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What Do Teachers Actually Do During Holiday Break?

A cozy winter scene of some feet in wool stockings next to a cute dog.

Holiday break is for sleeping and avoiding interaction with other people. But mostly sleeping.

Holiday break is the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, a hard-earned academic interlude that benefits everyone. Students and educators alike need to kick back and recharge their batteries, and that's what holiday break is all about. While students usually can't wait to spend their break staying up late and hanging out with friends, a teacher's perspective of time well spent away from school can be summed up in three words: Leave. Me. Alone.

Teaching demands a lot of us, so when we get a break from business as usual, we long for the opposite of what our normal workday provides. In place of the noise, chaos, and warp-speed multitasking, we want quiet and order—and zero responsibilities.

Further Reading: What Are the Best (and Worst) Teacher Gifts to Give?

Our students might think we spend each day of winter break tediously planning future lessons. Hardly. Here's what we actually do.

Sleep

Oh, glorious slumber! How we adore thee! A teacher's holiday bedhead is epic, thanks to all the extra shut-eye we log over the break. No waking to an alarm, no rushing through the morning routine, no allowing the clock to dictate our day. Winter break is for sleeping in late and indulging in afternoon naps.

We typically regret the decision to overdose on relaxation once we're back at school, but breaking up with our early school-night bedtime—if only for a week or so—gives us the same sense of freedom and control we feel during the summer.

Lower Our Standards

The beauty of time away from school is time away from beauty. I'm talking wearing sweatpants, using dry shampoo occasionally, and never brushing our hair until school is back in session. Who needs contact lenses for a Netflix binge when we've still got our Coke-bottle glasses from high school? Who needs to shower or get dressed at all before noon on the third day of break?

It's scientific fact that shortening your to-do list alleviates stress. If that means one less shower, hey, who am I to argue with science?

Avoid People

If you see us at the grocery store during winter break and wonder if we rushed down the other aisle just to avoid you, yeah, we probably did.

Look, when school is in session, teachers are surrounded by people. We talk to people, help people, and encourage people all day every day. We do what we do because we love people. But when given the opportunity for some alone time, we grab a hold of it and don't let go. Peace and quiet are rare and valuable and should be seized whenever possible.

Turn Off Our Brains

I've run 5Ks. I've birthed three kids. In the span of a single weekday, I've taught for seven straight hours, survived cafeteria and bus duty, and then coached a dance team. I am no stranger to physical exhaustion. But as every educator knows, teacher brain tired is a whole other level of tired.

Psychology Today reports that humans make about 35,000 decisions per day. For teachers—masters of multitasking that we are—that number is likely higher. No wonder, then, we power down our brains during winter break. I refuse to plan meals or shop for groceries while on break. I have teacher friends who refuse to engage in intellectual anything and opt for mindless television for days on end. One wouldn't leave her house over holiday break because she couldn't muster the energy for even a friendly back-and-forth with a waitress or sales clerk.

Play Catch-Up

Because we eat, sleep, and breathe our careers, we rarely have time to do anything but teach during the school year. So in between naps on holiday breaks, teachers play catch-up with things that other professionals probably pay to have someone do for them: We do the laundry. We clean the house. We get our hair cut. Attending to these menial tasks isn't the optimal way to spend our downtime, but because we can complete them without having to manage 20 students in the process, we still count it as a holiday win.

Further Reading: Stress Management for Teachers: 5 Tips to Help You Survive the Holiday Season

Teaching is a rewarding but all-consuming profession. Teachers love their students, and we love making a difference in their lives. But when holiday break comes around, most teachers just want to step away from the classroom. Our students might have a tough time picturing us binging our favorite shows in our sweatpants, but for us, holiday break is just that: a break.