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Dear Gov. Hogan: Give me a break!

Gov. Larry Hogan visits Ocean City and signs an executive order requiring Maryland public schools to begin after Labor Day.
Gov. Larry Hogan visits Ocean City and signs an executive order requiring Maryland public schools to begin after Labor Day. (Caitlin Faw / Baltimore Sun)

Dear Gov. Hogan,

I am an elementary school teacher in Prince George’s County. While I enjoy the occasional unexpected snow day as much as anyone, I am mourning the loss of our spring break.

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Last August when you handed down the executive order that all schools must end before June 15 and that “school after Labor Day is now the law of the land,” you dictated that economic policy — and not education policy — should be the determining factor when deciding an academic schedule.

Don’t get me wrong. I love spending time at the beach. I’ve often said one of my favorite things about being a teacher is July. But the longer the summer vacation, the harder my job becomes. You see, I have been charged with closing the achievement gap. Students who struggle the most in school lose more ground over the summer. We don’t have enough enrichment programs and summer school slots for all the low-income children who need them. The longer the break, the further the divide between rich and poor.

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Baltimore and Wicomico counties have already asked to cut the school year short because of bad weather. Howard is trying, and more districts may soon follow. Blame Gov. Larry Hogan.

According to research, the quality of my work is the single greatest school-related factor in a child’s academic success. So if you care about the children of Maryland, you care about me. In order me to be most effective at my job, I do not need 11 weeks of summer vacation. I need regular breaks throughout the year.

Why? Because the work of a school teacher is exhausting. 180 days a year I wake up before dawn in order to greet my students at the door at 7:30 am. Every second of the seven and half hours of my contractual day is filled, and my work overflows well beyond the end of the school day. In addition to teaching animated lessons that are catered to meet the unique needs of my students’ distinct personalities and learning styles, I resolve conflicts, bandage wounds, wipe up spills, wipe away tears, tangle with copy machines and collaborate with colleagues. I must do all of this with the patience and persistence of an Emperor Penguin, lest one of my eggs tumble and crack.

I don’t mean to complain. Teaching is rewarding and fulfilling. I love my job. But it is emotionally and physically draining work. It is not a job that is easily sustained five days a week without pause.

With two-hour delays, snow days and a couple breaks for holidays, public school students across Maryland have rarely had a full week of uninterrupted lessons during the first months of 2015.

This year I have felt the impact of our condensed school year. With fewer three-day weekends and professional development days, I am more run down and burned out than in years past. I have less energy to run extracurricular activities and a lower tolerance for my students’ antics. In short, I am not the best teacher I can be.

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This is why I am heartbroken about our truncated spring break. While the occasional snow day is a welcome respite, a week-long spring break is a necessary reboot. It is when we, teachers and students, lift our heads out of the water, catch our breath, check-in with our families, and prepare for the next leg of the journey. It is when we take care of ourselves so we can return to our classrooms with a renewed well of energy, insight and that necessary patience.

Baltimore County schools have to add half day for hours lost to snow. Carroll cuts spring break.

By forcing Prince George’s County’s hand to shorten our spring break, along with other Maryland school districts, your executive order will negatively impact teachers’ morale and performance. Students as well will suffer from the extended summer vacation and shortened spring break.

Governor Hogan, I suggest you trust the education professionals to do what is best for teachers and students. Starting the year earlier and extending into June provides us with the wiggle room to create school schedules that allow for weather, holidays, professional development and spring break, and to do what it takes to make sure every child in Maryland has access to the best education possible. Teachers don’t need a three month vacation. We just need a well earned break.

Jessica Howell Ellis (jrhellis@gmail.com ) is an elementary school teacher in Prince George's County Public Schools and a Teach Plus Maryland Education Policy Fellow.

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