'Holiday Me and Teacher Me are different people'

For Stephen Petty, going into school for A-level and GCSE results when he is still in full-on holiday mode is a shock

Some chilled-out, short-wearing teachers have the look of Robinson Crusoe during the summer holidays, writes Stephen Petty

For me, the main challenge of going into school on a results day is the sudden inner conflict between the full-on holiday me and the school me. They are very different characters, and it is the only time in the year when they ever really meet up.

They look different, too. The holiday me went into school for the A levels last week dressed in my default wardrobe for the whole of August: a ragged T-shirt and some faded blue shorts, circa 1992. The vision of disrepair is completed by some fraying, increasingly malodorous canvas shoes, which must never come off indoors for fear of setting off smoke alarms.

Family, friends and neighbours are used to the look (“Bless him!”), but in school it provoked a number of unkind comments. Robinson Crusoe was mentioned. Even one of the rejected and dejected managed to have a go, in between the tears. Everyone there is so used to the forgettable formal-looking, teacher me, with my consistent term-time kit of bland shirt and tie and tolerably smart pair of trousers and shoes.

The shock of exam results day

The clothes just illustrate how much I have deliberately cut myself off from school by mid-August. To all intents and purposes, I am indeed Robinson Crusoe, separated in every way from my usual world.

So the two results days could not come at a less opportune time. For the students, it is a time when exams seem to matter more than anything else in the world, whereas I have reached that point in the holiday when I feel a healthy detachment from all of that. It is the exact point in the year when I appreciate more than ever that there are so many more important things in life than exam results.

Obviously, not every teacher feels quite the same division between their school and their non-school personae. I know teachers for whom the summer holiday is a mere continuation inside, albeit an enjoyable one. Perhaps these are the teachers said to be so easily identifiable during the summer break (as featured in Tes recently) – always looking to bring order where there is chaos, invariably equipped with a bag of stationery for all eventualities, never worried if their voice is overheard by others.

But we are not all like that. In fact, I am not sure all that many are like that. There is this other version – often careless and slightly chaotic types like me – who live a kind of double life inside, and who completely surprise (and occasionally shock) strangers when we tell them what our job is. 

Teachers set free

So, while some teachers seem no different in and outside the classroom, others among us are mainly putting on an act, even if it does come more naturally over time.

Similarly, I noticed that some of the performers at the Edinburgh Fringe last week seemed very much the same person whether on stage or whether they were holding forth with friends in a café. Others seemed happier just to slip away alone into the shadows after their performance. It really was just a show, and the show was over for now.

I wonder which of us tends to have the happier and more fulfilling working life: the performer who feels an essential oneness and continuity, or the one who feels that essential twoness. I am not sure.

I do know, however, that early September is much harder for those of us in the latter category, when it is time to make the big switch back.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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