Reflections: school holidays

Most of my friends are teachers. I’d say that’s how it goes. When at university, most of your peers are fellow students. You then start working and most of your friends come from your field of choice. But there are always a few, a select few, who have nothing to do with your line of work. These are those who have been in your life for years and years, way before you became Miss or Sir, and they probably know you inside out.

Two of my closest friends aren’t teachers but their views on teaching are incredibly telling. One thinks people who choose to teach are quite simply mad. For the vast majority of our chats, she can’t keep up with the pace of my working world or make any sense of it for that matter. My second friend has always had the nerve to call teachers lazy. I’d call this tongue in cheek humour (his mother was a teacher) but there’s always a subtext of truth. For the sake of this post we’ll call him Marvin. Marvin just can’t see any reason why teachers should have so many holidays. He’s self-employed so according to him a holiday every 6-8 weeks can only mean one thing: laziness. And Marvin isn’t by any way unique; I’d say it’s quite a common view held by people that know very little about the education sector.

The length of school holidays has long been a contentious topic and in recent years, some teachers have experienced changes in one way or another. Another good friend of mine who works in an incredibly successful grammar school went back to school on January 2. She broke for her Christmas holidays on December 21. That’s 11 days off. However factor out the two weekends and it becomes 7 days. Oh, and let’s not forget the bank holidays given that these are national holidays. Now, I’m not a maths teacher but by my calculations she was given a total of 4 days off. Four?! After eight grueling weeks. Note to self – never apply for a job in that school…

School holidays are incredibly important to teachers. They are a time when I can just be me. I can read a book for pure leisure, catch up on a missed TV series, meet up with friends and not be bound by a 6am start the following day. These are things that teachers don’t (often / ever?) get to do during the term time. And it’s not as though teachers don’t work during the holidays. What individuals outside of the teaching world don’t see is that our work begins when the students go home. We are pretty used to working outside of work hours, weekends and holidays included.

Being in the classroom and teaching the lesson is actually the easiest part of the job. Days with no free periods are often the most enjoyable days as you get to see the efforts you’ve made outside of the classroom come to fruition. You’re not thinking about the books that need a good mark, results due to be submitted and analysed, reports needing to be written, communications with parents to be had (at their convenience, not yours) and schemes of work to be planned. And this is just the day-to-day stuff. What about if you want to go up the food chain so to speak? Say you want to progress to middle or senior leadership? I can’t imagine the amount of work that goes into that; again, all outside of regular work hours.

And for the most important people involved, the students, holidays are essential. Active thinking and participation in the classroom (not to forgetting homework) must be exhausting. In the last week of term, I’d planned a fun-ish lesson for my Y10s. When waiting to be dismissed, they were standing behind their chairs. The usual chitter chatter had dissipated and they just wanted to go to period 2. So, I asked them what had gone wrong? I told them that I didn’t feel the lesson had been a success, that their demeanour testified to this. The atmosphere at the end of the lesson is always telling of how successful a lesson has been. There should be a palpable buzz in the room, you might even get an occasional ‘thanks for the lesson Miss’ or even a question which demonstrates that the student is still thinking. Result! But they were adamant. It wasn’t the lesson and they weren’t being kind; they were just done. And they looked it. They were in need of a break. Time to recuperate and just be teenagers.

As for me, by end of term, I felt broken. I was suffering from the resurgence of a cold which I thought I’d gotten over the worst of. My muscles ached, my patience was thin and I was running on autopilot. Not in the right frame of mind to teach, clearly. But now, having had two weeks off, I feel refreshed. The spring term is arguably the most intense, especially in the run up to Y11 exams, but I feel recharged and ready to do a good job.

Back to Marvin. He came into work to do some extra-curricular sessions. I was there in the corner, marking away, just to ensure that there were no calamities in the first session. And there were none. From where I was sitting all was good. He clearly had a way with teenagers and they were keen to participate in the session he’d planned. Once finished we walked down to reception. We bumped into a colleague who asked him how it had gone. His response; ‘at times, I felt as though I’d stuck needles into my eyeballs.’ He struggled with ensuring the students were getting their work done, having extension tasks for those that had finished, offering support to those still trying to get the main task done and knowing when to sanction students. Now Marvin is one for banter but this spoke volumes. And since, there have been no jokes. In fact, I might have even received the odd bit of recognition here and there. And no comments about the holidays. Not one. How delightful!

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