Extended breaks can be a good chance for teachers to recover, but they also pose a serious threat to your daily routine. Learning how to prevent such disruptions is an essential skill for all teachers.
A previous post on this blog talked about efforts to re-engage students after the holiday break and chronicled the potentially damaging effects of a break on students' attention span and academic performance. What the article did not touch on, however, was how extended breaks can affect you, the teacher.
Breaks (be they for the winter holidays, in the spring, or during the summer) provide a much-needed opportunity to recover and catch your breath, but they also represent a major disruption to your routine. If properly utilized, long breaks can be an excellent chance to re-focus, but you need to be sure that the temporary pause will not impact your ability to instruct.
As you're almost certainly aware, the term 'break' can be a bit misleading for educators. Although school is not in session and students are not in the classroom, teachers are still hard at work completing tasks from the previous semester and preparing for the next one. According to the U.S. News & World Report, most teachers do not see the summer break as a vacation, as they spend these months continuously working and getting ready for the next school year.
While the lack of a true break can be disappointing, you can use the steady stream of responsibilities to remain focused and stay sharp. Scheduling, curriculum planning, and various organizational chores are not quite the same as teaching, but completing these tasks can keep you in 'teacher mode' and help keep you in touch with your school.
Engage with Students
Academic skills require daily repetition and constant practice in order to improve, and an extended break can have a significant impact on a student's ability to access these skills. If your students completely disengage over break and fail to continue learning, they risk forgetting important information and regressing academically. This concept has become so common that it even has a name: Summer learning loss.
There are plenty of options for concerned parents and teachers. Summer reading lists are available at the national level (such as the Scholastic Summer Challenge) and on the local scene as well (the Fairfax County library system has an annual reading list.)
School districts are also aware of the problem and have taken a number of initiatives to ensure that students don't fall behind during the holidays. Summer reading lists, book reports, and other projects are now commonly assigned to prevent academic atrophy.
Such assignments are enormously beneficial to teachers who are looking to get back to their original routine. Whereas a student who has done no work over break may be rusty, students who complete assignments over break will return to the classroom focused and ready to learn. Rather than spend valuable time re-engaging your students, you can simply pick up where you left off and continue teaching.
As with most aspects of the teaching profession, preparation makes everything easier. When you map things out and devise a plan ahead of time, you greatly reduce stress and the potential for something to go wrong. Would you rather improvise and put pressure on yourself to be creative and organized, or would you prefer to simply follow the guidelines that you laid out weeks or months earlier?
As soon as you get started on a new school year, take a look at the academic calendar and make a note of where the major breaks are located. The holiday break is sure to come towards the end of December, but spring break is often moved around and its location is sure to influence your own schedule. Some states have even changed the start date, as Maryland's governor recently mandated all schools to start after Labor Day.
By planning out the weeks immediately before and after long breaks, you can set yourself up for a successful transition that is unlikely to disrupt your teaching routine.
Take Things Slow (At Least Initially)
Imagine the brain as a marathon runner recovering from an injury. It's unrealistic to expect the runner to jog 26 miles on their first run back, and in the same way, it is unrealistic to ask your students to complete a major assignment on their first day back in the classroom. Rather than jumping right in, begin with some basic exercises to kick-start the mind, and then you'll be free to tackle the more complex concepts. If you need some inspiration, take a look at these creative and simple classroom projects that are sure to re-energize your students.
Keep Things Moving
Though a nice slow transition back into the classroom is beneficial for students and smoother for teachers, the reality is that there is not always enough time for such a relaxed pace. School curricula often feature ambitious and busy schedules and leave little time for post-break adjustment.
The key in this situation is to find the perfect balance between easing students back into the classroom and staying on schedule. You don't want to come out of the gate sprinting, but you also need to get going sooner rather than later.
With extensive preparation and a touch of creativity, you can avoid the common pitfalls of long breaks and return to your teaching routine without missing a beat