I have worked in education for most of my professional life. I became a teacher in the Fall of 2000, when I was 26 years old, after a few years of non-profit education work. With this in mind, the majority of my life has followed the academic calendar with its breaks, summers, and holidays. I have unashamedly relished in them all.
Because I worked in hard schools, I–hands down–needed the breaks for mental health. There is only so much any individual can take before s/he has to get some time away from the cursing, fighting, poverty, drama, stress, and newly developed fear that comes with the teaching profession. I know the rest of the world loves to heckle educators and make comments like, “You get so much time off, that’s why you don’t deserve higher salaries, benefits, (insert any other big perk of this job here with ample sarcasm).” But those who teach know that those breaks are when teachers recharge, find themselves, and gather strength to make it through the next length of school days. As my former coworker and next door neighbor Jess reported last night over the fence, 40 days until the end of the year here in NYC. I believed breaks were woven into the school calendar for the sanity of the teachers; without them, the attrition rates would surely be higher than they already are.
But this year I saw spring break from an entirely new perspective–from that of my 4 1/2 year old daughter. Alexandra goes to public pre-kindergarten. Her day begins at Public School 39 (PS 39) at 8:20 and ends at 3pm, and from there she goes to afterschool. In afterschool they do crafts, play outside, and have yoga, swim, and tumbling class the last three days of the week. By Friday she is an exhausted hot mess. It is a struggle to make it through dinner and bedtime routines without some sort of crying meltdown due to pure fatigue.
The daily grind of life takes its toll on all of us, and I’m constantly questioning if we are doing right by our children, especially when they are so darn tired from their days. We try to just chill on the weekends, to reboot, but sometimes weekends are busy, too. And then it all starts again.
My daughter needed this spring break. So did my son, who is 2 1/2 and in daycare from 9-5. Their favorite thing to do right now is to read together once they wake up (Don’t even get me started on how unbelievably cute this is; it melts me.). Alexandra will climb down from her bunk, they’ll gather books from their bookshelf, and she reads to Nico. FYI, Alexandra can’t read yet, but she makes up the story from the pictures and tells it to him. When there’s school, this activity has to end by 7:15 for breakfast, getting dressed, teeth brushing, etc., but this past week every day was a reading day. They would hide out in their room until 8am and just read, their little voices giggling, talking, and making sense of books and each other. Pure magic.
Our days weren’t rushed, and we didn’t bathe them every night, and they watched PBS kids more than normal (it’s vacation!), and we played and lounged and it. was. bliss.
And, for the first time, I realized that the students need the breaks as much as the teachers.
It only took me 12 years of teaching and almost five years of motherhood to figure that one out.