Exactly one year ago, I wanted to quit my job.
Exactly one year ago, I was searching for another profession, looking into various areas I could dabble in.
Exactly one year ago, I thought to myself, “I’m flexible. I have an English degree. I can read, and I can write. What I cannot do anymore, however, is teach.”
I truly thought last year would be it for my teaching career.
Why is that?
Well, in all honesty, I’d learned how to work as a teacher, but I hadn’t learned how to rest as a teacher.
My first year of teaching, I began a dangerous habit: I refused to take my holidays. Breaks were spent hustling back and forth to the school with lesson plans, unit designs, and new activity ideas in tow.
The only difference between the holidays and my normal work weeks was the fact that I didn’t see teenagers in a school setting, and, really, there’s only so much distance you can put between self and students when you live in a tiny town with a Walmart.
My thinking: my kids need me to work right now. They need me to enrich their lives by slaving over this curriculum. They need the fun activities I can create while a have some time off. They need me to amp up my curriculum before they leave for Christmas.
In short, I felt guilty for taking a break.
Thus, I worked. And worked. And worked.
This was the case for every holiday, and I continued this habit into my second year of teaching. When Thanksgiving of my second year hit, though, I was burnt out.
That is the inevitability of never taking a break: you set yourself up for a break down.
The truth is that, hard as the school weeks can be, holidays can be equally difficult for educators because, simply put, no matter how hard we try, we don’t know how to take a break.
Teaching is like a daily mental Crossfit session that lasts for upwards of 8 hours. We stay on high alert. We problem-solve, think on our feet, find solutions, and carry our students (and all of the issues and obligations thereof) on our backs.
That takes a toll, teacher.
We teachers, for the most part, overwork ourselves because we know full well the high stakes education bears.
We think that, because we work for kids, we can’t afford to take a break. We have to give our best for the children.
We rationalize our never-ending work loads by thinking that our impossible hours work to the benefit of our students.
We validate our work by taking the full load of our kids’ lives on our shoulders.
Couple all of this with the fact that the end of fall is a tough time in the classroom: there’s a sprint to finish the first semester and an anxiety to begin planning for the next.
Nevertheless, refusing to protect your holiday breaks from your work life isn’t sustainable. Making it through the year-long war is impossible without the rest holidays provide.
Your students need your best.
You aren’t your best when, mentally, you are incapable of giving more. You aren’t your best when you can’t give your heart away because it’s being worn thin by the hours you keep.
Yes, we work with kids. Yes, we want to protect those kids. Yes, we want to fight for our kids.
However, who can fight in your place when, because of burnout, you can’t last another year in the classroom?
For this reason, teachers, I call on you to realize that you need this break.
Your kids need you to take this break.
The kindest thing you could do for them right now is not make more interactive lesson plans.
The kindest thing you could do for them is rest. Do some yardwork. Watch some Netflix. Read a book. Travel a little bit.
Give yourself a mental timeout.
Learning how to work as a teacher is crucial, but I would venture that learning how to rest as a teacher, while different, is equally important.
The lesson planning, grading, unit plans, IEPs, essay grading, copies, and, yes, even the differentiation can wait.
I am done apologizing and feeling guilty for taking the breaks that come with my job.
Therefore, when I woke up this morning at my normal time of 3:45 a.m., I did what every responsible teacher should do on holiday.
I rolled over and went back to sleep.