Take a Break: September Through May

For Middle Level

At the beginning of the year, each student in my classes practices how to take a break: I want them to know what it sounds like, looks like, and feels like. I also have the students articulate the reasons why one might need a break and how to use it effectively. I let my students know that each one will get an opportunity to practice taking a break in my class, since I'll be looking for small mistakes they might make. During the following weeks I try to catch everyone doing something wrong, so they see mistakes as normal and no big deal. Without any fuss, students get used to taking breaks. Through the year, I check and recheck how we are doing with our class rules, how take a break is being used, and whether everyone is getting to practice.

Early in one school year, a student--I'll call him Jake--shared with me that he did not mind being told to take a break, but he noticed that some kids get reminders instead. I assured him that I love to redirect students and told him he did not have to worry about justice in my class! But I also decided to watch myself, to make sure I was truly treating everyone fairly.

About four weeks before the end of the school year, I knew that not everyone had been sent to the Take a Break spot in my 6th grade science class. Jake had, and he knew that I sent anyone and everyone who broke a class rule. One spring afternoon, my sixth grade class came in and began copying the agenda for the day and answering their "prewrite" questions. Then I opened the class discussion, and a student- "Alice"-spoke out of turn without raising her hand. The class went completely silent as Alice began apologizing. "Mr. Jit, I forgot to raise my hand. I was not thinking," she said. The entire class had its eyes on me, especially Jake. Alice, who had never been sent to Take a Break in her student career, was red-faced, about to cry. All this was happening in just seconds! Then I sent her. She was just fine with that. She did it well, and she did not have a meltdown. Just then, Jake blurted out, "I can't believe Alice had to take a break!" Before I could react, he took a break himself! As soon as the class was over, the word spread through the school that Alice had received a trip to the break spot in my science class.

Alice thanked me for rescuing her from her misery by giving her the break; getting caught and being held to the same standard allowed her to grow. By taking a break on his own, Jake had become a strong advocate for himself. And I realized that everyone had learned and grown by watching Alice struggle a little.

Sometimes we need to give children time outs to help them recover their dignity. And we adults need to be consistent with what we say, and support each student by doing exactly what we say we will do.

Jit Kundan is currently Principal at New City School in Minneapolis MN; he was a middle school science teacher when he wrote this article.

Published September 2007