Hey, Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone! (Over Summer Vacation, That Is)

Israel's education minister has urged teachers to keep in touch with students over the summer. Don't they deserve a break from each other?

There is no profession that I respect as much as teaching – especially those teachers who work at public schools. I honestly don’t know how teachers do it – spending so many hours with so many children, especially in a school system like Israel which packs in up to 38 kids into a classroom, while maintaining their sanity.

As an active parent, I’ve done my share of time in the classroom: supervising classes on Teacher Appreciation Day while the teacher gets treated to brunch, helping with holiday art projects and coming in to lecture at my kids’ classes about the profession of journalism. No matter how much energy I have when I walk into that school building on those days, I walk out completely exhausted. After just a few hours of the intensity, I always feel like I need, if not a stiff drink, lots and lots of quiet adult time to recover. It is demanding in a way with which even the most physically punishing or high-pressure business situation can’t compete. Being attentive to the needs of so many children simultaneously draws deep on emotional and psychological resources on top of the intellectual challenge of the academic teaching.

This is why I vociferously disagree with our vaunted Education Minister Shay Piron. At first he wanted to require teachers to stay in touch with students over summer vacation, but when he hit a wall with the teachers unions, he settled for strongly encouraging teachers to maintain contact with the students as they said goodbye ahead of the break on Sunday.

He wrote on Facebook that it made no sense that “after ten months of personal contact, close and deep accompaniment and developing a culture of discourse, these relations will be severed for two months.” It wasn’t the only place he sent teachers that message – he published a column in the newspaper, and sent out an official ministry letter to school principals with a passage, in bold, encouraging contact through summer vacation.

Piron says it makes no sense for teachers and students to take a break from each other? I say it makes perfect sense. I often need frequent breaks from my kids and I spend far fewer intensive hours with them during the school year than their teachers do.

If the teachers want to maintain casual contact, that's great – especially if they are returning to the same students the following year. But absurdly, the Education Ministry, while wanting teachers to keep their fingers on the pulse of their students’ activities, has forbidden today’s most natural way of staying in casual touch; according to the ministry's directives, teachers and students should not be “friends” on Facebook or connected to them via other social media.

Nevertheless, I don’t think the education system should abandon the kids (and parents) over the summer. Summer camps are sparsely available and are not always affordable, especially for poorer families. Instead of preaching and pressuring vacationing teachers, I suggest that Piron focus his time and energy on strengthening the informal education summer camp system, which has multiple benefits. It keeps older teenagers occupied by employing them as counselors, provides a framework for the younger kids and allows exhausted parents a bit of time to try to get some work done. Currently, while most municipalities invest time, energy and resources in fielding summer camps that run through the month of July, the following month, August, is a parenting black hole that those who can’t afford to jet off to Greece or Switzerland desperately struggle to fill every year.

I am not a big fan of the teachers' unions but in this case, I stand with them in their position that educators need a real summer vacation. What I really want for my kids isn’t a teacher who is going to drop by or call them over the summer, but one who will return to school refreshed, rested and stocked with the energy to take on my children and their classmates come September – they’ll need it. That’s when it’s going to be my turn for a break.

So, dear teachers, forget about the education minister’s nudging – and forget about my kids, for now. Hit the mall, take a trip to the beach, go lie on a lounge chair by the pool. Have a fancy cocktail with an umbrella in it. You’ve earned it.

Kids are out for summer.Credit: Ilan Assayag

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