I’ve spent ten of my twelve years of classroom teaching in year-round schools. I will make no secret of how much I enjoy the schedule and the lifestyle, but I recognize that they are not for everyone. That said, however, many of the teachers who express doubt to me about whether they would like to teach year-round don’t really understand what they are all about. Here is my best attempt to educate about, and evangelize for, year-round elementary and middle school.
Note: I’m discussing here multi-track year-round schools, which (obviously) come with a long list of challenges. The goal of this list is simply to point out the advantages, many of which are not obvious.
1. It’s much harder to reach your energy limit. In year-round schools, students and teachers work for nine week “track in” periods separated by 3 week “track out” breaks. I never knew how unrelenting the fatigue of teaching could be until I left year-round for a traditional calendar school. Why would anyone prefer one gigantic break in the summer instead of four smaller ones spread throughout the year?
2. It’s also harder to get bored. Someone will argue with me about this–I’m sure–but I get bored when I’m off for months at a time. Three weeks is some kind of magical period of time during which I relax, recharge, and rethink without missing the classroom or getting that feeling that I need to keep busy.
3. The students stay in “learning mode” continuously. I took this for granted before I switched to a traditional calendar, but students never get far enough away from school days to switch into the “standby mode” that they have at the end of a summer break. With a little review, you can get right back to exploring new content with them.
4. The cycle of professional development is built in. Every teacher has had that moment when she wished that she could hit the reset button on a unit or course of study. We’ve all wanted to start over again at some point to improve something or try something new. That opportunity presents itself throughout the year in year-round schools because a track out break is a great time to read a book, attend a workshop, or complete an online class, and then put those ideas to work right away.
5. You don’t use as many sick days. How many times have you taken a sick day as you felt a cold start to come on? How many times was the real culprit exhaustion from months without a break? I managed to bank a ridiculous number of sick days during my first seven years as a teacher. Of course, then I had kids of my own and I burned through them pretty quickly.
6. You can vacation when the beaches/parks/mountains/etc. are not packed with other travelers. This is one of those no-brainers, right? I’ve been fortunate enough to take my family to Disney World in early December and the North Carolina mountains in April. I sit by my neighborhood pool after Labor Day enjoying the peace and quiet. Now that’s what I call relaxing.
7. It’s harder to be a hoarder. In most multi-track year-round schools, teachers pack up from their classrooms before taking their break. The returning teacher moves into that space so that a school only needs classrooms for 3 tracks (75% of the teachers). All of that packing and unpacking forced me to limit my collection of teaching materials to just the ones I needed the most. I took pictures of student work instead of saving it. I use digital documents instead of a filing cabinet full of paper.
8. Collaboration becomes less about doing the same thing at the same time. And more about doing what’s best for your students. Professional learning teams composed of same-grade-level, same-subject teachers are forced to deal with the fact that each track is on a staggered version of the same schedule. We focus on what we have in common, and how we can help one another, not on standardizing our lessons into lock-step harmony.
9. There is no time to obsess over the past. Too many teachers get hung up on the mistakes they’ve made or the stumbles of their students. The pace of year-round school is constant, which forces us to have one foot in the present and the other in the future. When something goes wrong, we look immediately to what needs to happen next time.
10. It always feels simultaneously like the first week of school and the last week of school. With one track always settling in after returning from a break, and another gearing up to take their break, the school climate rises and falls on a three week schedule that makes it feel like your breaks are always around the corner.
Year-round teachers, what did I miss? Traditional calendar teachers, what did I get wrong?