And just like that, it’s November and we start to look forward to all the breaks. For some of us Thanksgiving week ends up being a cross-between time off, (my former district used to bribe us with evening conferences to get an extra day off), and an extended weekend. In either case, we take it because up next is that break we start counting down to from the first day of school … The Illustrious Wonder, known as Winter Break!
Now, my fellow veteran teachers, many of us have this down to a science. The work bag with the pile of papers to grade and books to semester plan sits nicely by the front door where we drop it, in a corner of an office, or perhaps in the car or front seat of the car until sometime on New Year’s Day, (or maybe one day during the week), when we binge out on something streaming and get it done in a day to be ready on January 2nd!
This article is for new teachers, those new to the profession, or those who are in a new school, new role, or new district. I have been in this space a few times, especially as a single educator. Winter Break looks like an uninterrupted week we need to get on top of everything, so we plan to rest Christmas Eve, Day, New Year’s Eve, and some of New Year’s Day. But the rest of the time, we’re working. I’m going to strongly encourage you to not do that. Resist the temptation. Breaks are important for our morale in addition to our mental and physical health.
Here are three ways you can find a happy medium between taking a break and fighting that urge to overwork.
1. If you decide to do work, create a list of no more than 3 things you want to do and then set a timer to get them completed. This is not a license to pressure yourself into a working frenzy. It’s setting boundaries for your time and honoring your need for a break.
2. If you chose to check your work email, do NOT do it every day, and also do not respond. Include it as one of your tasks in step one and that’s the only time you check it. I would like to add to this, do not answer parents either. We are constantly told to make ourselves available but realistically, we shouldn’t always be available. In fact, don’t check it until you get back to work on January 2, 2023. Set the away message as your response to everything and leave that right where it is.
3. Take at least one full day that is not one of the four “holidays” during the break and do absolutely nothing. What you decide to do with your nothing is your business. For me, sometimes nothing was really nothing. I sat in bed all day watching movies. These days are your resets. It gives you time to release stress and get a clear mind. On your “do nothing” day, choose to do any activity that relaxes you. And do not convince yourself that work is relaxing. This is a lie we tell ourselves when we’re teetering on being workaholics. (At least that was my story.)
I can tell you from experience these three things seem small, but they are so important. Veteran teachers gave me this advice when I first started and for the first few years of teaching, I didn’t listen. The result was that I would come back from breaks feeling more stressed out than when I left. I don’t want that for you. Teaching can be and is a very rewarding profession. The thing they don’t tell you when you start is that to endure it, you must take your breaks.