Care and Feeding

Should I Let My Daughter Take a Gap Year?

The back of the head of a girl wearing a grad cap is seen in front of a notebook and various shapes of various colors.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Karly Jones on Unsplash.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature an assortment of teachers from across the country answering your education questions. Have a question for our teachers? Email askateacher@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

My high school senior had her “graduation” last week (driving in a circle around the school while people honked) and is now trying to figure out what to do about college. She has been accepted to our local state university and was planning on attending there in the fall while still living at home and working part time. However, if the university is planning on doing classes online in the fall (it has not yet released plans for next year, so we don’t know yet), she told me that she wants to take a gap year instead.

She is an essential worker, so she will continue to have a job and won’t spend the next year sitting around doing nothing. And I can definitely understand not wanting to go into her freshman year of college with nothing but online classes. The university has a scholarship program that covers about 70 percent of tuition for four years, and she is eligible for that scholarship for up to 16 months after high school graduation, so this plan does not put her scholarship in jeopardy. But to me, it feels like once you get out of the habit of being in school, that sort of becomes the new habit, and I don’t want her to end up NOT going to college. I would like to hear from some educators if this is actually a good idea. I know she will make her own decision regardless, but I would like your input. Thanks.

—Online School Stinks

Dear Online School Stinks,

I support her decision to take a gap year.

I understand why you’re worried. Anecdotally, I have former high school students who said they were going to take a year off to work before going to college and never enrolled. However, those young people didn’t have an actual plan. Your daughter, on the other hand, has been accepted to a college with a valuable scholarship that she can defer. In her case, I think she’s likely to return to school. Proponents of the gap year often cite a statistic that 90 percent of high school grads who take a gap year enroll in college the next year.

While her gap year will be different than it would have been were we not in the midst of a pandemic, it can still be very beneficial and worthwhile. Perhaps she’ll enjoy it more than a year of online courses. Or she might realize only working is a drag and rush back to school. Either way, I think a gap year is a worthy way to spend the pandemic.

Wishing you and your daughter the very best,

—Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)

Our 5-year-old is finishing up her last few weeks of school with distance learning. She is a new reader. She can read most one-syllable words and many two-syllable words. She does a good job reading single words and does well in her small remote reading class. But she’s resistant to practicing reading.

Her teacher said one of the most important things to do right now is have her read to us 20 minutes a day. It’s not happening because she says it’s so hard. We have some easy beginner reading books she should be able to read. We’ve tried FaceTime reading with her grandma, but my daughter doesn’t want to do it. We’ve suggested that she and Grandma read a book together over FaceTime. Again, the answer is “No.”

At this time, I’m thinking we should wait until school is over and then prioritize reading when she doesn’t have other schoolwork. But how do we get her past the fear she has that she doesn’t know some words? And how do we decipher if this is laziness, fear, or embarrassment? I’ll add she has some attention issues we are in the process of diagnosing.

I want her to continue to improve so she’s not behind next year. I also don’t want to push too much in this stressful time.

—Want to Raise a Reader

Dear WtRaR,

It sounds to me like your daughter is developing at a pretty normal pace. It’s completely common for kids to reject reading at this age, no matter how fun we adults think we are making it. Think of learning to read like working out: When you’re just getting started, it can be very uncomfortable, but over time we begin to enjoy it. Your daughter’s teacher is absolutely right—reading for 20 minutes a day is probably the most important academic activity you could be doing right now. That said, you’ve got some options on how to achieve that goal.

For example, practicing reading individual words counts toward her 20-minute goal. So does having someone read to her. Many teachers think of this 20-minute rule sort of like sports practice. You’re not going to do the same thing every time, especially in the beginning. Sometimes you’re lifting weights or running drills; other times you’re watching film or studying the playbook. When practicing how to read, sometimes you read a book; other times you work on phonics; still other times a grown-up reads to you. While she may not want to read to Grandma, she can still get a lot of educational value from having Grandma read to her.

I’d also try breaking that 20 minutes up into five-minute chunks over the day. In my years of teaching I’ve found that a kid’s attention span is usually equal to their age in minutes (5 years equals five minutes). So breaking it up into four quick sessions a day and gradually combining those sessions over time will help ease her into a more dedicated reading block. Additionally, I’d check to see if the books you have for her are books she’s interested in. Providing her with some choice in her reading material could also inspire her to read more. I hope this helps!

—Mr. Hersey (second grade teacher, Washington)

I am a career switcher, and I got a job teaching high school social studies next year. I am very excited to get started, though I know school may look very different in the fall. I am trying to get a head start on some of the practical aspects of teaching and am not finding a lot of solid advice on things I should prepare, buy, or know to ask for as I set up my classroom (assuming we will be at least sometimes in our classrooms). What suggestions do you have for things I can get together now and/or what I should make a note of to ask for as I settle in? With everything changing so much, if I can prepare now I hope to have less to deal with later.

—I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

Dear I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know,

Congratulations! I’m so excited for you! I’ve worked with many “career switcher” teachers, and I enjoy the unique perspectives they bring to teaching.

The first thing I recommend you do is reach out to your social studies department chair and ask her to connect you with a strong teacher at your school, ideally someone who will be teaching the same subject. This colleague can give you the lowdown on your specific school and help you identify what to prepare for the fall semester. This person can help you with everything from the nitty-gritty, like what school supplies you’ll need, to ideas for instruction and classroom management.

I realize you’re asking for some ideas about how to prepare your future physical classroom, which is obviously important, but I advise you to spend time preparing for instruction. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the curriculum. Ask your department chair for access to a curriculum guide (often called a “scope and sequence”) and a textbook, if possible. (Unfortunately, many schools are closed right now, so it may not be possible to get you a physical textbook.) If your state has a mandated standardized test for your subject, find a released version online and read it so you know what is expected of the students (unless, of course, your state is suspending these tests due to the coronavirus). But you may discover that at your school, teachers develop their own curriculum. This is another area where a colleague will be useful.

As you no doubt realize, there are a lot of unknowns right now about what school will look like in the fall. But your instruction will almost certainly have an online component next year; use the summer to learn the online learning management platform. My district uses Canvas, although yours may use something different, like Google Classroom. A colleague can offer guidance on how the school implements online learning and may let you review their online course materials.

Another important aspect of preparing to teach is considering your plan for classroom management. Some teacher preparation programs spend significant time on this aspect of teaching, but many first-year teachers are blindsided by the challenge of managing a room full of teenagers. If you don’t start the year with a plan, issues like cellphones and side conversations might drive you nuts. (Pro tip: Forbid cellphone use in class. I have students stow their phones in a calculator or shoe caddy during class; I provide power strips so they can charge device.)

One thing I think you should definitely buy is a weekly planner. I don’t use mine for lesson planning but rather for managing my various meetings, tasks, and deadlines. Teaching requires organization.

Teaching is probably going to be much, much harder than you thought it was. Even if you have kids of your own at home, even if you’re friends with lots of teachers, even if you’re a realistic person walking into the room with eyes wide open, teaching is hard. But it’s also inspiring! I hope you find joy in teaching high school, as I have. Good luck!

—Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)

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