How I avoid The Fear of going back to school

Teachers’ holidays can be blighted by stomach-churning anxiety about returning to school, writes Gordon Cairns

Even sitting in a beer garden in the middle of the summer holidays, a teacher can be struck by The Fear of returning to school, writes Gordon Cairns

On the hottest day of the year this July, when “taps aff” was the de rigueur fashion statement and Edinburgh was hotter than Delhi, my wife bumped into a fellow teacher who asked her if she had “The Fear” yet – the stomach-clenching anxiety that rises up at random moments during a holiday about the imminent return to work.

Or not so imminent. More than two weeks before the end of the long, hot summer holiday, my wife's colleague had started feeling gloomy about going back to the classroom before most other workers' fortnight in the sun had even begun.

Just like how the football season encroaches earlier and earlier into July, when by rights it shouldn't be happening until the autumn, so too is The Fear making teachers feel disquiet about the first day of the new term when they should be thinking far more relaxing thoughts. In the summer, teachers often get more stressed about school than when they are actually in school.


One teacher's view: How will I spend my summer? Battling holiday guilt

Long read: What’s the perfect teacher summer holiday?

News editor’s take: Why teachers don’t have to justify long holidays

Summertime reading: You can get a proper holiday – and squeeze in some CPD

Child poverty: Pupils ‘full of anxiety and fear’ about the summer


The Fear generally evaporates on that first long journey into work after summer, when vague fears slowly give way to reality. The illogical nature of the summertime tension is shown by it not having an easily identifiable, commonly used name – I'm sure there are many other names for The Fear.

The Fear of returning to school

Perhaps even more strangely, this feeling of tension happens whether you love your work or hate every minute of teaching. It almost makes going on holiday a waste of time – almost.

And, of course, this makes the general resentment felt about teachers "always" being on holiday deeply ironic, if the lucky blighters spend the whole time fretting about returning to work.

The worst thing about The Fear is that it sneaks up on you when things couldn't feel more peachier, when lifting that early evening cold lager to your lips in a warm beer garden, and you suddenly find yourself thinking about how the new first years are going to be after the holidays. And once you've started, you can't not think about it, no matter how hard you try – leaving that perfect moment somewhat deflated.

You will find myriad methods online for dealing with The Fear, from different ends of the spectrum: from either embracing the new term by creating PowerPoints and buying new teaching equipment, to the displacement activity of burying your head in the sand with lots of alcohol and a mammoth Netflix session.

I prefer a little trick that I play on myself: I count down the days as if we’re in the midst of a holiday at another time of year. With two weeks of summer holiday remaining, I imagine how I would feel at the start of the Easter holiday – certainly not depressed about going back to work in a fortnight. And so it goes on through a faux October – when we get one week – until there is one day left.

Fantastic, I tell myself, that’s like the May bank holiday. Well, this amateur psychology works on me.

Gordon Cairns is a teacher of English in Scotland

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you