By the seventh day, God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.
The teaching calendar has beautiful rhythms of rest build into it. Fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring, Easter, and Summer breaks are usually scheduled at times when teachers and students need to step away from the classroom & rest.
Yet, I see too many teachers misusing their breaks to the point of returning to school more tired and anxious than when they left.
Here’s your challenge: reframe your thinking around school breaks.
Instead of using it to catch up on work or pack it with events from sunrise to sundown, what if it was so much less but also so much more?
When I first started teaching, Fall Break, or any break for that matter, signaled a time to finish all the teaching tasks I neglected to finish during my contracted hours. Inevitably, I would return to school more tired than I had left the Wednesday before break.
Would it always be this way? I wondered. There had to be something more to the rhythms of breaks than continuing with teaching tasks outside of contract hours.
Genesis 2 is the bedrock of what true rest looks like, and in Exodus, God commands us to observe rhythms of rest.
Since God, the creator of the universe, chose to rest, then believing we don’t have to rest results in the idolization of self.
When I say, “I can keep going, it’s fine,” I’m going against the grain of how God created the universe and how He created mankind to function. Not only that, but I have a wrong idea of what rest really means.
As humans, we have a bent view of what rest is. We view it as sleeping in till 2 PM, watching TV, and not doing anything. You might even picture a sloth as the mascot for the bent view of rest! As a teacher, I would feel guilty for not doing anything teaching related over my breaks. It felt too self-indulgent to even think about leaving school at school.
Thus, there are two assumptions that must be challenged and redefined: what rest is and how it applies to teachers.
When I initially think of rest, I think of sleeping. During quality sleep, the body rebuilds, recharges, and prepares for the next day. Yet, low-quality sleep, doesn’t have the same impact. You might even wake up more tired or not as prepared for the day ahead.
Rhythms of rest are similar. Quality rest is like quality sleep. There are restful activities, that when completed, prepare your body for the week ahead. There are other activities that mask themselves as restful, but when completed, cause more anxiety or tiredness than when you first started the activity.
When implementing rhythms of rest, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there a day or half-day during the week that I can 100% disengage from work?
- What do I need to do in order to complete step 1?
- During school breaks, what do I need to do to set myself up for leaving work at work?
- What are 3-4 activities, that when completed, leave me feeling recharged? (reading, hiking, walking, sleeping in, etc.).
- What are activities that usually make me feel anxious during the activity or after? (binge-watching TV, video games, mindless scrolling, etc.).
Rethinking School-Break Rhythms of Rest
We’ve now reached our original point: how can we, as teachers, use school breaks as part of our rhythm of rest? How can we leave school at school and come back recharged for the next quarter or semester?
The following are some practical tips that I started implementing after my second year of teaching once I realized working throughout breaks was unsustainable:
- Stay late the 2-3 days before a break to finish school work.
- If needed, set aside the first 2-3 hours of your break to finish school work. Then, don’t touch it until you return to school.
- Go into your break with a plan! Plan structured and unstructured time. Breaks are an excellent time to build in margin to your life. If you do have a trip planned, work on setting aside margin in the mornings, after lunch, and before bed. Margin can be 1-2 hours of unstructured time. Think of it like the white space around paintings at a museum. It’s the unstructured, downtime that allows you to refocus on what is most important.
- Think about the teacher you hope to be once you return after a break. Do students expect you to return tired & anxious, or reenergized for the week ahead? Model healthy ways to rest during school breaks!
- Enlist a buddy to help you keep work at work and consider deleting your school email from your phone.
As you embark on or wrap up your Fall Break, be encouraged and blessed to try something new. Leave work at work, sit in silence, or plan a meal with friends.
My prayer for you is that you’ll return with a full cup and renewed sense of joy in your teaching practice.