Gemma Warren keeps one eye on the calendar

5th January 2001 at 00:00
Happy New Year. Although, of course, we teachers are halfway through our year, so it seems a bit silly making New Year's resolutions. If I had, they would have gone out the window on the first day back: do all marking the second it comes in, leave school on the bell every day to enable aforesaid marking to take place, embark on a creative new hobby. It's typical teacher's luck that in effect we have two new years, and so a double whammy of guilt.

I'm relieved that it's January. Last term was, I'm told, the longest ever and I did something that I've never done before: I counted weeks. What I was doing crept up on me about three weeks before the October half-term. I was labelling the dates in my register, and I found my eyes skimming over the columns until I reached December, then I found myself counting. Three weeks till half-term. Another eight weeks until Christmas after that. Bugger.

After I'd done it once, I couldn't stop myself, and every Monday it became a sort of sadistic ceremony: counting the weeks until that magic week in December when the holidays started. I tried to pretend to myself that I wasn't doing it, but whenever anyone in the staffroom casually asked how long till the end of term, I'd be the first to pipe up: five weeks, three days and 13 hours. Funny looks all round.

There's that scene at the beginning of Grease when Sandy turns up at her new high school, fresh from her romantic summer. She doesn't want to be there. She wants to be back in the sand dunes with no homework, except perhaps a thorough exploration of John Travolta. She runs into the PE teacher as she signs in, and asks: "How long till the end of term?" The teacher tells her, right down to the last second. The first bell hasn't even rung.

When I was younger, I would watch this scene endlessly and I would always feel a stab of contempt for the teacher. What was she doing with her life that she felt the need to count down until her holidays? If she didn't like her job, she ought to chuck it all in and do something useful. But my week-counting has meant that I have to face a fact: I have become that PE teacher. Frustrated, depressed, stck in a job I hate.

Of course none of this is true, but my week-counting worried me at a profound level. When I was in my first and second years of teaching, it would never occur to me what week we were in. Half-term would creep up on me. I couldn't very well not notice Christmas, but I would feel annoyed that my schemes of work were to be interrupted for two weeks while everyone celebrated the birth of Jesus. The holidays were an inconvenience; I wanted to be back in the classroom, doing what I loved.

So did my weekly weighing and measuring mean that I have lost all the joy of my job? Am I losing my vocation?

I don't think I am enjoying teaching less, but I have become more realistic over the past year. I am now not convinced that assessment is the ultimate way of spending one's free time. I like running extra-curricular activities, but I like going out with my friends more. I think that perhaps I might have suffered a slight enthusiasm overload in my early months, and now it's payback time. At the beginning, I was high on adrenalin, so fatigue didn't bother me. Now I depend on caffeine to get me through the last few periods of the week.

In the end, I plucked up the courage to ask if anyone else was counting weeks. "Who doesn't?" said the first person I ran into in the loo at breaktime. "All teachers count weeks," she assured me. I had found a friend with whom I could share my guilty secret. My colleague is a gifted, enthusiastic teacher, and I suddenly clicked that you can still love your job and love the holidays at the same time.

I have to shake off this teacher mentality that there's something shameful about not working. Living is important, too. I know I can relax this January, because I've worked out that I've got mock exams, and by the time you've marked those it's basically half-term. I'm not counting weeks anymore, but I'm still keeping a sneaky eye on the holidays. If I'm going to have one resolution at all, it's to enjoy my time in the classroom, but still be grateful when it all stops.

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, Edmonton, north London. Email: gemmaw@callnetuk.com


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