Teacher Sabbaticals – What They Are and Why You Should Take One

If you’re like me, you’re no longer in the traditional gap year age-range of 18-30.

You’re at this weird stage in life where you may be younger than many of your colleagues, but you’re old enough to have many opportunities seem “too young” for you.

Please don’t let this discourage you from considering a gap “year!”

Note that the word “year” is in quotes – as even a month or more spent away from your routine can be just as beneficial.

Thankfully, the “gap year” as we know it has a respectable, grown up, older sister – something we call, a “sabbatical.”

Finding a teacher on sabbatical nowadays isn’t common, but they’re out there. In fact, taking a year off from your normal work routine is more common than you might think. There are still several companies that offer sabbatical benefits, with the reasoning that being away from mundane duties and routine results in richer innovation and creativity. They’re not wrong!

In the education field, where teachers are no longer tenured, it’s no longer seen as often – but it’s starting to become more acceptable. As work pressures and stress pull teachers away from the field, smart principals and education leaders are starting to recognize the possible benefits of sabbaticals. They understand that losing a teacher for a year or two is actually beneficial for them in the long-run. The skills acquired, languages learned, and rejuvenated spark a teacher gains during a gap, has a strong and lasting ripple effect.

Sara Olivieri is a shining example of what a teacher on sabbatical can do for a community. During her sabbatical, she focused on making socio-emotional learning and wellness more accessible to teachers and students. This is something that’s harder to focus on when you’re in charge of a traditional classroom. Her time away has allowed her to learn, grow, and share this rich experience with others.

Her bosses understood that losing a great teacher for a year or two is a minor setback, if that teacher is refreshed enough to serve students for another 10 or more years down the road. Not to mention, those newly-learned skills enhance the lives of everyone who will work with her.

What is a sabbatical?

So, just what is a sabbatical, anyway?

A sabbatical is based on the originally Jewish** (and now Judeo-Christian**) idea known today as a “sabbath.” Today, a sabbath day is observed as a day of complete rest from work, and a holy (set aside) day for worship and prayer. The idea of a sabbatical is, for every seven years of work, you get one year to travel, rest, reflect, and/or to work on skills and interests. Many companies used to pay for it, and some still do!

**Note that I acknowledge that other religions set aside days for worship, too – but the Jewish culture was unique in the sense that it was a theocracy. Their religious customs and traditions given to them by God were the law of the people and the land – not just of the temple or synagogue.

Of course, that’s not the typical case for teachers – though, if your school or district does that, let’s talk! I’ll want to interview you about it on our weekly Facebook Live setup for our Traveling Teachers group!).

When to take a sabbatical

While a sabbatical won’t work for every person, and with the consideration that a sabbatical might be harder to take depending on your responsibilities and commitments, you might want to consider taking one if:

  • You’re feeling burnt out on teaching, but you don’t want to leave the field entirely
  • You know you need a break, but you’re nowhere near retirement
  • You’re in-between working abroad and coming back home
  • Your family or marital status has recently changed
  • You’re considering going back to school
  • You’re definitely going back to school
  • You’ve recently completed a degree or training program
  • You just need a personal reset (due to a break-up, divorce, death in the family, or some other life-changing event)

I know it might seem strange to have to convince someone why a year (or less, or more) away from work is desirable, but I totally get the hesitation. Any possible excitement is met with the equal intensity of these paralyzing fears:

  • Will the year off hurt my career?
  • Will I be passed up for future job opportunities in other fields?
  • Will I be miss out on career advancements down the line?
  • Will I miss out on a possible promotion?
  • Will I even be re-hired at my current school?
  • Will that year or more of lost retirement earnings hurt me in the long-run?
  • What about my spouse/significant other?
  • What about my kids? Can they even come with me?
  • What about my pets, and my home?
  • Will I have to sell my car?
  • If not, where will I store my car while I’m gone? Or, can I take it with me?
  • Will I have good access to healthcare if I’m a foreigner abroad?
  • Who am I if I’m not a teacher?
  • Will I like who I am if and when I’m not a teacher?

These are all definitely factors to consider, and each person’s situation is unique – but the nice thing about taking some time off in your 30’s or later, is that you already have a few years of professional work under your belt. You also likely have a strong direction for your career path over the next few years.

Sabbaticals can help you discover (or re-discover) your true self and identity

The downside to having the intense focus that teachers often have, is that we sometimes tie too much of our career as a teacher to our personal identity. A sabbatical can be great for that, as it helps you to explore who you are without the job.

Audrey Parker French does a great job of describing this phenomena in the video below. She reflects on her year away from work, and how it’s helped her to grow personally?

Though she started as an entrepreneur, just replace that with the word “teacher,” or “instructor,” or “educator” – and I’m sure many, if not all of you, can relate.

Opinion: Gap Years are Actually Easier to Take in your 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s

I know some of you are already thinking, “No way! I was more free in my 20’s.” Push that thought down and keep reading!

Once you start to consider a sabbatical as a possibility, and manage to push aside the internal naysayers for a few minutes, you start to realize just how doable one really is.

I would argue, in fact, that someone in their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s is even more prepared to take a year off than someone in their 20’s:

  • You’ve been out in the “real world” for several years now, so you can figure out exactly how much you’d need to save
  • You can more easily figure out which opportunities you can afford to miss
  • With your years of teaching experience, you know how to plan a year or more in advance.
  • You might have even realized by now that not teaching in a classroom for a year might actually help you save money.

In regards to the hesitation about missing out on a possible promotion or job opportunity – my advice is, don’t worry about it. In my experience, I find that we tend to center our choices around possibilities in our career – when those “possibilities” might not even work out for us, anyway. I know several amazing, highly-qualified teachers who would make great instructional coaches, principals or consultants – but the competition is so fierce, that they may be working toward something they’ll never get.

Wouldn’t it just be terrible if you wanted to take the time off, and didn’t for a possible promotion – only to find out ten years later that you never would have been hired, anyway?

More than likely, the sabbatical is something you’ll see as a truly missed opportunity if it’s not taken; not the extra addenda leadership position that only earns you an extra $1,000 per year!

A career path is important, and one needs to think about benefits, retirement and all that – but don’t let that be the reason you don’t go. If it’s just a few months, or even a year or two, you’ll have so much time to regain momentum in your career.

You might even find that being away from the classroom presents you with opportunities you would have never even heard of, it not for your time spent away from the traditional classroom!

Once you have your “Why,” start exploring the “How”

So – once you go over the mental gymnastics covering the million reasons why you should do it (and the million and one reasons you shouldn’t!), the burning and natural next question is, how?!

Stick with me over these next few weeks, and you’ll learn several ways a teacher in their 30’s or better can break away for a while.

Want to explore a bit now? Take this fun quiz below that allows you to explore sabbatical options!

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About Author

I'm just another teacher who loves to travel! I currently live and teach on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, which is a destination in it's own right. I love discussing, sharing and creating opportunities for teachers to travel farther and more often.

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