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.


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4 Responses

  1. drwomer says:

    Thank you Dr. Fudge for reminding us the importance of taking a break! We certainly do have University Service, Publications and many other things on our plates! I like the idea of no laptop with me.


    Dr. Womer

    • Tamara Fudge says:

      Thanks, Dr. Womer! Yes, it’s far too easy to take our laptops, tablets, and smart phones with us wherever we go and end up working all of our waking hours. I know I’m guilty of that far too often. Instead of letting some vacation days expire again this year, I know I’m going to plan ahead in 2016! Thanks for visiting the blog and commenting.

  2. william Ging says:

    Hi Tamara,
    At Kaplan/Online we are allowed two days off a week, get breaks between each quarter, and can work when we feel like it. There is nothing like the pressure I felt in 37 years in the public schools even with a summer vacation. Teaching in a brick and mortar school for Kaplan may be a different story. For online people this is a dream job.
    Cheers for you,

    • Tamara Fudge says:

      Bill, thanks for your comments! Yes, the K-12 system is very hard on the brain and brawn for 9+ months and then the rest of the year is spent recuperating and revamping. I also teach for Kaplan online, and am a full-time professor and Course Lead with lots of extra duties. Since my students are always online, I check the classrooms and email daily to answer questions. I have two terms in a row before getting the extra week, but those are really not “off,” since there is still new prep, writing, giving presentations, curriculum development, meetings, assisting other faculty, and so much more. I find it’s the peripherals that keep the full-timers from taking true time off, without laptop in tow. Thanks for reading the blog!

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