Give us a break from holidays

4th April 1997 at 01:00
After 17 years of marriage, Anne McHardy needs a rest from teachers' work patterns.

It is the first day of the school holidays and already my stress level is soaring. The problem isn't my four kids, and how to fill their long, empty days. They seem quite happy to go off to the swimming pool, or to a friend's to play with his video machine, or to stay at home and play with the cats.

The problem is the sleeping bulk in the other half of my double bed who has never learned that his school holidays do not apply universally.

Through 17 years of marriage, and four kids, I've worked and our lives have been reasonably peaceful, except during those parts of his holiday when I am at work.

Any minute now he'll drift up to my desk wanting me to join him in the garden for coffee. Then he will suggest lunch round the corner, and wonder vaguely if I have dug out the suitcases in preparation for going to France over Easter.

Meanwhile, my books will go unwritten, my faxes unanswered, my answering service will creak under the weight of messages, and my nerves will snap. While I was working in an office it was better and worse. At least then I had to go out of the door. He would always look bewildered when I said no to lunch because I was in the office, but he came to terms with that more easily than with me saying no from a desk at home. But he never did learn to remember that I wouldn't have as much time at home as he did.

I know it is not just me. A friend told me on Friday she had organised half a dozen essential meetings outside the house this week just so she wouldn't be there to hear the happy sounds of relaxation.

When politicians talk about lengthening the school term, I feel sorry for the kids. In order to learn, kids need to play as well as to sit reading school books. The rounded adult needs to have spent sunny days on the swings in the park as a child.

But then I glance at my dearly beloved and wonder. The rounded adult also needs to have contact with the awful reality that for some of us life goes on day in, day out, 365 days of the year. Pity us poor journalists married to teachers. But also pity doctors, or nurses, or farmers, or hospital orderlies, or undertakers, or cinema ticket sellers, or vicars, or fairground managers, or policemen, or . . . do you need the rest of the list?

Pity poor us, in the world outside school, who have to try to smile and allow our teacher partners to wind down into their holiday, while we are staying wound up in our work.

Perhaps what the next Secretary of State for Education and Employment might consider is compulsory work experience for would-be teachers, or perhaps in-service training for them during at least two holidays; Easter and the spring bank holiday week would be good, but then so would the autumn half-term and Christmas, or the first two weeks of the summer holiday, or the last two.

The in-service training could happen on alternate years, and they might get remission on the signed assurance from their partners that they had learned to sympathise, emphasise, or even remember that only half the household could lie in on Monday morning.

Or maybe it could become law that before you start teaching you have to spend five years working in an industry that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That would help solve the problem of night staff for casualty wards, wouldn't it?

Anne McHardy is a former editor of Education Guardian, married to the head of a London secondary school

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