Last spring, as a teacher at Alma del Mar Charter Public School in New Bedford, Massachusetts, I got to participate in the pilot of something that, to me, was unheard of in public education: For eight weeks, I only worked four days out of the five-day school week. The fifth day wasn’t a professional development day, or an in-service day, or a lesson prep day. It was a day off.
My pay didn’t change because of the shortened week, and I still was (and am) the lead classroom teacher and Master Teacher in my third grade classroom.
This may come as no surprise: It was a game-changer for me and my family. What’s more, it changed how I approach my classroom and my scholars. By having a day off in the middle of the week, I was given another opportunity to recharge my batteries and refill my cup.
It meant the four days I was in the classroom, I felt more invigorated. More prepared.
It meant my relationships with scholars and their families became more intentional.
Not only did it strengthen my practice, but it also served as a hands-on professional development opportunity for my school’s newest teachers. The day I was out, my Associate Teacher took over the classroom and was able to implement relationship-building techniques and academic strategies she had learned from me and other Master Teachers. This built up her capacity as an educator who is working toward leading her own classroom in the future.
The next day, we would reflect on how the day went and set a plan for how to improve the following week.
The one day I was home during the week allowed my two boys to stay home from daycare. This not only had a financial benefit, but it also allowed us to take advantage of activities only offered during the workweek, including the dreaded doctor appointments that aren’t often offered during after-school hours.
It also meant a bonus day to spend together and play. I was no longer bound by the obligatory household chores and errands around town.
At Alma del Mar, teachers are given the autonomy and flexibility to do what’s best for their students, while also receiving the support necessary to stay healthy and happy. We call it the “oxygen mask.” Our ability to deliver great lessons, maintain emotional consistency and be creative is dependent on our staying emotionally, mentally and physically fit. Likewise, to succeed in this work over the long term, we need to build and maintain the kind of habits and culture that allow for the renewal and sustainability of our energy.
I feel so fortunate that I got to participate in this pilot at our school. And I am happy to report that next year we will be expanding the pilot so that all Master Teachers are able to access the same schedule.
Photos courtesy of the author.
Jessica Summers has taught third grade at Alma del Mar Charter Public School since 2012, and was named a Master Teacher in 2017. She earned her bachelor’s in elementary education from Franklin Pierce University and her master’s in special education from Southern Connecticut State University in 2011.