New York high school teacher Michael Rosenberg recognizes the value of vacations. Each year he plans a trip with his best friend from college, and they tour destinations around the globe. “I think it’s important to be a well-rounded person and explore this great big world we have,” says Rosenberg, who teaches social studies at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens, New York. “I feel like if you stay in one place, you’ll get into a rut.”
Photo courtesy of Michael Rosenberg
Recent travels have taken the best buddies and their significant others to Italy, Las Vegas and New Orleans, where they check out the sights, catch up on each other’s lives and reminisce about the past. By the end of their travels, they’re already figuring out where they want to head next. “We enjoy the planning part almost as much as the actual trip itself,” Rosenberg says.
Everyone needs a break
For too many Americans, including educators, it can be tempting to work day in and day out, without taking a breather—even during winter, spring and summer breaks. Yet research has shown that working without a break can have an adverse impact on a person’s mental and physical health.
If an educator never takes a vacation, “there’s not sufficient time to disconnect. It can create a host of problems, including increasing stress levels, and overwork can lead to burnout and even cardiovascular disease and heart attacks,” says Matthew Grawitch, an expert in work-life balance and the director of strategic research at Saint Louis University, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Yet, the amount of vacation time Americans take advantage of each year has fallen dramatically, from 20 days in 2000 to 16 days in in 2013, according to research by Project: Time Off, a program of the U.S. Travel Association that is designed to show the value of time off. A variety of economic and personal factors may affect an educator’s decision about whether or when to travel, but the study shows that employers haven’t cut the number of days available to take off—employees just aren’t taking the time away.
Meanwhile, a poll conducted last year by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that about 20% of employees work at least 50 hours per week. Many educators fall into that group. Of those workers, 57% say their job has increased their stress levels and 45% say that work stress impairs their sleep.
Only half of those who work long hours say they take all or most of their vacation, and half of those who work 50 or more hours each week say they “often” or “sometimes” continue to work while on vacation.
Family trips and long vacations
Jenifer Almassy of the Michigan Education Association used the NEA Travel Program to plan a family vacation. “When you’re able to purchase something as expensive as four days of Disney and get three free—it was awesome. It was great savings for me and my family.” More and more NEA members are taking Almassy’s lead and searching for money-saving discounts before booking travel. It can mean the difference between affording a getaway or missing out on an opportunity for rejuvenation.
Shantelle Ford, a 4th-grade teacher at West Kearns Elementary School in Kearns, Utah, says, “I love my job, but I really do need the break.”
Photo courtesy of Shantelle Ford
The 28-year-old will make quick weekend trips around Utah to visit national parks or go to the theater, and takes one major trip each summer, typically traveling with her mother or with friends. Last summer she visited Egypt. The year before she went to Russia. “I love art and architecture,” she says.
During her Egyptian trip, Ford visited ancient obelisks and then showed her students photos of herself standing at the obelisks to help teach lessons on the impacts of water and erosion, capturing their attention.
Lisa Hampton, who teaches 8th grade at Fruit Cove Middle School in St. Johns, Florida, sees vacation time as family time. She has three daughters: the older two now in college and the youngest in high school. “We’ve always made a point to do something together,” she says.
Often, Hampton’s family will combine a “trip” with a “vacation.” For example, last summer they headed to Kansas City for her in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary and then spent a few days vacationing in the Smoky Mountains.
The family has also combined tours to visit college campuses with sightseeing along the way. She says that traveling with her kids has allowed her to “discover a lot more” about her daughters, particularly as they get older.
“Taking that time away is critical to your sense of self and well-being,” she says. “You recharge your battery by getting away from the day to day.”
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, professor emerita of psychological and brain sciences at University of Massachusetts Amherst, says educators often “aren’t as ready to take time off as other professions. You could work at your job all the time and feel like you don’t do enough.”
However, by taking time away, “you come back with new perspectives and experiences gained from your travels. That makes you a better teacher. Experiences really broaden your horizons,” Krauss Whitbourne says.