Exclusive Staff Room Spy teacher blog from Tutors and Futures

Staff Room Spy: Holiday Highs and Lows

Before we begin, let me make one thing very clear: I love teaching. Having worked in a secondary school in inner London for the past 5 years, I have seen my fair share of fist fights, food fights and cat fights. However, I firmly believe that teaching is a wonderful profession. No two days are the same and students are to varying degrees witty, engaging, feisty, defiant and insightful, or perhaps all of the above in the space of a 45 minute lesson. It is safe to say that the world of teaching is never dull. Oh and did I mention that we are the lucky recipients of 13 weeks’ holiday? Yes, we spend approximately 65 days each year watching “Homes Under the Hammer,” having our hair done and swanning around on foreign beaches drinking cocktails from a coconut. Don’t we?

One of the most infuriating misconceptions about teaching is the idea that we arrive at 8.30am as the final few students dash through the gates and leave at some point during the hour of 3, skipping into the sunshine with an empty satchel, a cup of coffee and not a thought for a single one of the precious minds we have hopefully recently enlarged. If you’re reading this, I shouldn’t need to inform you of how far this is from the truth. But what of the summer holidays?

Naturally, I have caught a few episodes of everyone’s favourite property auction show over the past few weeks. Yes, I spent several indulgent hours having my tresses tamed. And I went on holiday, to a beach, which served alcoholic beverages. But I have also spent time reading Shakespeare, planning schemes of work, analysing exam results and generally preparing myself for the onslaught that is the autumn term. Partly, I do this to alleviate my workload during the dark winter months but partly (I’ll say this quietly) because if I didn’t, I think, to put it bluntly, I’d get a bit bored. Once your gasps have subsided and you are able to consider this logically, this fact becomes alarmingly obvious. Unsurprisingly, I am not cultivating a money tree which sprouts fresh £50 notes each Tuesday afternoon at the end of my garden, nor is my social circle entirely constructed of teachers. It goes without saying, therefore, that some days pass by and feel a little wasted.

Luckily, I am an adult and can cope with such nightmarish afflictions. What really concerns me as I smash the national tea-guzzling record for the ninth day in a row is the impact that six weeks of no school is having on my students. Some are diligent, devoted delights who will be cruising through “War and Peace” as we speak. Naturally though, most of them are children and I am a realist. Even though I have set work for them to do, I am fairly convinced they will leave it until the last minute. Despite the fact that I have sent them off armed with a comprehensive reading list, I doubt it has done much to rival Facebook. And whilst I warned each and every one of them to stay out of trouble, I wouldn’t be surprised if September yields several stories which will make my eyes water and my heart sink. There is no doubt that we need a break from school, but my concern is that six weeks is just too much and valuable time will be spent in September retraining and revising concepts which could have been retained over a shorter break.

The dearly departed Education Secretary Michael Gove proposed a four week summer holiday. Whilst this format has already been adopted by some schools in the UK and is widely seen in Europe, it is the subject of a debate which has been raging for many years without showing much sign of a resolution. Interestingly, he also proposed a longer school day; I don’t think there were many takers for that one. But he may well have been on the money with the shorter summer holiday. I can handle being a bit bored once in a while, but how is that helping students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds who are not being taken on holiday, to a museum or even to the library?

As the holidays draw to a worryingly swift end, I can’t imagine already being back at school. But if I were faced with only 6 weeks of term remaining instead of 8, I might feel rather differently. The debate continues…

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  1. This is a very interesting point to discuss; whilst personally I can’t comment on how a six week summer holiday affects teaching staff (I am sure it gets rather boring and monotonous!) I feel the impact it has on children really must be considered. I volunteered with a group of primary school children whilst at university, and have a half sister that is 9 years old. At this young age, I feel a six week break from work puts children back quite a few paces in their educational development. Even after the two week Easter holiday the children that I volunteered with had forgotten some basic material and needed to be refreshed in order to begin the summer term. Summer holidays that are so long disrupt the routine that parents, teachers and children have spent months of the year settling into, as well as the process of memory and idea formation. Perhaps a solution to the problem is to call for more government implemented (and funded – for those unable to cover costs themselves) activities over the summer that stimulate children, keep them thinking about the process of learning and development in a fun and more relaxed way so that they still gain from having a ‘break’ but do not become totally disconnected with routine and study. This allows learning and development to continue, but gives children the opportunity of fresh stimulation from new surroundings, peers and educators.

    • That’s a really interesting point you make about the disruption summer holidays cause to learning routines. With your experience in mind, do you have any specific ideas about what form these summer activities could take? Perhaps this is something we at Tutors and Futures could help to influence and/or implement.

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