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Hooray for the holidays

About this time of year, you'll find yourself limited to two topics of conversation.

Every other staff member will ask you if you had a good holiday. You do, of course, have to lie and say yes - even if the catgranny died, slugs ate your early spinach (everlasting variety) or your holiday was cancelled because of some dread diseasebank overdraft.

You then ask if they did, and assume an air of fascination as they launch into a blow-by-blow account of the past six weeks. Redecorated the attic and the outside lav! Went to Iceland and flew over a glacier! Your catgranny died! Fantastic!

But it makes a change from every other person you know, all of whom will have seen fit to mention the length of the holidays. Now, the real answer to that is to point out why we need a six-week summer break, with another six weeks spread over the rest of the year.

We could start with the level of fatigue that all teachers experience towards the end of any term, but especially from mid May until the end of June. It's the time when seniors are on the skive (sorry, study leave), and when we all planned to reorganise the curriculumdepartmentdo New Opportunities Fund training and tidy our drawers. The reality is that the fewer classes we have left, the harder it is to teach them, because a deep weariness settles once the strain of a normal timetabled week is lifted.

The same lethargy eats into the first week or two of the holidays when we had planned to retile the bathroom. The sofa becomes instead the focal point of the day.

We could point out how having such fixed holidays means we can't pick up off-season holidays, we can't go to weddings or graduations unless they are on a Saturday, can't take a day off to visit a friend. If we fancy a weekend away, the rail company refuses any cheap returns because we are selfish enough to want to travel on a Friday night.

I find it's more satisfying to sound like Sybil Fawlty and drawl: "I knoooooow." That seems to really annoy whoever has made snide comments about the length of the holidays. They don't want to hear about the other 40 weeks when we literally never have the sensation of being totally up to date, when Sunday nights has us weeping because we haven't done the bloody marking we brought home (and which has weighed us down thinking about it the whole time) and we still have the school uniforms to iron.

They don't want to know about the evenings when we have schoolwork to do, or the sense of guilt if we don't get it all done, and the parents' nights (which always seem to be the same night our kids' schools have one). And how often do they wake up dreaming they are stark naked in the classroom and the bell has just rung.

So, I find it helpful to remind them that we stop work at 3.45pm, which is so handy for the dentist. There's no point really in telling them how difficult it can be to get dentists' appointments after 3.45pm, and how difficult it can be getting out during the day when necessary.

And if that doesn't really upset them, a little reminder about in-service days when they have to find alternative babysitting arrangements usually adds to their ire.

I think the holidays are brilliant. In fact, they were a real factor in keeping me in teaching when the kids were small and I cried over the ironing because the weekend had gone by too fast.

They do give you time to recharge the batteries, to enjoy Christmas and New Year, and I just love the autumn break too.

But it also gives the pupils a chance to rest up, because if we find school hard going, so do they. Do you remember how long a year was when you were eight? How infrequently a Friday came round? That was when the summer holidays went on for ever and ever. And what fun they were. Children need holidays as much as teachers do.

It also helps to remember that most people are making that comment out of habit. Quite a few of my friends are at the top of their career ladders and have six to eight weeks off, and get paid a damn sight more than I do the other 44 weeks.

There is always the last resort. If they want the holidays, why don't they just become teachers?

And OK, yes, I did have a good holiday. And the main reason is simply that I wasn't at school.

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