Why leaders should let teachers work over Christmas

Many colleges require teachers to take holiday days between Christmas and New Year – but if staff are happy to work, they should be allowed to, says one lecturer
8th December 2020, 4:20pm
Rufus Reich

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Why leaders should let teachers work over Christmas

https://www.tes.com/magazine/leadership/staff-management/why-leaders-should-let-teachers-work-over-christmas
Working Over Christmas: If Teachers Want Too, Let Them

Christmas - a time of goodwill to all men, reconnecting with friends and family - and also booking seasonal holiday days. But for most teachers, marking exams and preparing lessons is also an unavoidable part of the festive ritual - duties that must be worked into the intervals between mince pies and watching reruns of Morecambe and Wise specials. In some cases, coming into work over Christmas is a necessary escape from such distractions as lecturers prepare for their January classes. 

Often colleges do not like teachers working across the Christmas period for obvious reasons: someone has to open the building and lock it, heating and lighting get used, taps can be left running. There are other issues, too: ensuring that teachers spread their holiday time evenly across the year rather than hoarding it up and then cashing in at less convenient times of the year. But if one does choose to work across Christmas then obstructions should not actively be put in place to do this. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

Last Christmas, I was fairly new to my current role and without a bank of materials to draw upon, I was working many extra (and unpaid) hours to create lessons and materials. So using time in the final week of December was a chance to catch up and, dare I say, get ahead. This was pre-Covid so working from home was not yet an acceptable option and the idea of online teaching just a nerdish fantasy. 


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The unwritten rule

Earlier that month, my line manager had messaged me to express "concern" that I had not booked my Christmas holidays and when I told her that I intended to work across the period, she was not happy. It would seem I had broken an unwritten rule: thou shalt not work on days that the college wishes you take as annual leave. But the point was, the demands of the college were so great that I could not take time off and still perform the duties of the role. If I had, I would have ended up working anyway but done so on days supposedly granted for recreation and rest. Fathom the logic of that.   

So I stuck to my guns and on a chilly end-of-December day came into work as per usual - though work is a misnomer since I got nothing done that I had intended. Rather than go to my regular office space, the college decided to close off all areas except the library so that anyone coming in was corralled into this controlled space. About 10 fellow working rebels were rounded up there and I naturally presumed we would disperse, find a workspace in a corner and get on with our normal duties. Alas no. 

Trusting people to be professionals

Another reason colleges don't like staff working over Christmas and actively discourage it is that they just don't trust people to be professionals. Could someone really be relied upon to independently get on with their own tasks unsupervised or monitored? It was as if they regarded Christmas holiday abstainers as naughty teenagers in detention rather than staff trying to get their marking and planning completed. As I was fishing into my bag to take out the files I had brought with me, I was quickly told to put my things away. Apparently, the college had other plans for all of us. 

I was led to a table where a pile of papers awaited me. Maths has never been my strong point but the job ahead was to mark entrance tests taken by incoming BTEC students. Admittedly, the questions were not so hard but this was hardly a good use of a sociology teacher's time. I spent all morning ticking and crossing probability and percentage questions. 

After lunch, I was assigned to admin work that included completing a range of data entry tasks, such as inputting new students' personal details and updating the phone numbers and addresses of existing enrollees. Such secretarial tasks took me through till the end of my seven-hour day. During this time, I was left to work largely alone in a corner of the library while my fellow annual leave abstainers performed similar random chores. Merry Christmas! 

When I got home that night, not only was I tired but no progress had been made on the very teaching tasks that the college had supposedly hired me for. To use professionals on general marking and administrative chores was not only a waste of time for me personally, but represents a poor use of human resources. 

Later that same evening I found myself watching Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol on TV and pondered whether my line manager might too get visited in her sleep by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. But then it struck me that maybe I had just been Scrooged. 

This year, I will be enjoying my holiday time at home and not attending the Christmas rebel reunion in the college library with other overworked colleagues. But I wish all of this year's attendees well and hope their time is not deliberately wasted by paranoid management. And to fellow hard-working colleagues everywhere - in the words of Tiny Tim: "God bless us, every one!"

Rufus Reich is a pseudonym. The writer is a FE lecturer in England

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