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Blog #19: We need a (Fall) Break

I am sick. I have been sick for a little while, and the need for a break is bearing down on me. Now, I realize that I am not a full-time teacher and I’m only a sub, but I have been covering a class for over two weeks, and I am tired. I need a respite for sure. I can only imagine how somebody who has been at school every day must feel. The honeymoon phase, the grace period, the low tide, the easygoing period has ended, and we are in the dog days of the school year. We are starting to get to that point where going outside when you get home is not as feasible as it once was. We are getting to that time of the year where people start coming up with reasons to miss school: “My Aunt’s 3rd’s Cousin’s former co-worker’s niece had her tonsils taken out, and I want to spend the day traveling to see her…and maybe pick up some apple cider along the way.” We are craving opportunities for fun because the amount of school work and grading is starting to pile up. We need a break. We are sick of each other. We are just plain sick. We need to rest. We need chances for fun. And we need time to prepare our minds for the home stretch that is semester finals.

I want to preface this with this: I love teaching and I love students. But at this time of the year, it seems the things that you were willing to tolerate during week two of the year, you’re no longer able to stand 10-12 weeks deep into the year. The clicking of pens. The hiding of phones underneath desks to watch videos or SnapChat pictures of the ground. The casual side conversation during a group discussion. Students taking their time getting to class. The downright apathy of content. The murder in the lavatory with the candlestick by Ms. Green. Was anybody surprised that she finally snapped? Jason was on her last nerve. You know what may have prevented this tragedy? A fall break.

I realize that as we go through this list that you can avoid all of these problems with proper classroom management and engaging lessons. But my point isn’t that teachers don’t do this, it’s that this time of year is when we are truly tested and in order to help sustain us as teachers and re-energize our students who have lost interest in the doldrums of the classroom.

Also, it is about this time that we start getting physically ill. Teachers start to take fall breaks of their own, but instead of taking in the fall foliage while drinking a Pumpkin Spice Latte (Step back, haters) wearing flannel, and taking way too many pictures of the same hay field over and over again. No. This fall break is one where we bury heads in our blankets on the couch drinking herbal tea, binge-watching The Office for the fourth time, while setting a world record for the amount of mucus you can collect in one tissue, while trying to find a way to make sub plans that don’t look like something that sounds like “Wusy Bork”, then coming back with a mountain of papers to grade. Not exactly relaxing. Not exactly textbook burnout prevention.

The students are the same way. They are missing whole weeks because little sibling after little sibling brings home different versions of the plague, and the student is spending their weeknights over or on the toilet instead of doing your homework. October through November is the start of the Flu season according to the CDC. Schools do the right thing and tell those kids to stay home, but you have parents who can’t afford to stay home with their kids or parents like my own who made sure that I was close to death before allowing me to miss school. These well-meaning and handcuffed parents send their sick kids to school who infect the populous, who infect your classroom, who get you sick in return. Taking a break right now would give students and teachers alike time to rest and recuperate.

That leads me to my last point. Getting that three extra days to a week will allow students and teachers alike to gear up for semester finals and exams. It has been proven that taking a break in between sessions of learning allows students to retain the information that they learned, and open their minds for what they need to take in for this next semester. Taking breaks allows students to take this knowledge that they have learned this semester and allow it to crystallize into permanent memory. Your brain needs breaks to process and visualize how to use and apply concepts. If you don’t allow your brain to breaks, your knowledge may be fluid but you will dump it as soon as you find it feasible to do so. Nothing crystalizes. I know for me, when I taught Government, every time we finished going over a branch of government, we took a break by doing something more passive such as watching a movie that students might be able to apply what they just learned. It’s the same reason that some experts suggest that before you give students an aerobic activity before giving them an assessment. It allows that brain to crystallize the knowledge that they have obtained. Now, if they have learned nothing, that is going to be one dim crystal, but you have given that piece of coal the opportunity to mature.

Some of your schools have a fall break. That’s great! I think we all should. But alas, there are some communities where it isn’t feasible due to childcare situations or other factors. But if the schools and community could find a way to band together to support these families, students, and teachers for three days in the middle of October, I believe the research shows that you will see a boom in knowledge retention, a reduction in teacher burnout, and an overall healthier community.

Have fun the fall, stay safe, get well, rest, and take care of yourself.

Thanks for reading

Best Wishes

Seth Tripp