Whenever I tell people that I am a teacher, the first response is always ‘I bet you love the holidays,’ closely followed by ‘Do you have any kids that you really hate?’ My reply is always ‘Yes, we need them,’ or ‘No, not really. I save my hatred for the general public.’ Today marks the first day of the 2017 six week’s holiday, and it feels like yesterday that I was nervously greeting my new set of students for the year at the door of a classroom.
For years now, I have listened to strangers tell me that teaching is easy: ‘it’s a 9am to 3pm job and you just get to sit and watch films all day’; obviously people reflecting on their time at a comprehensive school in the 1990s. I have heard people say that 13 weeks of holidays is excessive. I have watched as politicians with no teaching experience make decisions about our practise that have completely transformed the way we do our job. I have read messages from my non-teacher friends complaining that I have to spend my weekend marking assessments again. I have seen five teachers that I trained and worked with leave the profession after less than five years. A couple did not finish their first year.
Teaching is hard. You end up investing your whole life into the job. A doctor or nurse might develop a close bond with a patient and go home worrying about their condition, thinking of them at the moment they go to sleep and the moment they wake up. We do that too, but on a grander scale, I think. As a secondary school teacher, I work with approximately 200 teenagers every year. I am fully responsible for their progress and achievement in English that year. With year 10 and 11, I am the person that will facilitate them completing their GCSE exams, and hopefully (if I am any good), reach and exceed their targets, not simply ‘pass’. We spend hours planning lessons, and once we have delivered them, intentionally or without realising, we reflect on their success, considering how we could do it better or make it clearer next time. In the English department, we mark extended pieces of writing every week. At one point, I was spending every weekend marking because the expectations were excessive. We give feedback that is individualised and tailored to specific students – no ‘make your handwriting clearer’, rather ‘Rewrite your opening three sentences, utilising pathetic fallacy to build the scary atmosphere’.
Last night, like the previous two final days, I found myself with a searing headache at about 10pm. It’s as if my body shuts down with the knowledge that for six weeks, I won’t have to stand in front of 30 teenagers, trying to keep them focused, interested and entertained at the same time. Sometimes I feel like an organ grinder and the monkey: the organiser and performer, and quite often, I don’t get tossed any coins. However, I do occasionally get mysterious tangerines from year 11 students. But that doesn’t mean my holiday is work free. Today, I write this post, thinking about work. I still have lessons to plan and resources to organise for September. That could take a couple of weeks, but it’s at my pace. This time, my deadline isn’t Friday, it isn’t next week, it’s six entire weeks away.
The six weeks holiday is my time – no, teachers’ time – to relax, to explore, to see the world. This summer I am going to Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and probably Snowdonia, on top of trips to Disneyland Paris, the Lake District and Rome. All of them cost a fortune due to the notorious ‘tripling of travel prices outside of UK school term time for no other reason than greed’, but I don’t think I would have been able to do it if I wasn’t a teacher. If I wasn’t given those weeks of down time, which go by in the blink of an eye. I love travelling, and I desperately want to see the world, but I don’t think I would have needed so many trips this year if I wasn’t a teacher in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. We teachers live for the moment we see the spark of understanding flicker in a student’s eye as they write, and we do it without fuss or appreciation from those we essentially give up our lives for. Our reward comes in a different form. It’s not a company car, a Cartier bracelet or a six figure salary. It’s sun, sea and six weeks.