In Memoriam: The Death of Mid-Winter Break.

Maui George

No big secret: my school district had a strike this past fall. Because of these events, and the law requiring 180 days of school, we shifted our schedule around, cutting three days off of our traditional mid-winter break and three days off of spring break. I tried to prepare myself: I really love mid-winter break for many reasons, and was planning on using this year’s spring break to do something different and exciting. Mid-winter break is wonderful: it doesn’t have the anxiety and financial pressures of the winter holiday, which in my household involves not only Christmas festivities, but two Capricorn birthdays, and New Year’s.

This year mid-winter break was going to be devoted to finishing up my National Board’s work, and then next year, who knows? Maybe I would go on a trip with my husband, celebrating my birthday, too? All kinds of possibilities awaited.

I know my students need the break, too. Short breaks are restful and mentally productive. Studies have shown that the extended summer breaks diminish educational gains; in other words, we lose some ‘smarts’ over the summer. It is a common misconception, too, that teachers have the summers off. What we have is an unpaid break, watching from the sidelines as our students’ gains vanish like firefly sparks in the summer air.

But teaching is hard work, and deserves hard and fast breaks. Now, for those of you who still scoff at whiny teachers, consider: 800 hours/year is spent in the corporate world checking your e-mails. How many of you have played a game of Solitaire, or checked your text messages during a meeting? If you’re not being productive, it’s okay. I’m not accusing you of anything. But just understand that teaching, good teaching, is a performance, literally a performance, based job. I personally have six “shows” to perform each day, with a four minute break in between, for 47 minutes each show. I plan my performances to the minute, and then reflect on why the ‘audience’ wasn’t responsive, or if I got heckled, or where to polish my material.

I’m back on stage tomorrow.

Right before this break, one of my students pointed a finger at me, gnashing his teeth, and angrily asking, “Was it worth it? The strike?! Oh, man, now we only got a few days!” And no matter how I felt about the strike, or the bigger issues at stake, I was honest with him and said, “For many, yes, things were bad,” and he sympathetically responded, “Oh, I didn’t know, well, then okay.” What that tells me, again, our students support us, and look out for us, just as we do for them.

And if that relationship and trust is ever broken, then it’s all over.

Although I don’t share the collective will and opinion of about 50% of my colleagues who voted on next year’s schedule to abolish mid-winter break again (I think spring break may have been a better choice, since it’s right before THE BIG TEST), I will not shirk my responsibilities and plan for less, or give less, than I always do. I may mentally go to Maui in my mind a bit more, but I’ll come back.