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The Gift of Time: Benefits of Teacher Sabbaticals

Voice of ExperienceEach week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! classroom moment in the Education World Voice of Experience series. In this column, educator Kathleen Modenbach faces the end of a sabbatical year and her imminent return to the classroom. Sure we're in the midst of a teacher shortage, but the benefits of giving teachers sabbatical leave far outweigh the drawbacks, Modenbach says. Included: Are sabbaticals a waste of valuable time or a valuable tool for refreshing and retaining teachers? Join the discussion!

Image Summer break for teachers seems to be shorter than ever. Even when we had a full three months off, I never went on vacation until I had been away from school for at least two weeks. I needed those two weeks to peel off the school year and get to know myself again.

Now, more than ever, I know that summer break is not enough time to recharge. You see, I had the good fortune to spend the past year on a sabbatical leave from teaching. Despite all the red tape I had to un-stick in order to get my sabbatical approved, I know that its gift of time was beneficial to me -- and to the students I'll be teaching this year.

I requested my sabbatical leave last March. At first, I was unable to get the leave approved. School officials wouldn't approve a sabbatical so I could spend time writing. (Imagine, an English teacher who might want to write!) They did approve the request, however, when I decided I would use the time to take four graduate computer classes.

Join Discussion

Kathleen Modenbach is about to return to the classroom after a one-year sabbatical. She returns refreshed and eager to get back at it. She's also eager to make a case for maintaining sabbatical leaves for teachers! Does your school have a policy regarding sabbatical leaves? Do you see the value in them? Are you one of the lucky teachers who has taken one? Click here to share your thoughts!

During the sabbatical period, I received 65 percent of my salary and full benefits. (Some communities offer leave with no pay, others offer full pay.) Before you call me "lucky," consider that teacher pay in Louisiana ranks near the bottom of the Southern average!

Most teachers pass on sabbaticals. Many worry about living on partial salary during the sabbatical period. Others fear they might never want to return to the classroom. But I feel more eager to return to the classroom than ever. I am eager to try out so many new ideas!

The new ideas I'm excited to try out never would have surfaced during a summer break. So much of summer break time is spent winding down and catching up. Sure, we all have moments of summertime inspiration, but the short summer never seems to allow time to examine and re-examine those inspirations from all perspectives.

My sabbatical year afforded me time to learn how to use PowerPoint, HyperStudio, Site Central, and many other multimedia programs. It also provided time to discuss technology with professors and other teachers and to rethink my old ways of doing things. For example, this year I will totally revamp the way I teach my students' senior research project. This year, my students will use technology to help build their thesis statements and they will justify their statements using a multimedia format as well as a written format.

I also had time during the sabbatical period to think about my students' reactions to some of my standard assignments. This year, I'll drop some lessons and rearrange others. The result will be a curriculum that better fits my re-thought perceptions of my students.

Sabbatical is all about having time to think and do. When I think back, I spent five hours registering for the computer classes I took. As inconvenient as it was, imagine doing that after school!

I also had a one-hour drive -- 30 minutes each way -- to my twice-weekly classes. Think about that at the end of a long school day!

Because I had the time, I was able to carpool with two other teachers, which saved driving time and money, while giving the three of us an opportunity to bounce ideas around, to reflect on those ideas, and to take them to the next level.

Isn't time the thing teachers crave most? A teacher's day is dictated by bells. Bells signal the start and end of classes. Bells signal the end of an all-too-short lunch break. No bells rang while I was on sabbatical; there was time to think and grow.

My sabbatical provided time for me to attend to the minutia of life. I had time to make about 20 calls to the university to complain that I didn't owe them for a book my class never used. I had time to have lunch with friends -- in real restaurants. I had time to do more volunteer work at church. I had time to write poetry.

A sabbatical is all about time. Mine gave me the personal time to step off the education treadmill, to examine myself and my teaching, and to reflect on how my life fits into the big picture. My sabbatical was a gift, a gift that will benefit me and the system I'll return to this fall.

Kathleen Modenbach is an English teacher for St. Tammany Parish Schools in Louisiana. She teaches at Northshore High School and writes for The Times Picayune in New Orleans.

Click to read Voice of Experience columns from previous weeks.


Article by Kathleen Modenbach
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