Few phrases ring sweeter to the classroom teacher’s ear than the words ‘Winter Break.’ But for many, the anticipation of two weeks off competes with anxiety over a lengthy To Do list. What about the lessons that need planning, the thick stack of essays that needs grading? Surely it couldn’t hurt to bring home just a little bit of work for when the break gets boring.
That’s how it starts. Unfortunately, all too often that ‘little bit of work’ turns into hours and hours of school-related duties completed off the clock at the expense of friends, family, and, most of all, yourself.
The expense may be higher than you realize. According to a 2018 University of Pennsylvania study, 44.6% of teachers quit within the first five years of their career. The relatively high attrition rate for beginning teachers has been holding steady since the 1980s.
The study also found that the number one reason given by teachers who leave is dissatisfaction with school and working conditions. Those conditions include a variety of factors such as low salaries, classroom resources, student behavior, and school leadership. They also include workload.
Unreasonable workloads are often imposed by others, but as teachers we regularly impose them upon ourselves as well. Taking on more than we should is driven by a desire to help that child who is three grade levels behind in reading to catch up as much as possible in the one year we have with them. By the understanding that detailed, personalized feedback is the best way to improve student writing. By the fervent belief that our own hard work is the most important key to opening doors of opportunity for the children we serve.
The intense pressure we place on ourselves is a recipe for burnout if we don’t couple it with healthy boundaries and regular, intentional self care.
So this holiday season, please say no to the To Do list and give yourself the much-deserved gift of a real break. Leave those papers on your desk where they belong. Delete your school email account from your phone. Go out for drinks with your friends, and sleep til 10 the next day. Take that hot yoga class you’ve always wondered about. Instead of brushing up on the latest pedagogy, read a book that has nothing to do with education.
Take time to completely unplug from your professional life without the slightest pang of conscience, believing to your core that what you accomplish during school hours is absolutely enough.
Because taking care of yourself is essential to a long and successful teaching career.