, it’s nice to have a couple of months off from work. I appreciate the time to pursue other endeavors—increased exercise in hope of losing at least a few of those pounds I gained over the winter; painting a couple of rooms in my house; working closely with my editor to get the last little details in place for my book to be published; and, building two websites and starting to blog. And, as a parent, it’s nice to be a stay-at-home mom, at least for a short period of time.
In addition to the summer break, there are the occasional three-day weekends, Thanksgiving week, two weeks off around Christmas, and Spring Break. In my opinion, everyone—no matter their profession—should have similar breaks built into their work schedules. Perhaps, with some jobs, there could be the choice of working instead of having to take the time off. If that were the case, it would be important that the built-in breaks didn’t automatically affect the overall annual salary (as it does with teaching).
I believe it would be mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy for everyone to have the time to explore new avenues, start and finish projects without the stress and time constraints of regular work days, and tend to other requirements in life—yard work, cleaning closets, being there for aging parents or friends in need. It’s disconcerting to me that some people have to devote all of their hard-earned vacation time to obligations. The extra breaks, if one chose to utilize them, would afford the opportunity to try new activities, go places, and spend more quality time with loved ones.
The extra days off, too, contribute to us teachers being more altruistic with our time. This summer I spent six days in classes, learning about the new Common Core State Standards and different lesson ideas and approaches for implementing them in the classroom. I also put about ten hours of time into creating a website for my classroom, which will assist parents in staying more informed about and connected with their children’s education. Then there’s the networking I do with other teachers and the hours and hours of time spent researching online, looking for new ideas. And, I have been to my classroom several times this past month, rethinking—as I do every summer—how best to arrange the furniture and what instructional supports I can place around the classroom. For example, I change the word wall a little every summer, with the hope that it will be at least a bit more accessible to my students. I am willing to contribute this time to my career because the breaks allow me to while still having time to attend to other life matters as well.
Another neat thing about my job is its inherent cyclicity. There are distinct beginnings and ends with the work that I do. The beginnings provide the opportunity to do the same job over again but to do it better, while the endings are the perfect time to reflect and evaluate and think about the changes that will make that next beginning as good as it can be. Each spring, though the end of a school year is approaching, I start thinking about the beginning. The beginning of next year. What do I want to modify—in terms of the schedule and routines, the materials I use, or the techniques and strategies that I employ? The end of the school year also creates a concrete deadline for teachers; we know exactly how long we have to cover all the mandated material and to ensure that our students are where they need to be. If school was ongoing, if kids and teachers didn’t have a summer break, it would not be as conducive to getting as much accomplished as we possibly can.
What if everyone, at every job, had distinct “start over and try to do it better” days at least once every calendar year? Every employee would be asked to reflect upon his or her performance over the past several months and come up with one or two changes or new ideas to try in hopes of doing their job better. Maybe there are structures like this in place within some companies. I surely hope so. I know that my effectiveness as a teacher is dependent upon these clearly defined beginnings and endings.
So it’s back-to-school time, something I welcome every year. I have been thinking about and getting ready for the 2013-2014 school year for several months now. I look forward to putting into practice the new things I learned in my classes this summer, the program changes I’ve thought through, and working with the new students I’ll meet in the very near future. I’ve been teaching for 22 years and I still absolutely love my job. Much of that love is created by the time off—absence makes a heart grow fonder—and by the desire to do it bigger and better than I ever have in the past.