Originally written on December 18, 2017
I still remember my first winter break in my first year of teaching. I scratched out Christmas Eve and Christmas as true “days off,” but then I worked the rest of the time. I read two books on teaching. I took home a giant box full of papers to grade. I planned out my first three weeks of lesson plans.
Don’t get me wrong, I did this leisurely, between cups of coffee and . . . more cups of coffee. To be honest, I enjoyed it.
When I started back, I felt ready to roll. I had used my time productively. But then something happened in late January. I felt restless and tired. I yearned for a break — not just from my classroom but from the daydreaming of projects and the incessant lesson planning in my own head. I wanted to watch a movie and read a novel and hang out with friends.
I needed to be unproductive.
So, months later, when I sputtered into Spring Break, I treated it like a break. A real break. A totally unproductive break. I gave myself the permission to avoid grading. I avoided professional books and blogs (unlike the summer when I would immerse myself in professional reading). I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt from the people who complained that “teachers have it easy” (not true) because of how much vacation time they get.
Teaching is Exhausting. Rest is Vital.
Teaching is exhausting. There’s the sense of presence you need, the constant energy you bring, the give and take between students, the conflicts you have to navigate, the sense of pressure about the tests and the tension between what you believe about learning and what the system requires of you.
This is especially true for introverted teachers like me. We work in a profession with constant communication and collaboration. It’s beautiful, yes, but it’s also disorienting to introverts. You can hit a place where you feel lost. And, even if you love teaching, it can feel draining.
My friend Trevor Muir put it this way:
Sometimes it’s more than simply exhaustion. There’s often a perfectionism in teaching that can lead to an unhealthy striving and lack of contentment. Sometimes you need to break up with busy:
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Seven Strategies for Finding Renewal on Winter Break
There’s nothing wrong with doing professional reading or lesson planning or any of that during the break. If that’s your thing, please ignore this entire post. But if you want to treat the winter break as a true break, here are some strategies you might want to try out. For the last week, I’ve been talking to current classroom teachers and adding their strategies to those that I’ve used:
- Take some time for reflection. This can be tricky, but I’ve found that it can help to take a day (or even a half-day) and review student surveys and take an honest look at what’s working and what needs tweaking.
- Take nothing home. Ditch the grading. Avoid the lesson planning. One of my teacher friends said that he works extra hard two weeks before the break and makes sure everything is ready for him the moment he walks into his room after the break.
- Find inspiration from other domains. Read a book. Watch a movie. Go hiking. Take a real vacation. Spend time doing what you love.
- Keep a brainstorming space. Sometimes the slack you feel on your time off can lead to creative breakthroughs. You have those brilliant ideas when you go to bed or when you’re in the shower or while you’re on a walk. It can actually help to record those and then walk away from it. I’ve always kept a notepad where I can jot down ideas for projects, lessons, or activities I want to try out.
- Do something creative. Paint, draw, make friendship bracelets. Okay, maybe not friendship bracelets. But there’s power in doing something truly creative outside the domain of teaching. It helps build empathy with your students as they do creative work while also allowing you to hit a state of flow.
- Spend time with people you love. This is obvious, but it’s something that came up over and over again as I talked to people. They described times when they failed to be fully present with people because of the lesson planning or grading that was looming over their heads.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation. I have a friend who taught for over thirty years and is now teaching again after being retired for a year. She takes part of the winter break to do meditation, practice mindfulness, and keep a journal. She schedules a time at an abbey and treats it like an important business meeting.
Note that these aren’t recipes or requirements. They’re simply ideas you might want to experiment with on your time off.