Schools Out, Teachers! Make This Break About You

Some days it all just clicks, does it not? Your students are brilliant; your lesson plan, a sweet symphony. Boy, did you ever choose the profession that’s right for you.

But other days? Other days you wonder, “How many more till semester break?”

It’s a natural cycle, the ups and downs of the elementary school game. What’s important is that you take good care of yourself. And the best way to do that is to take full advantage of your time away from those darlings, especially during your winter and spring breaks.

Those are your days to regroup and recharge. We’d like to offer a few reminders on how to best enjoy them.

Do Those Chores, Then Commence to ‘Breaking’

First things first, says Cindi Rigsbee, a veteran English and Language Arts teacher currently working with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to advance recruitment and retention initiatives.

“As soon as the break starts, do whatever absolutely needs to be done,” advises Rigsbee, a former North Carolina Teacher of the Year and finalist for National Teacher of the Year in 2009. “I've learned from experience that although I tell myself I'll come back to it after a couple days of break, I lose my momentum, forget what my plans were and, in general, never get to it.” Examples she cites include writing thank-you notes for gifts from students given before winter break or making lesson plans for the first days back.

Getting those things out of the way is “the key is to actually ‘break,’” Rigsbee says. “Time off spent drowning in paper grading and lesson planning is not time off.” Use this respite to truly relax in your own particular style. “For me, that means a massage and a pedicure. Whatever it is, make time to do it.”

On the off-chance work should creep into your brain, have a notepad nearby to capture ideas, concerns and to-dos: “Write it down. Then go back to breaking,” says Rigsbee.

Experiment with Healthy Alternatives

Kathryn Andries teaches English language learners at Hartman Elementary School in Kansas City, MO, and also conducts workshops and professional development seminars for teachers on relaxation and de-stress techniques.

Take advantage during your breaks to check in on yourself, she advises. “Meditation is the best way to de-stress, focus and receive inner guidance. During the school year, teachers are bombarded by so many demands that they often get out of touch with their own needs. Meditation is a great way to hear the inner self and receive guidance.”

Andries also recommends yoga. “Since teachers spend so much time on their feet, yoga is good because many of the poses are done lying down,” she explains. “Teachers often develop back issues from so much standing, so yoga will address this issue as well.”

Breaks can be an ideal time to reestablish some other healthy habits. “We’re often too busy to invest a lot of time in cooking during the school year,” Andries says. “Eating healthy is so important for teachers. But it takes time to search for new recipes and try them out. I like to find four new recipes that I can make during the school year and have all the ingredients on hand for when school starts again.”

Re-engage with Teaching

Alison Swade, an eighth-grade language arts and reading teacher at Herrick Middle School in Downers Grove, IL, mixes “me time” with “we time,” scheduling an out-of-classroom chat with her co-teacher. “We usually sit at a café and plan for our next big unit,” Swade says. “It feels glorious to exchange ideas about school over a chocolate croissant and coffee.”

Laura Eckroat is a kindergarten teacher at Manara Academy in Irving, TX, and an author of children’s books. She enjoys gardening, so her spring break, for example, always entails either planting or prepping to plant. “I also make sure that I spend time by myself to reflect and revive my love of teaching,” Eckroat says. “I'll search the Internet for lesson ideas or go to the local nature center or botanical gardens to enjoy the beauty of the nature, which can also spark lesson ideas.”

The most important thing is to enjoy your time off, and not to put time constraints or deadlines on yourself. Certainly, a little time spent on professional development can be a good thing, but Rigsbee believes these days away aren’t the best time to tackle educational texts that require a great deal of interpretation and note-taking.

“Instead,” she says, “I prefer inspirational books that are uplifting and rejuvenating. Books like that make me miss my students during a break and make me eager to return to school.”

But don’t lose that all-important focus — the one on you. “Sleep. Eat right. Spend time with family members. Watch mindless television or play games that don't require much thought,” Rigsbee encourages. “Give the brain a rest!”

Then cycle back in with vigor.

Taylor Sisk is a North Carolina–based writer and editor who writes frequently on mental health issues for statewide and national outlets.

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