Just because there’s no school doesn’t mean it’s a holiday

July 4, 2006

When I meet people at a social engagement and they ask me what I do, I grit my teeth for the (almost) inevitable response to my reply. 

Many people, when they hear the word “teacher”, seem to have an automated response in their head, which sometimes flows out of their mouth, along the lines of:

Teacher (tee-char) n. – Discontented person (usually unattractive single older woman) who feels under-paid and under-valued despite getting 12 weeks’ holiday each year, on the taxpayer (i.e. me).

Now in this post I’m going to ignore all the other inaccurate stereotypes about teachers, and focus in on the one currently  causing my spleen to itch fiercely:  Holidays.

The reason it is currently creating so much distemper is because I am, right now, on “holiday”;  the break between Term Two and Term Three. 

And what have I been doing?  How have I been luxuriating in my freedom, wallowing in the salaried free-time that I am indulgently given by my loyal friend, the Ministry of Education? 

So far I’ve marked 32 assessments, written up 5 lesson plans, spent approximately two hours catching up on some reading in my curriculum area, and done some brainstorming for a minor school production I’m supporting in Term Four.  This is all before the end of the first week of my “holiday”.

When I first started teaching I lurched towards my first term break with hope.  Visions of a sparkling two weeks of blissful nothingness would break upon me at inappropriate times (when I was ensconced in a staff meeting, whilst plonked on the stage at assembly, and while monitoring the kids getting on to their buses at the end of the day).  But this was not the reality that overtook me in that first break.

Instead I was sick.  I fought off a cold, with what little vigour and energy I had left, from the end of Week 9.  I kept going to school each day because although I felt like my head was having some kind of trance-thrash concert without my consent, I didn’t want to go through the palaver of a reliever, and I thought it would be a bad look to take sick days so soon after starting. 

On the first Saturday of the break I could withstand the cold’s chilling embrace no longer, and I succumbed.  I spent the first half of that first “holiday” in bed, sneezing miserably and trying to make myself feel better by thinking about all that leisure reading I was doing.  I now know that it’s quite common for teachers, new or otherwise, to come down with something at beginning of term breaks – it’s happened to me at least once a year for the last eight years.

At the beginning of the second week I tentatively ventured out of the bedroom, only to find the pile of marking I had left in the car.  And then I made the fatal mistake of opening my planning book and realising that I now had six days in which to complete half a term’s worth of planning. 

I got it all done, but I learnt the lesson – term breaks are not holidays.  They are periods for recuperating, catching up and trying to get a jump on whatever onslaught is coming next.  Without them teachers would simply not be able to function. 

So next time you are having problems getting a park at the cinema during the school holidays and you curse those lazy teachers and their protectionist union, have a think about what we’re actually doing during that time.   Have a think about how difficult you find your children to deal with for the whole two days of the weekend, how exhausting it can be.  Think about the assignments they are set and how you struggle sometimes to read their writing or understand what the hell they are getting at in that essay on Twelfth Night.  And think about what it must be like to do that for a living. 

Trust me, you’d need twelve weeks a year out of the classroom to cope too.


2 Responses to “Just because there’s no school doesn’t mean it’s a holiday”

  1. Kristy Says:

    I hear ya! The other teacher stereo-type that annoys me is that we are cheap. Yes, many teachers ARE cheap, but when someone says, “oh ya, she won’t pay full price… she’s a teacher”, I just want to slap them!

  2. Ventoletta Says:

    Oh yes, I’ve encountered that chestnut too. I often try to make the presents I give people for birthdays and Xmas, rather than buy things, and sometimes get funny looks as a result. It often actually costs me more to make something that it would to buy it off the shelf, but I want to put my heart into the present, so it actually means more. But the assumption sometimes seems to be “She’s just trying to count coins because she’s a teacher.” No, I’m just trying to be a thoughtful friend/relative.

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