Curiousity and Sabbaticals

We bring you a guest post by  Judy McDowell, a nurse-practitioner who teaches at Sheridan College, but who is currently on sabbatical.




I am on sabbatical leave from my teaching position! I had been thinking about what “being on sabbatical” means both before I started my leave and now that I am on leave. I always thought of sabbaticals as something professors did after they had been teaching at a university for at least seven years and that they would do extensive research during that time. Although other faculty at Sheridan College have taken sabbaticals, it has never seemed quite the same and perhaps not a legitimate. So as I thought about that and wondered about why I had these feelings, I started thinking about teaching and why people teach in the first place.

I went to a family reunion last June and spent three days with family members whom I had not seen in a long time and their children whom I had never met before. We spent one evening talking about the things that we do and where we do them. I was struck by the number of people in the group who were teachers. Not only that but the number of our ancestors who were teachers. All of them teach but none of them/us teach the same things. Is there an underlying reason for becoming a teacher? What is it that makes people go into teaching? Is there a genetic reason? Is it how we were all raised or at least the similarities in our upbringing that makes it such a dominant career choice for those in my family? Is it an acceptable career choice especially for women? Is it a desire to share information with others? Is it curiosity about the world and how things work? I suspect it is a combination of all of these things, probably not so much genetics except perhaps as that relates to temperament.

While it is interesting to speculate on the reasons for such a trend in my family, how does this relate to sabbatical? While it is not so true now, 30 years ago teaching was one of the few career choices that was considered ok for women to pursue. So this may be a reason for the number of women who are in their 50s and older who are teachers. This was definitely true in my husband’s family. His mother and all of her sisters were teachers. This is not so much the case now and interestingly many of my male ancestors were teachers, so pursuing this avenue for work is not just influenced by gender. There are some very important similarities in the upbringing of my family members. We were all taught to be curious and to read. I can remember being told to look things up, “make it a learning experience”, from a very early age and so it has become a habit. It is a habit that my husband and I have passed to our children. So does modeling curiosity teach a sense of curiosity? And sharing information, is this learned by seeing sharing modeled and does that encourage us to share with others?

I think that all of these things play a role in the backgrounds of those who are teachers. But in order to be good teachers I think that the desire to share information and a strong sense of curiosity are key. There must be a drive to learn more about the world and how things work, connect, and impact life.

So back to sabbatical. It was hard for me to apply for the time because I felt that perhaps I didn’t have anything to do that was worthy of time away from teaching. I also felt guilty about the increased load my colleagues would need to shoulder so that I could have the time off. It didn’t seem like sabbatical was something that those of us teaching at the community college level really needed.

This is faulty thinking. Teaching is about curiosity and sharing of information. In order to be good teachers, we need to be curious and pursue those paths that interest us. What better way to inspire those we teach than to model that spirit of inquiry. Learning about those things that make us curious takes time, time to seek and learn and time to assimilate and think about how what we are learning will affect our lives and how we teach. Taking a sabbatical gives us that time. So sabbatical leave is not something only university professors are entitled to take. Sabbatical leave is critical for all educators in order for them to stay inspired and in order for them to inspire others.


Judy McDowell


One thought on “Curiousity and Sabbaticals

  1. Great post, Judy! I agree with you that all educators should get sabbatical. I recently had this conversation with a K-12 teacher. People not in education assume that summers are “sabbaticals,” but they don’t realize how much work educators actually do over the summers. There really isn’t much of a break to focus on “those paths that interest us.” Not all community colleges provide sabbatical leave. We’re lucky to have the opportunity, and I’m loving my sabbatical. I hope you are, too! 🙂

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