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'Cause We All Need a Break!

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and in every class,

All the creatures were crossing off days as they passed.

The teachers were minding their charges with care.

Vacation was coming. They need not despair!

And students were trying their best to attend,

In spite of their wish for this school week to end.

Fall term had been busy with assignments each night.

Their heads were crammed full with “fun facts” and “flash writes.” 

They had studied both cell types and nuclear fission,

And were weary from practice of much long division.

Assigned reading had boasted a hearty array

Of articles, poetry, novels, and plays.

Assessments included projects, quizzes, and tests,

So it really seemed time for their poor brains to rest.

Yet they toiled away, that diligent crew,

And kept at the grindstone til their lessons were through.

When the last bell, it sounded, they trembled with fear,

As they hoped against hope from their teachers to hear,

“It’s vacation! No homework! Your coursework is done.

And you’d better be ready: it’s time for some fun!

"No essays! No vocab!

No algebraic expressions!

No Shakespeare! No physics! 

Or "real world" questions!

To your grandparents' houses!

To the ski slopes or malls!

‘Cause sometimes the best work

Is no work at all!”

As crystal air quiets before the blizzard’s blast blows,

The children sat frozen, but the teachers, they rose.

In a flash, with bold marker, on each whiteboard they drew,

“Happy vacation to all. There’s no homework for you!”

From once quiet classrooms, there came joyous hoots,

Then the donning and squeaking of wet winter boots.

Students, shouting and laughing, off to home they did head.

Free from “Must-Do’s” and “Do Now’s,” they had nothing to dread.

Home to cookies and cocoa and sledding, they ran.

With dreams of the days stretched before them, they planned

To get rest and to honor their family traditions.

Enjoying themselves could now be their prime mission.

Yes! Vacation is downtime, for one and for all, 

when parents and kids can regroup after fall,

Spending time as a family, all to themselves,

Exploring the games, books, and toys on their shelves.

There’ll be plenty of hours for learning this spring,

But these precious days off are for celebrating! 

For the greatest assignment to give, please remember,

Is free time for each family to share this December. 

Teachers, proudly proclaim, “Nope! It’s not a mistake.

There’s no homework to do, ‘cause we all need a break!"

Author’s note:

No doubt, you’ve encountered a number of doom-declaring editorials in response to the recently released research that reports a host of profound and pervasive trends that have been attributed specifically to the impact of school closures and extended online learning during the pandemic.

If so, you are keenly aware of the dramatic hand-wringing, mean-spirited finger pointing, and free-floating panic over what is being termed “learning loss” in the media these days. 

Just so you know, teachers have, well, thoughts about that research and what it can actually teach us about the American educational system pre-, during, and post-Covid. 

If we choose to listen to it, that is.

Unfortunately, when people are under the impression that a system has suddenly burst into flame, they tend to start throwing water at it, a lot of water. In educational circles, that water generally takes the form of copious amounts of additional work, both for teachers and their students. More classwork, more homework, more assessments, more standardized testing…just a whole bunch of more.   

But sometimes water isn’t the right tool for the job. This is especially true when, say, decades of overexposure to “water” is a major underlying, if unacknowledged, cause of the profound and pervasive structural problems that ignited the conflagration in the first place.

Given all the hubbub, it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that, in a well-intentioned but misguided effort to put out the metaphorical fire, there are stakeholders, particularly administrators and parents, pushing to sustain and potentially increase what for many students is already an unreasonable amount of homework. As a result, what should rightfully be vacation time for students can look like an opportunity to cram in additional practice to teachers who are feeling pressured to “improve educational outcomes.” Of course, this flies in the face of solid, long-standing studies that clearly evidence the overwhelmingly positive impacts that reducing and eliminating homework have on learning. 

As a teacher and executive functioning coach, I assure you that science could not be more clear: the human brain requires downtime. Sure, downtime from work can be short breaks for a walk, meditation, outdoor and indoor play, or even doing “non-work” tasks we enjoy such as baking, gardening, or watching a movie or sporting event. Taking short, intentional brain breaks throughout the course of each day helps your brain tackle the work of processing and repairing it must do to support learning and restore the levels of attention and motivation humans need to be our most creative, productive selves. Longer breaks, winter school vacations for example, are especially vital because they give our brains a true break from the executive functioning tasks required to organize and manage the time, materials, and demands of our to-do list-driven daily schedules. Vacations give students a breather from the otherwise steady stream of new and often complex information their brains are repeatedly tasked with synthesizing and storing. Significantly, vacations from school and jobs offer kids and adults alike a chance to live for a few wonderful and necessary days each year without the pressure of impending due dates weighing on our hardworking brains.   

And so, in these darkest days of the year, I encourage all of us to halt the frenzied brigade, put down those water buckets, take a deep breath, and give all of our brains a break. It’s been a long, hard haul since March of 2020. Now is the moment to give everyone the gift of Time to rekindle the light of community with their people and their traditions, whomever, wherever, and whatever those might be, and that gift can only fully be realized when students get to head home for winter break unburdened by assignments.

Because sometimes the work we really need to do is no work at all. 

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