Take a Break!

Recently, at the end of an extraordinarily busy school year and performing season, I took a month away from teaching—almost no students between May 10 and June 10. Those final school year lessons were rough, to say the least. I was exhausted, low on patience and engagement, and so were the students. We were all just trying to grind on to the end. I’m not at all sure, looking back at the end of April and the beginning of May, that much real learning happened!

What did I do with my break? I took walks and naps. I reorganized my closets and drawers and took a huge load to Goodwill. I gardened, and on a wild hair, I learned how to crochet and I am having great fun with that. I made strawberry and raspberry preserves for the coming year. I also practiced and had gigs, which were a whole lot of fun when that was the only type of work I was trying to balance. At my age, right in the middle of my career years, what it honestly felt like was a tiny foretaste of retirement—playing a little, teaching a little, but mostly doing whatever I wanted to for a few weeks.

I initially felt guilty about taking all that time, especially because I have decided to change my business format somewhat for next year, and I was saying a real goodbye to about 20 of my students. For the ones to whom I would be returning, I worried. What about momentum lost? What about some of the special projects we’d started, like learning to double tongue or starting vibrato? Would we have to start that all over again after a month away from lessons? Would they come back if I took a whole month off? There was also a small bit of parental pushback. “A whole month? No lessons till June 10th? If you’re sure…”

Believe me—I was sure! (And yes, they did come back!)

Last week, I started teaching again. The majority of my students will take summer lessons each year, but it’s definitely a lighter load than during the school year. As it turns out, that month away from teaching refreshed me greatly. I emerged ready to listen, ready to diagnose, ready to come up with creative solutions again. The students seem ready, too. They’re fresher, and as we hit our second round of summer lessons this week, they are practicing, progressing, and excited to a degree that has surprised even me, and I know them!

One thing I have learned, in about a decade of heavily focusing on my private studio over other ways of teaching, is that I could teach 52 weeks a year if I would agree to do it. I get break time when I demand it, and I have to stick to my guns about it. I’m planning to take another week off in August before the school year starts again, and I’ll be better and fresher for it. If you recognize yourself in any of this, I encourage you to take some time off here between the spring semester and the summer. Even a week or a few days can renew your heart for teaching and refill your well of ideas. You deserve that, and so do your students!

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