The Whiteboard Jungle: Break was a week lost to education

Now that Glendale students and teachers have experienced the entire week of Thanksgiving off for the first time like their La Cañada brethren, I can officially call such an action a turkey (pun intended).

From a selfish standpoint, having a week off of work is terrific. From an education standpoint, it is a disaster.

Upon returning to work on Monday I noticed an immediate decline in student energy. Very few of my honors students raised their hands to answer questions, practically all in the fog of a holiday hangover. One teacher even commented that the time off was so long she felt like wishing everyone “Happy New Year.”

Those who support the decision to add two more days to the week don’t realize that in doing so it nearly doubled the amount of time off students had from learning because when adding in the weekends before and after, the previous five-day weekend has become a nine-day break.

The school calendar is a negotiated item between the school district and the teachers’ union. School Board Member Christine Walters said that when April 24 was added as a non-school day, the whole calendar had to be extended a week.

Therefore, the parties chose the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week to help fill out that extra time, the thinking being that not much learning occurs during the two-day week.

To the contrary, whenever there is a shortened workday or workweek, I retool my lessons to maximize the impact of the minimal time I have with my students. In other words, I work harder in less time trying not to shortchange the kids.

Actually, the most nonproductive days are those immediately following weeklong breaks, with students and staff needing a day or two to get back into rhythm.

Most teachers and students I spoke to enjoyed having the extra time off. For me, however, it was too long of a break, disrupting the education flow at the climactic moment of the semester. Shoppers had Black Friday, but I had Black Monday and Tuesday in terms of no learning going on.

Little attention is paid to the 29 days that school is closed during the school year — that’s almost six weeks’ worth — and its impact on student learning.

Already students today have a hard time focusing because of short attention spans. Any extended length of time away from school is detrimental to their retaining what they learn.

Students are in school for a combined total of 27 days in November and December compared to 23 days in October. So at a critical juncture in the fall semester for secondary students’ schooling, there is not much time in school.

Ironically, one of the major reasons for moving the start of school to early August was to finish the semester before the holidays so middle and high school students wouldn’t have two weeks off, come back for two weeks and then take finals. However, that is almost the identical situation that is occurring again with a week off for Thanksgiving.

The other downfall to having the whole week off is that it further diminishes the uniqueness of Thanksgiving as the only holiday on a Thursday. Now it vanishes into Fall Break.

The district should review this decision for next year’s calendar by soliciting comments from teachers and parents. It would be interesting to hear how parents handled child care.

Let us hope that no one comes up with the idea of merging the back-to-back three-day weekends in February honoring Lincoln and Washington into another week off.


BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at

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