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The optimal dose of teaching

Today, after two weeks of vacation and plenty of rest, I had the novel opportunity to sub for a single summer school class—yes, just 50 minutes of teaching—and let me tell you, I had a supremely good time. It was the students' third day of summer school. Although some of the kids in the class were the very students who had not passed my eighth grade English course and I was worried they'd be disgruntled, on the contrary, everything felt fresh and new! I was fresh, the kids were fresh, and we had a blast working out of a dry textbook. Ha! The students were reading an informational passage about the Florida Everglades and picking out the main idea and the supporting details. This is exactly the sort of lesson I normally find extraordinarily dull, but today it was peaches.  

Towards the end of it, I had a flashback of my own eighth grade Latin class. My cool Latin teacher, whom we all loved, often used the tail end of class to tell us a story of his travels to far reaches of the world and then drill us on our Latin. The drills involved a student answering a question, Mr. _?__ holding up the trashcan, and the student crumpling up a piece of paper and attempting to make a "basket." I was always more interested in the stories than paper basketball, but this game was highly engaging for many students in the class.  

We played the paper basketball game in the last five minutes of class and I saw these students' eyes light up. "How unlike Ms. Sacks!" they must have been thinking. (Games are not really my strong suit, though I'd like to incorporate more educational games into my classes.) The only student to actually make a successful basket was the student who had given me the most grief that year by consistently opting out of work and squandering class time. He had completely applied himself today though, and as if by some divine intervention, he enjoyed the extra reward of success in paper basketball.

The thing about time away is that you get to recharge, recalibrate your system, get out of ruts, and be receptive to new ideas—and memories of old ones. In fact, I'm reminded of this wonderful article from the Association for Psychological Science I just read, called "Rest is not idleness: Reflection is critical for development and wellbeing." Well-worth reading the whole thing (it's not long), it concludes:

...perhaps the most important conclusion to be drawn from research on the brain at rest is the fact that all rest is not idleness. While some might be inclined to view rest as a wasted opportunity for productivity, the authors suggest that constructive internal reflection is critical for learning from past experiences and appreciating their value for future choices, allowing us to understand and manage ourselves in the social world.

I'm always stunned by how intensely structured and exhausting the school year is, and how luxuriously slow-paced and free the summertime is for teachers. I don't meant to feed into the notion that teachers don't do meaningful work in the summer—I do tons of professional reading, writing, and planning in the summer. But the nature of the yearly teaching schedule is shockingly all-or-nothing.

What's the optimal dose of teaching? I'm not suggesting weeks off and 50 minutes on... (ha, ha) but a year-round schedule like some of my virtual CTQ colleagues have might be better suited for learning on the part of teachers and students. A year-round schedule with more frequent week-long breaks and with one entire month off in the summer would give everyone more mental space to process and reflect on our learning and prepare personally and intellectually for the next round.

Here is an article with some general information on pros and cons for year-round teaching schedules. And here is an article touting the benefits teachers see in Louisville, Kentucky, where a year-round schedule is happening. I know there would be some scheduling issues, but I'd be in favor of working those out to get more of this wonderful down-time to reflect and recharge during the year.

 

[image credit: saudipsych.org]

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