Vacation is not just a time-span, it's now a loop experience because the business of education is so extensive and socially penetrating that even on vacation it can't be evaded. My introduction, for example, to Attention Deficit Disorder and its deleterious effects on class discipline remains a memorable vacation experience that I hope one day to share. Yet as we prepare excitedly for the times of liberty, we might just be forgetting that other times lie ahead.
I don't know if you will agree with my personal assessment of the session that has now gone down as being a handcrafted bummer and downer, a vintage one that has made me feel that I have flown across five time zones and am nursing the mother of all jet-lags. It has managed to corral within it a whole range of events, local and national, conspiring with each other to reduce the intensity and concentration levels of the learning experiences we are supposed to be making available to children. I have been able to go public on some of mine, and if you follow this space you will know what I mean. For most of us though, I think there would be a consensus of opinion that the last session has been one of the most emotionally draining experiences teaching staff have undergone for many years.
I have deliberately used the word "emotionally" because there have been too many demands on the basic building blocks of emotion, on the "earth-wind-fire-water" feelings of teachers, striking deep at the times, places and activities that teachers are most closely concerned and connected with. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that some teachers have come close to being emotionally lobotomised, but certainly a number have suffered a measure of psychological disarray.
I have mentioned before the work of Daniel Goleman in assessing what he calls emotional intelligence. He suggests that children who are anxious, angry or depressed don't learn. I would amend that a little by saying they don't learn well. I would suggest, too, that teachers undergoing emotional traumata don't teach well either. Simple, true, but full of implication for educational expectations all round.
Try the work-word association game. Nod when you recognise an emotion you experienced this session. Exasperation at the demands of change. Anxiety over your job prospects. Pride in your work. Satisfaction with your efforts to make children learn. Panic at what the future might bring. I'll bet emotions hinting at the night got the lion's share. By a distance, my winner is reorganisation-confusion, the dominant emotion of my session. How do we reconcile opposites, like increasing levels of literacy and numeracy with fewer staff, with bigger classes and with slimmer resources?
Regardless of the butter salve applied to our new political masters by our assorted unions, their fawning assumptions, carefully qualified, of a honeymoon period, and an Education Minister with his paws in the air, I suspect that the reorganisation factor will continue to dominate our professional lives for the foreseeable future, and will remain the big challenge of next and forthcoming sessions.
But there's nothing new under the sun. The satirist Petronius wrote: "I learnt late in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation." And he died in 66AD. Happy holiday.