Going to work in the holiday? Here’s how to do it right

The question of whether to spend any of the summer holiday on work is a hotly debated one, but if you make that choice, be smart about it

Adrian Bethune

teacher summer holiday

As we drag ourselves over the finish line of the academic year, the thought of doing school work over the summer holidays will, for many, seem ludicrous.

And that’s fair enough.

But for some, having the kids go on their break means an opportunity to start planning lessons and resources for September. 

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Wherever you sit on the doing-work-in-the-holidays spectrum, here are five things to consider that will allow you to feel prepared for the new academic year while enjoying the break you so greatly deserve.

Eat a frog

Mark Twain is thought to have said: “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”

I can relate: last week I had to scrub dog poo off a Year 4's trainer first thing in the morning and the rest of my day was positively brilliant. 

By the same token, if you know you’ve got work to do over the holidays, why not do it at the beginning rather than right at the end?

If you spend the first few days of your summer still in work mode, completing the planning and school admin you need to do, you then have the rest of the holiday to relax in the knowledge that your to-do list is done. So eat that frog and kick back!

teacher summer holiday work

Buddy up

There’s a Turkish proverb that says no road is long with good company. It reminds us that when we do things with others, especially those whose company we enjoy, life seems better and a bit easier. 

I remember a summer when I was about to start with Year 2 for the first time, so I arranged to meet up with a colleague who was a veteran in that year group.

We sat in her garden, brainstorming ideas and plans for the year ahead, in the sunshine, drinking cold beers. It was the best planning session I’ve ever had.

If you do need to do work over summer, or go into school to prepare for the new year, do it with your favourite colleagues or even a non-teacher mate. Help one another with planning and displays, and have a laugh along the way.

Face the music

According to happiness expert Paul Dolan, listening to music affects “the brain region associated with positive emotion and memory in a way that no other input to our happiness production process can”.

So if you do need to go into school to tidy up, plan and get stuff ready, do it with a soundtrack that taps into the pleasure centre of your brain. 

Positive emotions help us think more flexibly, creatively and imaginatively, so we’re likely to have our best ideas in those moments too.

Oh, and according to Peter Lovatt, if you dance around you’ll get the endorphins and dopamine going, which will boost your wellbeing further, improve your health and may even increase your problem-solving skills.

Less is more

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This means that if you give yourself four hours to complete a task that should take two, you’ll end up taking all four hours to get the job done.

So be strict about how much time you set aside to work over the holidays. If you know it’s going to take three hours to complete the tasks on your to-do list, set aside that amount of time and no more. And make sure you reward yourself with something fun to do after the work is completed. 

Remember, this is your life

Mary Oliver ends her poem The Summer Day with the famous line: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one and wild precious life?” Chances are, most of us wouldn’t answer that question “Errr, a bit of planning on fronted adverbials and putting name labels on the cloakroom coat pegs.” 

Here’s the thing: our time on this Earth is precious and limited. And we have no idea when our time will be up. The way we use our time is massively important.

Yes, you could do work over the summer and make your life easier in the autumn term, or you could spend your time travelling, seeing friends, eating, laughing, visiting museums, reading, going to the cinema or simply vegging out and relaxing.

Or a bit of both. It’s your call. Remember, what your students need most in the new academic year is a well-rested, healthy and happy teacher.

So, however you spend your summer, make sure it’s what you really want to do with your time and your life. Happy summer holidays!

Adrian Bethune is a primary teacher, education policy co-lead at the Mindfulness Initiative and the author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom. He tweets @AdrianBethune

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