“sab·bat·i·cal: a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.”
As an elected member of the Upshur County Schools Board of Education, I am always pondering how to make our schools better places of learning, not only for the students but also for the teachers who supply the backbone of our public education. When I first began my service after my election to the BOE, our Superintendent at that time told me to remember that the quality of classroom teaching is the most important ingredient in children learning. Since our mission of the Upshur County Schools is “to provide academic preparation; social responsibility; employability; and a desire for lifelong learning,” enthusiastic and vibrant teachers are vital. If the diagnosis is a drifting mission, then the remedy would be sharply focused, healthy teachers.
A treatment idea comes to mind that can accomplish our goal of strengthening and sharpening our teachers. While I have seen it work in higher education such as at West Virginia Wesleyan College, to my knowledge it has not been tried in public pre-K through grade 12 education. What I am pondering is the sabbatical!
One of the smartest men I know just announced that he is taking a sabbatical. Taylor Ford, my nephew, has practiced law in Orlando, Florida, for a number of years. He has succeeded as a top litigator in a very prominent and challenging location. This summer we gathered together as family in Canaan Valley, focusing on our grief at the passing of my dear wife—a nurturing mother, a special aunt, and a wonderful Lola (grandmother).
Taylor’s announcement, following his own nuanced examination of his life, surprised me at first but almost immediately appealed to me as a brilliant move. After all, professionals make career moves an average of 12 times in their 40 years, according to sociology surveys. Many of these moves are due to company orders or economic dislocations. Why not take a planned sabbatical?
This brings me to an acknowledgment that our Upshur County teachers have taken on more responsibility year after year. Just in the past year, COVID-19 changes have been phenomenal. Certainly, the duties for classroom teaching and for remote teaching nearly doubled the work load of some. And the changing health mandates managing a horrible pandemic has kept teachers on their toes. Why not anticipate a need for lifelong learning? Why not program in a sabbatical?
Attorney Taylor Ford has creatively sought renewal. Just as college professors look forward to that seventh year after teaching six, so any professional would benefit. Surely an opportunity to read deeply, to diligently write or do research, or travel widely will strengthen a professional. Serving on the Board of Education has led me to “Expect Excellence,” which is our Upshur County Schools motto.
I can imagine many ways the primary role of a teacher would improve with a sabbatical:
1 – The seven-year itch would be cured. I expect some teachers to leave their first love for good reasons, but when I ask some teachers, the response I get is that they are overwhelmed. At that point, a planned break would allow them to return to teaching.
2 – The growth curve on new knowledge would bend in the teacher’s favor. We are exponentially increasing knowledge to the point that keeping up is impossible without more study time.
3 – Academic achievement will improve for our students. This is a goal that has escaped our schools to date. We must try something bold and new if we expect different results. We must treat our teachers as the most important ingredient in our students’ quest for education.