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The Milton Measure

Milton’s Sabbatical Program Disrupts Students’ Learning

by Ned Sheehan on Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Every year, at the end of the first semester, many teachers leave for the remainder of the year on sabbatical, while others rejoin the community from their first semester sabbaticals. The sabbatical program gives teachers the opportunity to take a paid semester off from school to pursue their interests which may include traveling, studying, or simply relaxing at home with family. While this is an excellent program, it is disruptive to Milton students and should be changed.

The main problem with the current sabbatical program is how it disrupts students’ academic career. The second semester should be a time where, having mastered the basic topics of a class, a student is able to reach new depth of understanding of the material. However, if suddenly assigned a new teacher, students are instead forced to spend the second semester adjusting to a new teaching style and building a relationship with a new teacher. Students’ writing styles or mathematical approaches that worked for the initial teacher, may not illicit the same response from the interim one.

By the end of the first semester, any teacher worth his salt knows the strengths and weaknesses of his students. Likewise, the students know what is expected of them. However, a teacher thrown into a new class for the second semester will know little about the abilities of his students, at least at the beginning. Therefore, he will probably not be as helpful to his students as their first semester teacher would be. In short, the students’ academic progress would be put on hold, as their new teacher attempts to learn more about them.

Some look at the sabbatical issue through rose-tinted glasses and say that all Milton teachers have the same basic expectations of students, but this statement is simply false. Every teacher has his own personal preferences and biases. This is a good thing—a strong, diverse faculty is one of Milton’s greatest strengths. We don’t want robotic teachers who can be replaced at any time; we want to develop relationships with our teachers and develop a classroom dynamic that grows throughout the school year.

What’s more, communication between the first and second-semester teachers seems to be poor. Last year, in one of my classes, the teachers switched midway through, and the only information the new teacher was given was our grades. Grades are another issue with the sabbatical system. Teachers don’t all have the same expectations, and they also don’t all grade the same way. Milton is already known for its tough grading, so having to adjust to a new grading system halfway through the year certainly hurts students.

This problem exists throughout the Milton community. The Lower School typically has to hire non-Milton Academy faculty members to fill in for its teachers taking sabbaticals. That means that for half of a school year some students do not have a Milton teacher.

Despite these issues, a sabbatical system should continue to exist. It helps attract new teachers, in addition to allowing teachers the chance to rest and recharge. I think the best change would be to extend the time of sabbaticals and make them last the full year. This system won’t be perfect, but it would certainly be better than the current one. One of my favorite teachers is leaving for sabbatical at the end of the semester. My advisor is currently on sabbatical. This is a difficult situation, and nobody should have to go through it. Our sabbatical system is currently impractical and disruptive, but with the extension from semester to full year, it can become beneficial for students and teachers alike.

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Posted by Ned Sheehan on Jan 22 2016. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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