Give Me a (Spring) Break!

by Carolyn Lyon James

Walk into any school building right now, and you can feel the restless energy flowing through all the hallways. It’s cold outside at the moment, but warmer days recently have reminded us that spring is on its way. Everyone is counting down the days until spring break, when we all get a week off from the daily grind. It reminds me of when I was a freshman in college, looking out the window of my dorm room, wishing that spring break would hurry up and arrive.

I was mentally exhausted during my second semester of college. I had taken too many classes that term, and my roommate, who had merely annoyed me the first semester, was quickly getting on my last nerve. I really needed a break. The one thing that kept me hanging on, that kept giving me hope, was the knowledge that spring break was coming up. I had no plans to travel anywhere. I didn’t have any money. I was just happy knowing I would have the dorm room to myself while my roommate was joining thousands of other college students down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the week. She happily bustled about our tiny room, packing bikinis, summer dresses, and flip flops, while I tried to make sense of my chemistry homework.

This was my first-ever spring break. I grew up in a farming community in northeast Iowa. Schools in those areas let out for the summer by Memorial Day each year so all the kids could help out in the fields, planting crops. In order to get out that early, none of those rural schools had a spring break.

Now that I work in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, I can’t imagine making it all the way through the month of May, and into June, without that week off in March to recharge. Most of my co-workers feel the same way. Many talked about needing that week to relax and mentally prepare for that final leg of the journey that makes up the school year. But it’s more than that. As I talked to people, I found that spring break is a true moment of self-indulgence. Winter break, although it lasts longer, tends to be full of obligations — visiting family members, hosting other family members, shopping, and planned activities. But spring break is a week to take care of oneself. And that looks different for everyone. Some people travel to somewhere warm, or exotic. And some people stay close to home. But it is a week to turn inward for a change. It’s a chance to change the focus from students, and their families, back into one’s own family.

We are in the business of helping others. Our job, our whole focus, is teaching and helping students move toward becoming contributing members of society. That one week of vacation in the middle of March lets us redirect our focus back onto ourselves. Every single person I talked to spoke with an almost breathless excitement about how they were going to spend their week off. Even the people who had no plans other than to work around the house or prepare their taxes spoke to me with great anticipation. Some classrooms even have a “Countdown to Spring Break” sign on a wall, so the class can count the number of days until their week off.

It helped me realize how important this one week in March is. This time for self-care and self-indulgence will help replenish our flagging energy. Whether it is drinking mai tais on a white beach, or sipping coffee on the living room couch, this week is for us. We finally get a chance to choose how we spend our time. We can decide for ourselves how late we’ll stay up each night, what time we’ll eat our lunch, and what we’ll do that day. And we’ll get to use the restroom whenever we want!

My greatest hope this spring is that everyone gets to refresh and replenish, both in body and in spirit. Once we get back from spring break, the finish line to summer is within sight. May we all return to work with a renewed sense of purpose, and the ability to once again help our students work toward their goals, and finish the school year strong.