Ditch the kiddos, book your jet to the Bahamas, and forget you spend your life washing chalk out of your clothes. It's like summer on steroids, and it's the reason we got into teaching in the first place, right?
Yeah, we know. Not right at all.
Teaching is the bomb-dot-com, but even the most dedicated of us need a break. And now that we mention it, sabbaticals aren't really just a long vacation, anyway. In theory, at least, there's a whole set of accomplishments you can rack up while you're sunning in the Bahamas.
Got your sunscreen? Let's get started.
According to the United Federation of Teachers, "Sabbaticals are available to teachers to:
- Enhance their teaching skills
- Restore their health
- Achieve state certification in a shortage area." (source)
All great reasons, if you ask us. Some sabbaticals manage to satisfy all three criteria, and you never know—maybe you can even check 'em off your list from a sandy paradise.
Before you start planning, though, you'll want to review your district's policy concerning sabbaticals to determine a few super important things you'll need to know in advance.
- First things first: are you eligible to take a sabbatical?
Find out how many years of service you need to have had in the district in order to apply. Lengths vary, and they vary a lot. Some places say six years, and others say 14. So you better find out what your district's policy is before you book your tickets out only to find you've got another three years to go.
- For what purposes can you take a sabbatical?
As we mentioned, the AFT lists the restoration of health as a justified reason for requesting a sabbatical. And hey, teacher burnout can cause some serious health impact that nothing can fix like some good R&R. But again, it all depends on the districts, and there are some that only grant sabbaticals for scholarly pursuits.
- How long can your sabbatical be?
Once again, depends on the district and the school. Some spots provide for full-year opportunities, and others only a semester at a time.
- How much will you be paid during your sabbatical?
Some districts will keep a teacher at full pay during a sabbatical, while others may reduce salary during the leave. Can you rent out a beachside villa, or are you doomed to an eleven-bed hostel with a view of the brick wall next door? We told you these questions were important.
- Are there any requirements you must fulfill upon returning from your sabbatical?
Often, you must either return to your position (or one of equal seniority) and remain in it for a period of time (typically 1-3 years) following a sabbatical, or else you've got to pay back your sabbatical salary. Additionally, you may need to document your sabbatical with proof of enrollment forms (in the case of additional education or other programming), a presentation to faculty and staff, or other materials to indicate how you spent your time and what you gained. A collection of seashells probably isn't enough.
Once you know the answers to all of these questions, you can start dreaming.
What Do You Want to Do?
Before you can live the dream, you have to dream it.
Don't worry if you haven't had it all planned out ever since you started teaching in the first place. If you're having a hard time coming up with an idea, don't be afraid to start brainstorming a list of topics that interest you or things you've always wanted to do.
If you know you want to engage in professional development in your content area, start browsing through courses at local colleges. Or non-local colleges, if that's what you're into. Part of your sabbatical may include exploring a new town or city while you pursue educational opportunities. Hey, it's your time.
Another place to glean a few ideas is in the websites about gap years. As the gap year gains popularity in the U.S. (it's long been a staple in European countries), numerous organizations, programs, and books have popped up to help students figure out how to spend theirs. When you think about it, a sabbatical isn't all that different from a gap year, so it makes sense that gap year literature could have some good ideas for a teacher's sabbatical, too.
And of course, one of the best ways to come up with ideas for your sabbatical is to examine how other teachers have spent theirs.
And once you've taken yours, consider adding it to the mix.
Ducks in a Row
Submit your application early—preferably before the deadline. That's what you tell your students applying to college, and the same goes for you, too. Often, only a limited number of sabbaticals can be granted at a time, and though the selection process doesn't necessarily follow a first-come, first-served kinda policy, getting your application in early can't hurt.
Got it? Congrats. Now the real planning begins. The first thing you should do is start setting aside money. Perhaps you've already determined all of your costs and know that you can get by with your sabbatical salary, but we're talking about living the dream here, remember? It's possible that great opportunities you haven't even considered will present themselves, and you don't want to have to pass them up for lack of funds if there's any way around it.
It's also possible that your sabbatical salary won't leave you quite as comfortable as you had hoped. Any money you can stock away in advance will help to keep you in the black and, as a result, in the pink.
Onto the meaty bits. Start applying for classes, making travel arrangements, and planning out your calendar. Plus, keep yourself on task: review your sabbatical application and make sure you're clear on the goals you set for yourself and the purpose of your sabbatical. You may even consider posting those goals somewhere highly visible to help keep yourself focused. It's not all a trip to the Bahamas, after all.
Sure, that doesn't mean you don't get your vacay time too. If you're taking a month to hike the Appalachian Trail with your family during your sabbatical, it'll be that literal path that's keeping you organized and focused. You know, instead of the metaphorical one if you're working on research, writing a book, pursuing an advanced degree or certification, and so on. Whatever the end of the path, it can be helpful to review those goals from time to time just to make sure you're still on track.
What If You Just Can't?
You've got to face the possibility.
It's possible that you'll apply for a sabbatical and get turned down. Or maybe you'll realize you can't swing a sabbatical financially right now. Or perhaps when you review your district's sabbatical policy you'll find that you need to put in ten more years before you'll be eligible.
But don't quit your job and hop a one-way plane to the Caribbean just yet. You may feel like you can't make it through another set of kids without a break, but that's why you take these steps for self-care during the school year. Or if you really need the time off, sabbatical or no, find out how to make it feasible.
And hey—there are still options without making the plunge.
Even if you aren't able to take a semester or a full-year sabbatical, maybe you'll still be able to fit in a mini one. It may not be everything you'd dreamed of, but it will still help refresh and rejuvenate your spirit, while also enhancing your skills and knowledge.
Plus, remember how the first thing we said you should do if you got your sabbatical was to start stocking up your money? Well, it turns out that's what you should do if you don't get your sabbatical, too.
For a mini-sabbatical (think winter break, spring break, a week out of your summer vacation—whenever you can fit it in), you won't need a ton of cash, just enough to pay for a course you're interested in taking, a one-week rental to help you get out of Dodge for a bit, or a new tent and some hiking boots so you can hit the trail.
Basically, whatever you need to change things up and give your professional (and personal) life a boost.
Whether or not that involves the Bahamas.
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