Gemma Warren enjoys the half-term break

18th February 2000 at 00:00
Half-term is my favourite holiday. It's one of the times when you remember just how many good things there are about teaching - and you need that after an arduous seven-week slog. There's something about seven weeks of sleep deprivation and marking-induced eye-strain that makes you wonder why you embarked on your PGCE in the first place.

The nice thing about half-term is its size; as all short people know, good things come in small packages. A week is just enough to make you feel relaxed, but not so much that you start trying to remember the names of your form in height order, or start arranging your board markers by colour and size.

Teaching forces you to give up all the small things that make you feel like a civilised person. Most people spend time using their social lives to evade work; teachers use work to evade life. A typical piece of teacher logic: what good is one small trip to the cinema compared with the guilt trip that 30 members of Year 7 can put on you when you turn up with their unmarked stories yet again?

The social life hits the bucket - anything for a quiet life and a caffeine-free day. But that's what half-term's for - the little things. And I don't mean Year 7s. All of a sudden, I'm a Lady Who Lunches. It's nice to enjoy coffee as a social occasion, rather than frantically inhaling it every break time as if it's the energy-giving elixir of life.

Teachers and holidays are a tricky subject. Every time you complain, you're silenced with "but think of the holidays". Most of my non-teaching friends don't use all their holidays anyway. I'm sick of feeling grateful, just because we get a couple of weeks off. God knows we deserve it.

It's a bit taboo to say it, but to be honest, I'm still trying to get my head around this free-time thing. You never think that you'll endure a year's worth of qualification to spend time sitting over your kitchen sink at 2 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon, seing how far you can spit a mouthful of orange squash. Students do that, not income-tax paying, meeting-attending members of an honourable profession.

If you're a parent, then long holidays must be brilliant. But if you're young and single, with not the hugest of bank accounts, then long acres of time when everyone else you know is otherwise engaged can be a bit disorientating. I can imagine myself discussing kids with my partner a few years down the line. "Why do you want to have children, darling?" "Well, it would give me something to do in the holidays."

I'm serious. Last year I was genuinely considering taking up knitting. All the things that you were desperate to do when you had a looming pile of exercise books in your front room now seem painfully pedestrian and, even worse, seem to take about 10 minutes. Once that urgent need to unblock your sink has gone, you're left with the unpleasant reality that your raison d'etre, 30 unwilling children, has been removed, and it's time for some quality moments with number one.

Long holidays make me feel inadequate. I was never into travelling before I became a teacher, and I'm damned if I'm suddenly supposed to enjoy it now that I've got a couple of weeks on my hands. It's not one of those competencies that you need to achieve qualified teacher status. If you're not into back-packing, holidays can be a lonely experience. Tell Mr Blunkett to go back-packing round Outer Mongolia for six weeks and see how he'd like it. He'd be desperate to get back to the office.

So half-term is perfect. Everyone knows that minimalism is the new big thing. And let's face it, after two hours of Richard and Judy on This Morning, marking books seems like the most stimulating activity in the world. So half-term achieves the impossible. You can't get much better than that.

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer School, Edmonton, north London.E-mail:

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