Taking Time Off, Part 1: Why Teachers Should and How to Time It
Dr. Tamara Fudge, Professor in the School of Business and Information Technology, Purdue University Global
Sometimes taking time off from teaching seems to be a bigger pain than just teaching every week of the year. I can’t find a sub. The subs never do what I want. The students will be lost without me. I feel guilty taking the time. I don’t need a break. While these may seem to be valid reasons, they are more likely excuses.
First, there are always going to be other professors who are willing to sub for you. If you provide adequate help, they won’t need to be premier experts in the field. You might be helping someone bolster their resume or make new connections – or pay a bill or two. Many are also happy to exchange the favor. Don’t know any names? Ask your chair for names, because he or she already knows who would work out well. No excuses: you can find a sub.
There are no guarantees a substitute will do everything you expected in exactly the same way you wanted, but careful preparation and communication before you leave for your vacation works wonders. Realize, too, that it’s okay if the sub doesn’t do everything perfectly. No excuses: the subs will get the job done.
Students are more resilient than you think. Remember that terms are short, and they get new teachers and new topics and exercise new critical thinking skills with each new course. School is an adventure, and one of the biggest lessons of all is learning to adapt. No excuses: the students will be fine without you for a short time.
Teaching is a lot like parenting. Think of your vacation time as being like a parent taking a bubble-bath: you’ll be back soon, but you need the time to relax. Upon your return, you will feel better, be less likely to worry and lose your temper, and will have taken some time to refresh and recycle your brain and your body. No excuses: there must be no guilt for the taking time off that your employer already knows you need.
Besides the bubble bath, here are some ideas for teaching break activities:
- Spend time with family and friends
- Cook a new meal or bake a new recipe
- Volunteer at a shelter for the homeless or for animals
- Spend all day shopping for one small item; walk slowly and enjoy the sights!
- Surf the ‘net to learn something new
- Take long walks, get a massage, or go to the gym
- Read a book or two
- Stay up to watch a favorite old television show in the wee hours of the morning
- Go to a concert or listen to music in a different style from your norm
- Complete some professional development
- Write a blog entry (okay, now you know what I’m doing on my vacation)
Hopefully your appetite has been whetted for taking your vacation days sometime this year! Planning can commence. Consider taking a full week/unit rather than just a few days so your sub deals with a coherent, cohesive piece of the course. Is there a unit where the grading is a little easier, or the students have fewer difficulties understanding the content? Which week or days will be the least disruptive to your students? Talk it over with your chair or colleagues if you need another opinion or two about the timing.
Being a student is (usually) temporary, and taking a break unnecessarily delays graduation. But being a teacher is a more permanent condition, and we need that break now and then! This might need to be explained to your class. My next blog entry will look at ways to prepare both your substitute and your students for your well-deserved time off.