Breaking the Break Cycle

Both students and teachers face immense pressure to juggle Stuyvesant’s rigorous curriculum, but vacations must remain entirely work-free so that we can relax and recharge our brains, maximizing productivity upon our return.

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It is the week before break. You have four tests, two presentations, and an essay due before you can kick back and relax. Then midwinter break finally arrives. You think you are free at last, when suddenly one of your teachers posts an announcement on Google Classroom: Major project due the Tuesday we return to school. Shortly after, you receive another notification: Extra Credit assignment attached below. This content will be covered on the Unit Seven Test the Thursday after break. Suddenly, your hopes of knocking out summer internship applications, reviewing material, and enjoying your time away from school dissolve; the assignments are already piling up, and it feels like there is nothing you can do about it.

Despite the Stuyvesant High School Homework Policy explicitly stating that “Teachers will not assign any homework, projects, or extra credit for completion over a vacation period [Winter Break, Midwinter Recess, and Spring Break],” violations occur, both intentional and unintentional. To account for such issues, the Stuyvesant administration introduced the “Spiral of Communication.” Students are advised to talk first to a teacher or school counselor about the issue, then have a parent e-mail the teacher if it remains unresolved, e-mail the department’s assistant principal if no solution is reached, and, finally, e-mail the principal. However, this policy does not take into consideration the power imbalance between teachers and students.

If students felt comfortable approaching teachers, and teachers responded by accepting accountability for policy violations, the Vacation Policy would be effective. However, in reality, many teachers act defensively when confronted, attempting to justify homework policy violations instead of being receptive to student feedback. While this response is not typical of all teachers, most of us have heard the “belonging at Stuyvesant means handling the workload” speech at least once in our Stuyvesant careers, often after remarks are made regarding Homework Policy violation.

The fear of being singled out in front of the entire class contributes to student reluctance to notify teachers when they violate the Vacation Policy. Students are well aware of the herd mentality that can prevent us from speaking up, but when stakes are heightened, many still make the risk-free choice: staying silent. This pressure is intensified for juniors and seniors especially, as their relationships with teachers largely determine the college recommendation letters they receive.

Furthermore, the current Spiral of Communication is inefficient concerning break. When last-minute, policy-violating projects are assigned right before break, the lengthy communication process often is challenging to complete, as many staff and administrators do not check their e-mails once break begins. When the problem is left unresolved, it leaves students no choice but to take on the excessive workload.

At the same time, as students, we have a tendency to question our work ethic when we are “unproductive” over break. Given Stuyvesant’s competitive environment, many students approach vacation as a time to get ahead in their studies and prepare for standardized tests to ease the workload upon returning to school. The desire to be continuously productive without leaving time to rest defeats the purpose of break. The communal sentiment that “break never feels like break” is thus partially fueled by students.

It is important to recognize that vacation is the time for students and teachers alike to recharge, spend time with family and friends, and prioritize mental health. Teachers should understand that increasing what students have on their plates hinders a restful break, which is absolutely necessary for them to maximize performance upon returning to school. As for students, it is vital to stop fearing that others are working harder and getting ahead over break, as it perpetuates an unhealthy herd mentality of needing to be constantly productive. If maximal productivity is what we strive for, the most productive thing we can do over break is rest up—our brains are going to need all their power to take the next term by storm.