Letter to an Online Teacher: Take a Secular Sabbath

Teaching Online

What a Pope!

“Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport. But this is being destroyed, in large part, by the elimination of the Sabbath rest day. More and more people work on Sundays as a consequence of the competitiveness imposed by a consumer society…Work ends up dehumanizing people.

-Pope Francis

To be the best teacher (and the best person) that you can be, you need to stop and rest. Rest gives you time to think and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

The Secular Sabbath movement calls you to create space in your life to enjoy yourself. As there are no stringent dogmas with the Secular Sabbath, you can decide what you want it to look like. Maybe all you can manage is a mindful breath. Perhaps it is time for a yearlong sabbatical. Honor your teaching by taking a break from it.

Your Sabbath

Decide what you need a break from. Maybe one day each week, you turn off all electronic devices. Maybe you stay out of the car. Maybe you do not log onto Facebook, Twitter or any other Social Media. You certainly need a break from work; everyone does.

Right Now

Take a moment.

How do you feel on a scale ranging from very bad to very good?

What are you doing?

Are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing?

These questions are from the “Track Your Happiness” study, which is being conducted as part of Matt Killingsworth’s doctoral research at Harvard University. He has found that by simply keeping your mind on what you are doing, you are happier, no matter what it is that you are doing. Yup, whether you are commuting on the subway, hiking in the mountains, or taking out the trash, if you are mindful of your actions, you are happier.

Techie Tools: Part of his research study involves an app called “Track your happiness.” The App pings participants at random intervals, and asks them the above questions. The data is tracked for participants and tabulated for research. There is also a plethora of other mindfulness raising apps.

Day to Day

Take off at 5:00 (or earlier!)

Don’t let your work spill over into the evening. Working longer does not result in more productivity. You have 5- maybe 6- productive hours, before you are merely a warm body, checking emails and staring at a screen. Worse yet, you do not realize that your production has plummeted. Stop working after 5 hours and do something useful. Take a walk, cook dinner, or read a novel, but stop trying to do your work.

Techie Tools: Make unplugging a reality. LeechBlock for FireFox or SelfControl for Google are add-ons that can be programmed to disable your internet at certain times. They can also be used to limit hours on weekdays, or certain sites at certain times of the week. Maybe Netflix fits into your evenings, but Facebook doesn’t. That is easy enough to program.

Week to Week

Take a weekly day off.

Mark Bittman’s NY Times article in 2008 brought the idea of the Secular Sabbath into the mainstream. The idea is that taking one day each week, to disconnect from digital stimuli, relax, and enjoy your family and friends will make you healthier and happier.

Henry Ford found that he can get at least as great production in five days as he can in six. Ford said. “Just as the eight hour day opened our way to prosperity, so the five day week will open our way to a still greater prosperity.”

Techie Tools: The same tools that work for getting you off of the internet at the end of the day can keep you off for entire days.

Year to Year

Take a vacation.

Americans in standard 9-5 jobs are notorious for not taking all of their vacation days.  Even worse, workers take their PDAs on vacation with them. Yet, vacations have been repeatedly found to increase productivity and job satisfaction. Long breaks reinvigorate workers, refreshing their commitment to their jobs and their families.

Techie Tools: The tools for this are all low tech. Leave your laptop at home.

It Takes Work to Stop Working

You have to make quiet happen:

Jewish people who celebrate a traditional Sabbath scrub their houses and prepare the Sabbath’s food before the day begins. They got their work done in advance. In preparing for that day of rest, they actually get more things done on the six days that they are working.

The rules around the traditional puritan and Jewish Sabbath are, according to Judith Shulevitz “Meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.”

Creating quiet might necessitate some hurt feelings. You will have to say “no” to some engagements. You will perhaps miss an email or a news flash. It will be worth it.

Make Rest a Reality

Define your Sabbath: Write down your plan. I work to not “Work” on Sundays. Gadgets are only used to look up recipes, wildflowers and things that bring us joy.

Tell your friends: Invite them to celebrate with you. Rituals that are supported by a community are more likely to be successful.

To be kind and competent teachers and small business owners (and family members and friends) leave your work behind. Everyone benefits.


I am a teacher, hiker, mother, dancer and home-maker. I have taught pre-school through SAT prep. I am exploring ways to create on-line learning communities for home-schooled middle school and high school students. In particular, I am starting a low-residency on-line middle school. I would like to help young people explore important ideas while enjoying their lives! You can learn more about my programs at www.onlineclassesforgroovykids.org.


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