With the exception of parental leave or long service leave, teachers rarely take extended time off from their careers.
It takes between seven and ten years of uninterrupted service to accrue long service leave in the teaching profession.
With increased competition for permanent positions and attrition rates estimated to be between eight and 50 per cent based on studies originating from the UK and US, many teachers will not be in a position to apply for long service leave.
According to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), “A 2014 Commonwealth Government report on national teaching workforce data indicated that 5.7 per cent of teachers are leaving the profession in any year.”
I have seen many dedicated colleagues burn out, and one can imagine the effect this may have on their mental health.
School holidays may seem generous to anyone outside the profession, with the likes of MP Andrew Laming criticising the hours teachers work. Such ignorant commentary is common and can make teaching look thankless.
Teachers give so much of their time and energy in service of others, often neglecting their own needs. In the summer before my eighth year of teaching, I reflected on how much energy went into my full-time role and how little time I had left for creative pursuits.
Then, I re-read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and started a blog. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
I had an important choice to make: to accept the familiar path or forge my own. I entertained the notion of a professional gap year but was not in a position to apply for long service leave having taught across two different states and three different sectors; the public, Catholic and independent.
The only option was leave without pay. Initially, the thought of not receiving a predictable income for 12 months was unappealing, however, I thought about what I could do with that time and the possibilities were endless and inspiring.
Aside from a commitment to education, I am passionate about the performing arts and the thought of returning to professional performance, having time to spend with loved ones, read, travel, write, and practise musical instruments made the decision easier.
I decided I needed a professional gap year. As another Emerson quote goes, “once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
The gap year was not a vacation but a break from the routine of being a classroom teacher; a year devoted to personal development.
Having just renewed my three-year teacher’s registration, I needed to accrue 60 hours of professional development. I planned to do just that in my year off.
I spent the remainder of my eighth year saving diligently so that I could cover bills and living expenses. The past nine months have been extraordinary and I have met some fascinating people who have created their own opportunities.
Some of them are teachers whom I have interviewed for EducationHQ. They have used their unique talents to create a life that inspires them to go to work every day. I have worked with artists whom I now consider friends; my life has been enriched by such encounters.
I may not have met these friends had I not chosen to take a gap year when I did. I have also returned to the stage and toured different states with a music theatre production. I have spent more time playing the piano this year and I am writing articles, songs, and poetry.
I feel a renewed sense of appreciation for solitude and calmness that would have been hard to find in the chaos of a school year.
I don’t regret taking a year off from teaching. I have learned a lot about myself and what is important by distancing myself from a traditional job title.
I relish the discoveries in each new day and I look at time differently. I could have talked myself out of it and made excuses about the sacrifice of financial stability being too difficult, but knowing what I know now is worth a year's salary.
Consider what you could do if you had more free time. The price you have to pay for that time may be the comfort of a salary. But if you adhere to a budget you may be able to afford to take time off, and perhaps earn an income from your unique talents.
In the end the job does not define you.