A little distance makes the heart grow fonder. It’s true in romantic love, parental love, sibling love and it’s true for the love educators have for their students. “Our kids” (we call them that even though they are “just” students) have an emotional bond with their teachers. We call them “ours” because they matter to us. They are not sneakers we make in a factory and they are not numbers crunched to determine a profit. We are in the business of building people and that requires an emotional connection to our job that feels different from other professions. We help them, we scold them, we buy them shoes and mittens and coats and prom tickets when we know that if we don’t, they will simply go without. We think about them in the evenings and worry about them when we know they face hardship. Educators do not stop their work once the buses drive away and that is why distance is so important to us.
These breaks that are built into the school calendar are not just to catch up on grading and lesson planning. These breaks allow teachers luxuries other professionals don’t realize we crave because they so regularly get them. It is during breaks, we can have silence which brings an opportunity to reflect. We can consume a meal when we are hungry and some educators have been known, during breaks, to eat sitting down, without watching a clock count down the three minutes until their presence is required somewhere. It is on breaks that we get to go to the bathroom whenever the urge strikes and it is during breaks that teachers do not have to organize, engage, and enlighten large groups of children for hours at a time.
A magical thing happens in those breaks. While we enjoy the quiet and slower pace of life on a break as we grocery shop in the daylight or mow our own lawns, it doesn’t take many days of living in that luxury to begin feeling sort of empty. Our job, by design, means that it matters that we are there. Those little people, even the teens taller than we are, they are looking for us when they walk through the schoolhouse door. They want to show us new shoes and tell funny stories, or they simply want to hear someone call them by their name. Teaching is personal and no one knows that as much as the student who feels invisible in the world, but not in your classroom.
After 21 years of being a teacher and principal, I have learned to schedule, yes, literally schedule, (a small amount of) time to do nothing, even during the busy holiday season because those times I am not busy, help remind me why I keep so busy. Our jobs matter to many others, but my job really matters to me. The work we do is meaningful. But, there is a reason that the airline warnings tell passengers in the event of the loss of cabin pressure to secure your mask before you help others. Breaks are the oxygen to an army of educators who serve kids everyday in our schools. Take time to enjoy the quiet, for it is in those periods of rest that you are able to return to the classroom stronger, with greater clarity about how to teach in a way that results in student learning and a renewed commitment to the important work you do daily; serving students, who so desperately need you.