"If you get your paper back on Monday with some sunscreen or sand on it," I announced to my class last week, "it's because I graded them on the beach in Florida!"
A look of shock crossed with envy appeared on 45 faces. Finally someone uttered, "Why are you going to Florida?"
"For vacation, of course. They do occasionally let us out of the archives, you know."
In this instance, I was visiting some family who happen to live near a beach. I decided to make use of a precious day off, The Three-Day Weekend, for sun and fun and fresh fish sandwiches and boiled peanuts. But I wasn't kidding the students either; I had 45 papers to grade and the red pen doesn't write that well against sand and shells.
I've never quite mastered the Short School Break Vacation. Long breaks, easy. At the end of each semester I would stumble home and stay up for 4 days doing take-home exams while slowly finishing off my family's entire stock of Goldfish crackers and, during Christmas vacation, pie. But then the exams would be done and I would get some quality time with friends and family and digest all the pie.
Not so with the short break, where you go from 0 to 60, then return to school and accelerate to 130. Grading on the plane, writing at the beach, reading at the pool, it all sounds nice until you're on mai tai number 4 and only one chapter into an enormous book on American liberalism, and you're sunburned.
The gist of it is that short breaks are extremely problematic. First of all, the timing can only be described as whack. Fall break falls in the middle of flu-times, and spring break happens weeks before spring is a viable description of what's going on outside. Secondly, the length of the break is just cruel. You have just enough time off to make a trip possible, but not enough time to actually relax.
But my biggest pet peeve of all regarding school breaks has not changed since first grade. Work should NOT be due on breaks, folkses! If there is no school, there should be no school-work. Now, I admit that I tend towards thinking there shouldn't be work if you're away, and some of these situations are dicey. (Brace yourself, Mom, because you're about to get exposed.) In elementary school my mom would always be the chaperon on the museum field trip, and she would do the "museum ditto" for the kids in my group so we could go be kids and stare at the T-Rex bones for hours instead of drawing what "sarcophagus" looks like in hieroglyphics. So I come from a tradition of bucking the extra work system.
Parents of young kids complain a lot about the amount of homework. I don't believe the amount has changed drastically; I think people finally woke up and realized that making kids do math packets instead of going to visit family for the holidays is plain wrong. What has changed is the amount of pressure on all kids to perform not only well, but exceptionally well. And that means making paper machier volcanoes and writing in iambic pentameter all the time, instead of just most of the time.
After thinking about this, I felt better about making my insane trip. I'm a student, but I'm somehow more free of the system that kept me doing summer reading. I can tell you that not a single one of my students will ever turn in an assignment on the 7 days we get off per year...unless the paper is late, then they better get it in before I deduct another third of a grade!