Sabbaticals aren’t just for college professors.
At least that’s the view of the Rochester City School District. The upstate New York district has five K-12 teachers on sabbatical this school year, pursuing everything from ethnic voices in literature to English as a second language to mindfulness.
One teacher is in Ghana to experience first-hand what many of her immigrant students face—assimilating into a new culture.
When the teachers return to the classroom, they’ll use their new skills and knowledge to shape curriculum or better connect with students in their native language.
“The goal of the program is to allow teachers an opportunity to take a break from their normal teaching routines and allow them to refresh their batteries,” said Maurice Snipe, the district’s director of human resources. The teachers then “bring key things to the district that they can share with their school, their students, and other schools.”
While on sabbatical, teachers receive 60 percent of their salary, and 100 percent of their benefits. The district also hires a substitute to fill-in. This year, Rochester is spending $264,000 on the program, which has been offered as part of the union contract for decades.
“It’s an opportunity for people to grow, to learn more skills, to learn more knowledge, to become reinvigorated,” says Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association. Sabbatical applications are considered by a union-district committee. Those recommendations go to the superintendent and school board for final approval.
Special education teacher Sara Oliveiri, a 17-year veteran, applied for a sabbatical to pursue her education passions—the social and emotional needs of students and teachers, and teacher wellness. She is on break from teaching this semester to finish a certification through the group Mindful Schools. When Oliveiri returns in the fall, she plans to develop a program to promote teacher wellness and to continue to teach mindfulness to students.
Oliveiri says a study by the University of Virginia Curry School of Education found that teachers who completed a mindfulness course were able to use stress-reducing strategies and do a better job educating students.
“I think having a sabbatical is a tremendous gift to an educator, " says Oliveiri. “It’s time for me to reflect on my own practices, my own purpose. The sabbatical process is the gift of time and space, which is such a huge, huge gift.”
This video is the last of a four-part Education Week series on unusual benefits for teachers. In addition to sabbaticals, we explored onsite child care and wellness centers, and how tiny homes can help teachers afford to leave in the district in which they teach.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.