Work Hard, Then Play Hard
Originally posted on November 10, 2014. In the ensuing years, vacations in the middle of the school year seem to have dramatically increased.
With the winter holiday season fast approaching, we seem to have more vacation days than school days. While teachers enjoy these non-work days as much as students, if we have to be in the classroom, then we hope students are there as well.
Unfortunately, many parents and guardians see the school days around the breaks as being an acceptable time to take their children out of school for an extended vacation. No matter the destination or purpose, it seems to many of us teachers that the families of our students do not see any significant consequence to students taking extra days away from their academic “jobs.” We in the classroom would beg to differ.
As adults, when we take off work for vacation, we often spread our duties to others and then, at the most, check in with work here and there while enjoying ourselves in the mountains, on the beach or in an exotic foreign destination.
When your student is absent from a day of school, he or she is missing 45-50 minutes of classroom instruction or activities, plus about 30 minutes or so of homework. This easily can add up to a 7-8 hour day for each day they are away with you. This work has to be completed at some point, either before the trip, between vacation activities or in addition to their regular work when they return. And, while I can provide alternate assignments, I cannot replicate the personal insight that comes from an analytical comment I might offer as we read or something he or she learns while participating in a group discussion. Those moments are just plain lost.
Sometimes students will say they only have to do 1-2 hours of work for each day they are gone. If they tell you this, one of three things has happened: 1) We have drastically scaled back the work, taking away much that would have enriched their learning, 2) they are just rushing through the assignments and not focusing on them with any great intensity or 3) they are enrolled in classes that are much too easy for them and perhaps should be advanced to the next level of rigor in the following semester or school year.
While they may be out of class, your child is still learning a lesson. Unfortunately, the lesson they are learning is that being in school really isn’t that important. Students are expected to be in their seats 180 days a year, which is only half a year and much less than in other countries. If a family cannot be “inconvenienced” to plan around their child’s school schedule, what is this teaching the next generation about delaying gratification and meeting one’s obligations?
I also doubt many parents realize is that when a student takes time away from the classroom, a teacher’s workload is increased as well. We have to plan alternate or reduced work for the student, which may be hard to do for those who teach in response to the needs of their students and may be changing the day’s content the afternoon before because a class either mastered a concept or needs to repeat it. Sometimes we feel like we are being treated like store clerks who are expected to have the assignment on a shelf and can simply serve it up at a moment’s notice. And the challenge for a teacher of tracking the absent work of the 5-10 students that may miss class on any given day can be challenging to say the least.
Now, I am happy to do this work for a student who has been ill, because he or she could not avoid missing class. They often come back half-healed and I watch out for them in case they need to visit the nurse. However, I get frustrated when parents place an extra burden on both their student and myself because they have what I call the “Havasu Flu.”
One of the popular mottos of this generation is “Work Hard, Play Hard.” If you want your student to be successful, they need to understand these occur in sequential order, not simultaneously.
The Thankful Student
Originally posted on November 24, 2014
In this season where Americans are asked to number the things for which they are thankful, encouraging this practice in the students you send off to our classroom each day is a healthy activity not only for their present but their future.
Often when it comes to school, students seem most thankful for the times they can escape its hallowed halls. They desire to extend vacation as long as possible and moan and complain when work is assigned near major breaks. But, if we can help them look at education from a different perspective, perhaps that attitude might change.
The first thing students should give thanks for is the fact they get to be students at all. In many places, both past and present, near and far, education was and is not highly valued. In some places today your gender still determines whether or not you are educated, while in others it is your income level. Now, we clearly see education disparity in America, but to actually be denied an education is another matter. When I look out across my classroom, I sometimes wonder what it would be like if only boys filled its seats or only a certain race were privileged enough to receive the tools they need to have a chance to succeed in life. If that were the case, my room would be empty both physically and spiritually.
Students should also be thankful for the teachers and staff who work hard to provide that education. While I am the last to complain about the hours and pay involved in my job, as I knew many of the pitfalls when entering this industry, I do not deny that much of what I choose to do to provide the best education possible for my students is neither required nor well compensated. For all those who think our vacation days are carefree, please note that I am “on vacation” right now, have worked much of the weekend and still have a very large stack of work that will occupy my week. Some weeks are better than others, but they should remember we willingly sacrifice a good deal of our “off hours” to help them succeed.
The last, but certainly not the least, of those who deserve recognition are many of you: the parents and guardians who do your best to raise your children and prepare them for what lies ahead. You are the ones challenging them to apply themselves in traditional or accelerated courses. You are sitting down each night and trying to help them understand the complexities of their assignments and figure out how they can finish their work on time. You are driving them to practices and competitions for the extracurricular activities that enrich their education and lives. You are explaining to them that learning from occasional failure can often be more important than achieving constant success. What you do is not required either, but is given freely out of love and a desire to see them do as well as, or perhaps much better than, you have done in the game of life.
To show students how much I care, and to give them a bit of perspective, I will from time to time “pull back the curtain” and explain the amount of work that goes into creating or grading their work. This helps them realize I am as committed, and sometimes more committed, to this process as they are. Helping them understand how dedicated you and so many others are to the proposition that their education is vitally important is a great way to motivate them to achieve success at this level and beyond. If such thankfulness prompts them to work harder in their present studies and future jobs, it likely will reap a bountiful harvest down the road, giving them much to rejoice in as they mature.
Now that’s something that deserves to be celebrated on more than just the fourth Thursday of November.
I have been a public high school teacher in Southern California since 2005 and writing since junior high. I have an affinity for chocolate, photography, sarcasm and well-written TV shows that refuse to talk down to their audiences.