We Teachers Have Earned Our Breaks

12/23/2015 09:51 am ET Updated Dec 23, 2016
Serene man sleeping in bed in the morning
Serene man sleeping in bed in the morning

It's Winter Break for us teachers. That means two weeks of unadulterated vacation filled with Netflix, video games, trips, reading and lots of sleep. That also means receiving passive aggressive comments from adults who work in other fields on how lucky we are to have such a long break. If you aren't a teacher or friends with one you may not know how hard our job is. So, you might not understand why teachers need and deserve every break they get.

What high school student reflect on their teachers' work-life balance? None that I know of. I remember turning in essays in English class on Friday and receiving them back the following Monday. Each essay was returned to me with spelling and grammar corrections and detailed feedback on my arguments. My classmates and I never realized that teacher sacrificed her weekend in order to grade the hundreds of essays. No late-night outings for Mrs. Berry. Likewise, I always thought teachers just showed up to work in the morning and decided to teach whatever they wanted. No planning necessary. Since I thought like this until I became a teacher, I can understand why many adults keep that same mindset.

My official workday begins at 8:10 and ends at 3:15. Any teacher knows that my workload is not confined to that time period. I have classes to plan for, essays and tests to grade, student and parent e-mails to respond to. Though I often leave the school premises right at 3:15, that's only because I like getting work done at a local coffee shop. Oftentimes, I'm not finished for the day until 7:00. Saturday is usually my only full day off. After brunch with friends on Sunday afternoon, I'm already in the teacher mindset, preparing and reviewing lesson plans and grading. It never ends. I can plan the best lesson ever, but then I have to have another for the following day.

Many teachers continue their work with students outside the classroom by leading extra-curricular activities. For instance, for the five years I taught in LA, I was a leader of Students Run LA at my school. That excellent program has students and teachers training and completing races together throughout the year to prepare for the LA marathon. That meant I had to run with students in the park after school every Tuesday and Thursday as well as complete longer runs two Saturdays a month. Most of the time, I wasn't prepared for my lessons the following day so, right after practice, I'd shower and get back to lesson-planning. You could say it's my fault I had so much work, but I'd retort that's part of the job. As a teacher, I look after the whole child, not just their academic progress. Motivating students to run a marathon was a valuable part of my job as I saw students' mindset shift. They realized that if they could run 26.2 miles, a feat they once thought impossible, they could do anything they put their minds to, like graduating from college. That life lesson might be more precious than anything I could teach in the classroom, and I'll happily make the necessary sacrifices for that happen.

I'm just one teacher. Thousands can tell you similar stories about the meaningful work they do. It's mentally and physically taxing to stand in front of a collection of children and get them excited about learning. As fulfilling as this work is, it's not sustainable without breaks. I can't work like this all year. I'd burn out like a brilliant supernova. That's why I need these two weeks to recuperate. Just like you need to recover after a marathon (believe me, I know), you need to take a vacation from teaching. So, my fellow teachers, enjoy your break. Do nothing. Sleep. Read that book you've put off for months. Catch up on TV shows. You've earned it. Friends, understand that we need this break. Now, excuse me as I go binge-watch Master of None on Netflix. I'll probably even take a nap in between episodes.