Christmas break

Santa's holiday

The Christmas holidays are critical in preventing teacher burnout and exhaustion, according to a new study by academics at City University London.

This study, while helpful for teachers, also suggests ways in which working people in general can live more productive, mentally healthy lives. Working nights, weekends and holidays might get the job done, but it can leave workers exhausted and less psychologically able to handle their workload.

Researchers led by Dr. Paul Flaxman and Sonja Carmichael found that teachers who took the most advantage of their Christmas holidays, making a serious effort to mentally recover from the previous term, were the best equipped to return to school in January.

The researchers surveyed 90 teachers across the UK and Quebec, Canada, before and after their Christmas break. Those who showed the most signs of psychological recovery were those who disengaged the most from their work and didn’t spend the holiday ruminating about their classes. In allowing for psychological recovery, they were rested and ready for their return in January. Worrying about work or actually working over the break left other teachers exhausted and less equipped to deal with the term to come.

The research team also found that teachers who were able to satisfy three basic psychological needs – a sense of competence, autonomy and a feeling of closeness to other people – during the Christmas break had much higher levels of psychological health. The effects of basic psychological need fulfillment were seen not only during the Christmas break itself, but also in the first few weeks of the new term in January.

After reaching its conclusions, the study gave tips for teachers on how to let go and let their minds recover over break.

"Our work shows that breaks for teachers, especially at times like half-term and Christmas, are incredibly important for their psychological health,” said Dr. Flaxman. “Ensuring that teachers have regular opportunities to recover from the considerable demands of the job will help to prevent burnout. In my opinion, it is vital that these regular breaks in the school calendar are conserved.”

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