“How many days left?”
“32, not counting PPA*. If you count PPA it’s only 29. Plus there’s Sports Day so that doesn’t really count. And we’re going on a trip on the 7th. So really, only 27 days!”
*Planning, Preparation and Assessment Time aka the most valuable time in the teaching week – actual space to think.
Ah the holidays… I don’t think I’ve met a single teacher who wasn’t counting down to the next block. The above conversation is no exaggeration, we know how many days are left. All the time. Without fail. And in case you were wondering, the total never includes weekends. Deducting your PPA half days in which you are able to plan, mark, assess and prepare is legitimate because although you are working, it’s time to do work during the school day, rather than into the evenings.
One of my particular concerns on leaving the classroom and entering the non-school world was the holidays. Teaching staff get 13 weeks a year – or 65 days – bank holidays are covered by this, except the extremely enjoyable May Day which usually falls outside of half terms, and is therefore all the more treasured. I now get an allowance of 28 days a year, plus bank holidays, which is 36 days altogether. Essentially, my holiday allowance has halved.
This 65 days is the stuff of myth and envy to an office worker. How could anyone complain about a job where you get 65 days off as standard?! Well going in the opposite direction, I’m happy to tell you, I actually prefer having 36 days…and here is why…
I expected to miss the holidays a lot. I thought I’d want to be out, running carefree through golden fields (read: sitting with a glass of something cold and a good book in someone’s garden), enjoying my well-earned rest.
My first realisation was that I don’t need the holiday. Sure, I’m tired (another blog post entirely) and I’d love a lie in. I would definitely like to lay by the pool, being splashed accidentally-on-purpose by my friends’ children, for endless summer days. But I cannot describe the relentlessness of the teaching weeks. The reasons we count down with such detail and dedication is the 60 hour working weeks that are put in. It is hard to describe the exhaustion and craving for a break. Think a simultaneous combination of acting career, being a PA for 30, and writing for a newspaper with a deadline in five minutes time; that’s what teaching feels like, and it’s why they deserve those holidays. On a 35 hour working week, I can appreciate 36 days. A day per hour of the week seems a good exchange to me.
Despite my lack of craving for them, holidays now are more enjoyable. I wake up and the day stretches out before me. There is not a single thing I have to do for work. Not one thing. Previously my half terms had a day at least of work that needed doing, and the summer required a minimum 3 days at the start or end to re-adorn the classroom with backing paper, displays and drawer labels. This is before you’ve planned a single lesson or got your head around where the Saxons fitted into the context of world history. If you’re moving classrooms or year groups, add on at least an extra day. I love that my holidays are entirely mine. There’s no work hanging over my head, I don’t need to write 30 reports in my Easter holidays, or make sure I’m up to date with assessment. I can read as many books as I like. On a personal level, the best bit is that there is no sense of guilt in the background. I don’t feel I am supposed to be doing anything other than enjoying the time off.
Of course as a teacher your only holiday time is in the school holidays, understandably. It’s not the kind of job you can leave till you return from your sunny break. This does mean that the sunny break costs a small fortune. Parents of school age children will understand this dilemma too, the price hikes up in the holidays. There’s no chance of a cheap break at the end of September while the sea is still warm…that’s just not possible. Although I now work in the city, I still work with schools. This means my holidays are still mostly bound by school breaks. This means a foreign trip is pretty much impossible; it just costs too much. Our bosses however, try to be generous and considerate if we request a few days off in term time and allow it when it’s possible to rota for one of us being away. I’m therefore looking forward to my days off at the end of June for the big family holiday, where my 7 month old nephew will doubtless find out what sand tastes like. I have no idea how many actual working days away this is, a telling change of mindset.
My most bizarre experience was taking two weeks off over Easter. The job carried on without me there. I don’t think I’m indispensable. (In fact, I’m sure I’m not.) But the work had continued, and I had to catch up with any developments over that two week period. Schools shut down over the holidays – or staff are there sorting classrooms. I’ve never worked somewhere where the job continues without you. Equally, working in the school holidays wasn’t that bad. I know, I was shocked. I expected to be moping around while friends posted pictures of themselves frolicking in the sun. I might still feel this come summer. But my work is varied – there’s no schools in the holidays and there’s time to prepare resources, develop my professional knowledge and create new programmes – things I would previously have found time for in my holiday.
I know there are office jobs that do 60+ hour weeks, and get less holiday than I do. I know of people who work ridiculously hard and don’t get the same holidays as teachers. But don’t begrudge teachers their holiday…I can see now more than ever how much I needed it. Despite having less holiday, I actually enjoy it far more, even if I can’t afford to go anywhere.
Quality of life rather than quantity of holiday has thus far been an excellent exchange. (I reserve the right to have an entirely different opinion on hot summer days!)
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