A Break! A Break! My Kingdom for a Break! (Or, T-1 Hour Until Spring Break)

UPDATE: Two of my student costume designers received superior scores at the statewide theater festival. This qualifies them to present at the national festival in Sacramento, California next January. I'll post a more detailed write-up about the festival next week.

In morning advisory (our version of homeroom), my co-advisor said: "I know that you're all excited for spring break. But I don't think anyone's more excited than your teachers." Our students adamantly disagreed -- but it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a teacher in possession of fidgety students, must be in want of a break. The leaves are starting to blossom on the trees; the birds are chirping outside of our windows. And our students are already beginning to feel the electric currents of summer crackling through their veins. As you might imagine, the struggle to keep them focused and attentive in class is getting REAL.

(Spring break. Better than cookies? Quite possible.)

I love my job. As I've heard numerous teachers say, you don't get into this profession for the paycheck. The hours are too long; the bureaucracy, too arduous. You need to be resolutely dedicated to closing the Achievement Gap. You need to feel strongly about contributing in some small way to rectifying the "greatest civil rights issue of our generation" (in the words of Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp). But even with the spark of educational equity fired up within them, teachers can get burned out. Personally, my spark has fizzled into a sad little wisp of smoke. Which, because we're coming up to summer, may or may not be a Tennessee Williams reference.

I'm a strong believer in sabbaticals. College professors are eligible for sabbatical leave, oftentimes paid, during which they conduct independent research without having to worry about teaching responsibilities. Sabbaticals are sometimes perceived as "a luxury these troubled times cannot abide". But I would argue that sabbaticals should be expanded to include everyone in the American workforce. Especially in a society with no paid maternity/paternity leave and little paid vacation/sick leave.

The Equity Project (TEP Charter School) has been a troubled experiment since the beginning. They boast $125,000 teacher salaries, with $25,000 annual bonuses -- however, teachers earn that salary by pulling "double-duty," taking on full-time administrative work in addition to their daily teaching schedule. (One of my acquaintances taught a full schedule of ELA blocks and then spent her prep periods working as the Dean of Students. If this sounds unsustainable [and/or absolutely insane] to you, you're not alone.) But even though there are some tragic flaws in their school model, I think TEP absolutely nailed one part: teachers are encouraged to take a sabbatical every five years.

TEP doesn't have a perfect sabbatical system worked out. Teachers don't receive any pay during their sabbaticals, although they do retain their medical/dental benefits. (The TEP website does assure prospective teachers that the school helps find ways to secure funding.) Teachers aren't required to "justify" what they plan on doing over their sabbaticals. They're encouraged to pursue higher education, to travel abroad, or even to commit to outside employment. They bring their experiences back to TEP and share them at Summer Institute. I don't know anyone who's actually gone on a TEP sabbatical before, so I'm unsure whether the program as documented on their website is simply the stuff of dreams -- but I'd love to research and learn more.

Even though spring vacation will only be a week (instead of the year-long research sabbatical of my dreams), it will be a much-needed opportunity to refresh. I'm going to Shenandoah National Park with one of my co-workers for a hiking expedition. It will be our first time backcountry camping together, and I'm excited to brush up on my tent pitching skills. (My 31 Days of Trip Planning will resume upon my return.)

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