How to guard against the summer blues

Despite counting down to summer, the holidays can initially be a shock to the system, says this teacher

Returning to work in January is the worst time for teacher mental health, says charity

The classrooms are empty. The playground is empty. Your planner is empty. At this point in the year I always get a bizarre feeling of excitement mixed with sadness. It doesn’t matter how long I have been counting down to summer, when it arrives, I’m always caught off guard.

The last term is so full of colour and climactic moments that in the wind-down after Year 11 and 13 go, I never really fully uncoil. Instead, I’m still a bundle of nervous energy. When I make phone calls to parents on the last day, I trip over my words as I realise that nothing is being picked up again until next year. Everything is tinged with futility in those last few hours.

I’ve always loved structure. At university, the initial removal of the bells and registration felt odd and alien, so instead I created my own structure; routines gave a skeleton to my life. Similarly, when I have worked in offices, I only ever felt settled once I had established a routine.

So what’s a teacher on holiday to do?

At school, timetables are an integral part of our day. Everything is timed and synchronised. In the summer I still feel hungry at 1:25pm. I can wow my friends with my amazing skills in slurping boiling tea in a race to drink it in seven minutes, beating that non-existent bell.

The emptiness when that framework falls away hurts some more than the rest. For those that struggle with mental health problems, the summer can be our biggest challenge. Work can give you purpose and focus when you’re battling mental health issues, and when that focus goes it can feel incredibly difficult to deal with ordinary day-to-day tasks.

And even without mental health issues, the summer can be difficult for different reasons. When you have a family, particularly a young one, there is this extra pressure to ensure the holidays are full of "making memories". This adds additional pressure to the break, when usually I am too frazzled to think of things beyond "park" or "museum".

The only thing that makes the empty feeling better is accepting I’m going to feel it. I think of it as just part of the job now. I’m never going to feel like I’ve got everything done, I’m never going to consider the year "perfect". So I need to stop worrying about it.

To take the blues out of the summer break:

  1. Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t doing schoolwork in the holidays. Be strict with yourself and if you are doing work, make sure it is on your terms and not out of obligation.
  2. Keep it simple. Organising a walk in the park is less taxing than a long road trip to a tourist attraction. Enjoy the things you have on your doorstep.
  3. If you’re struggling, talk about it. The worst thing you can do is struggle alone. And there will always be someone feeling the same as you.
  4. Use the time to do the things you can’t do in term time, but wish you could. Morning runs, properly brewed coffee, daytime cinema trips... silly things that will make you smile.

Grainne Hallahan has been teaching English in Essex for ten years. She is part of the #TeamEnglish Twitter group

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