You graded the last homework assignment, made the last red-marked comment in the margins of the last student essay, conferenced with your last parent, and submitted your final grades. You grab the box with your desk accessories and turn off the lights for the last time this school year.
Inhale. Exhale. It’s summer break: Day 1!
The school year is tough. Did you know, by the beginning of next year, 8% of teachers will leave teaching all together? Two thirds of those haven’t even hit retirement yet. They leave because the school year is demanding and there isn’t enough support (or money) to get them to say yes to another year. Are you nodding your head yet? Yeah, this summer break is deserved and so very necessary.
You need a break—a real one—where you come back recharged and inspired to teach a new group of students. How do you do it? How can you be sure this summer won’t leave you needing a vacation from your vacation? Turns out, research has some answers. (Note to self: Look up ‘How to get into vacation and relaxation research’.)
We all relax in different ways. Some people love a sauna. I’d rather eat bees than sit in a hot closet and sweat. Rather than focus on which specific activities relax us best, Sabine Sonnentag and Charlotte Fritz explored the parts of a vacation that make us feel rested. They specifically wanted to know why an activity restores us. They found four components to a truly restorative vacation. If you can incorporate one of these ideas, great. The more you include, the closer you’ll get to that Zen feeling you’re looking for once September rolls around.
No matter what you do, if you want to come back to school rested and ready, here are the four things you need to make time for this summer.
1. Detach from Work
You have to do more than physically leave the classroom; you're going to have to stop thinking about it. You’ve been doing it all year—bringing your work home, grading papers over wine and old episodes of Golden Girls, thinking about your students while you grocery shop, reworking lesson plans as the sun goes down. Now is the time to let it go. We get it. You care about your job. Caring as much as you do can also burn you out fast. Turn off your email notifications. When you get together with your colleagues for margaritas on the patio, don’t talk about work.
If all else fails, here's Will Smith to flashy-thing your work memories away.
2. Just Relax
This is the leisure part of your break – the least stressful part where you feel your shoulders drop and your mind wander. When you’re relaxed, no one needs you to fix something, answer something, or otherwise occupy your time with something other than what you love. This is the thing you do for you and no one else.
3. Make it Interesting
Once Netflix starts asking if you’re still watching and you’ve managed to sleep in past your alarm for the eighth morning in a row, it’s a cue your brain needs some exercise. So challenge yourself.
- Have you always wanted to learn Mandarin?
- Do you own a piano to make it look like you know how to play but really it's just collecting dust? Learn how to play a song!
- Opt outside and hike the best trail in your state.
- Find a new hobby.
Whatever you do, remember this should be a challenge, not a burden. If it turns out you hate macramé, see how geocaching feels—which brings us to the last aspect of a restorative vacation.
4. Choose Your Own Adventures
As a teacher, you spend much of your day responding to what someone else needs or expects from you. The longer you go without control over what you do during the day, the the worse you start to feel. Give yourself a say in your summer plans. Be the decider. If someone gives you an option, pick one. If you go on a trip, find something you want to do and plan it out. Choose your adventures this summer and take the renewed sense of control with you back into the classroom this September.
Add a little intention to your summer vacation. To feel rested by the time September comes, leave your work behind. Take some time to just relax and think about nothing. Then, try something you've always wanted to do and go do it. This summer I have one long trip planned with i’s dotted and t’s crossed, and one trip spent with best friends doing whatever sounds good that day. There will even be a few Fridays where I become one with my couch and eat hot Cheetos while watching Reese Witherspoon movies. And! I can promise you this: work will be the farthest thing from my mind every time.