Recently, I passed a teacher in the school mailroom and noticed she looked deflated. Weird, I thought, given that she had just come back from a pretty phenomenal trip (or maybe that isn’t so weird after all). Nonetheless, when I asked her how her trip was, her response was a “great… but.” Her principal was not happy that she took off four days of school, though she had secured the school’s best substitute and prepared her well.
“Vacations are meant for summer break and Christmas,” the principal essentially scolded my teacher friend. “What will the children think? That they, too, can gallivant about the world during the academic year? If you must go on a vacation, you are not to tell your students.”
What a missed opportunity. And what a… umm… meanie.
Sure, ideally these trips would be reserved for summer and Christmas break. But families (especially extended families) have many moving parts. Not all jobs have these admittedly luxurious holidays. While summer is the best time for a teacher to take a vacation, it might not be so for his or her spouse. When a vacation is scheduled during the school year, the silver lining is bright.
For teachers, a trip can provide a real morale boost — an opportunity to decompress. But it can be a learning opportunity, too, for teachers and for their students. If teachers are to take up the task of preparing their students for life in the “real world,” what an asset it is to teach from personal experience. On her return, my teacher friend had brought her digital camera’s SD card to show her class pictures of a place very different from what they knew and a CD featuring that place’s indigenous music. But, no, according to principal, if she did go on such a trip and — God forbid — take time away from distributing rote math practice sheets geared to the state’s standardized test, she should deny her students’ innate curiosities and tell them that she was sick for four days. In other words: make herself a liar and her class the easily deceived.
To speak to the principal’s other point, that students shouldn’t take such vacations either, I say that educators need to humble themselves and realize that as they pertain to learning, a classroom’s walls are porous. Sure, learning happens inside those walls, but all the better when it is gained from experience: from haggling at a Moroccan bazaar, from sharing the same air as Grant Wood’s American Gothic at the Art Institute of Chicago, or from reading a good book in a cabana on a Miami beach. It is the parent’s prerogative when to treat his or her child to such vivid learning. And when that parent is a teacher, so long as the trip isn’t excessively long and he has left a competent substitute well-prepared, let him enjoy sans guilt trip (pun intended).