We Don’t Own Their Free Time

It certainly has been a tough first half of the year. No matter the environment you’ve taught in this year–in-person, hybrid, remote, or a combination of it all–teaching has definitely been much more challenging.

December brings a sort of unofficial finish to the first half of the school year. Even a pandemic can’t slow down the holiday vibes of excitement, hustle and bustle, and the long-awaited break.

Teachers have definitely earned that break. We always do, but this year it seems needed more than ever. Screen time, constant adjustments to environments, roster changes, curriculum challenges, closures, reopenings…you name it, the first half of the 2020-2021 school year has thrown it our way. It is now a time for us to take a break and get away from the computer screen, the Google Meets, the constant emails and phone calls, and the feeling that we are never quite caught up or doing enough to just be. We can recharge, spend time in our safe bubble of people, reach out to those we can’t be with, and just get away from all of it.

There is so much out there saying that teacher self-care is more important than ever. I completely agree with all of it. I sincerely mean that. Teachers do, indeed, need to take care of themselves. This holiday break should be left to do all of those things listed above. It should be meant to do anything, but work.

I’m sure every teacher is nodding along with this. And, if you’re not, you should.

But, here’s the thing…

Kids deserve the same exact thing.

They deserve to unplug from school. They deserve to spend time with their families, talk with their friends, binge Netflix, play video games. They deserve to not think about this school thing until they get back from their well-deserved break.

As stressed as teachers are, imagine being a student. Imagine being a first grader attending school through a computer. Imagine being a middle schooler trying to navigate the jump in academic responsibility and social interaction, but having to remember what days to log into a computer, what days to get on the bus, and keeping track of their social status. Imagine being a high school student who is keeping up on their higher-level classes, worried about college, and longing for those traditions that they have been promised since they entered the public school system.

Just as it hasn’t been easy for teachers, it has been infinitely more difficult for kids. Keeping up with their work in multiple environments is difficult. Completing asynchronous work, synchronous work, dealing with teachers who still aren’t effective delivery instruction via technology is so challenging, so stressful. They are doing an amazing job, but they need a break.

No matter the popular narrative or the awful videos making fun of kids in a digital classroom, it is an indisputable fact that kids want to learn. They want to be successful. They have been this year despite the obstacles that we are all facing.

They do not need nor do they deserve vacation homework, just like teachers don’t need vacation work. The students need time to recharge, refocus, and come back strong to learn. Taking away from their free time–their personal time–will not allow them to do that.

Why do educators believe that they own the free time of their students? What makes students’ free time any less important than our own?

Neither question can be answered with research. Homework does not, nor has it ever, taught kids responsibility. Homework does not make kids better learners or help teachers reinforce the curriculum better. Homework does not help students develop lifelong working habits and it certainly is not a sign of a rigorous course. And, there is certainly no academic value in assigning homework on a vacation.

So, the only answer one can give is tradition. 2020 has been a lot of things, but it has been the year that has shown that the long-held traditions of education largely do not work. The lectures, the rote tasks never worked, but they certainly failed miserably in hybrid and remote learning environments. Homework, as proven by extensive research, has never worked. And, it certainly isn’t working now with the majority of kids already doing so much on their own at home. Homework is, was, and probably always will be broken.

Tradition isn’t a reason to not improve things for kids. Tradition isn’t a reason to tell kids that their free time isn’t worthy of their own pursuits. Tradition isn’t a reason to tell kids that their own mental well-being–the same mental well-being that we teachers want to pay attention to in ourselves–isn’t worthy because our work is more important.

We do not own anyone’s free time. Nobody does. This whole arrogance that the teaching profession has about telling kids what to do outside of school hours has to end. It should’ve ended a long time ago, but it has never been as important to do so as right now.

Education does not need to control what kids do outside of school hours. Kids will be alright; they have been, considering the homework given to them has had zero impact on their success, their work ethic, or their readiness for the next level.

We all need the break. We all need to recharge so that we can move forward to the second half of our uncertain year. As much as there is hope for a future without Covid, that hope will not be our reality in January. Teachers deserve the break.

Students deserve it even more.