Hell is a fortnight on a Spanish beach

22nd July 2005 at 01:00
How do teachers spend their summer break? Ask a jaundiced member of the public who resents the "long holidays" and you are liable to get a caricatured picture of weeks spent in Provence or Tuscany, sampling the delights of the local cuisine and consuming large quantities of wine.

Ask teachers themselves and you will, of course, receive a variety of answers. Some like to escape the rigours of work immediately and can be seen at the airport on the day school breaks up. Others need time to wind down and spend the first few days in a collapsed heap before giving thought to what they might do or where they might go. They then head off at a leisurely pace to modest destinations in the Highlands, Yorkshire or the West Country.

More energetic spirits may go on a hiking or cycling holiday, or seek to improve their skills at golf or tennis. Extreme sports have their attraction. I can think of a few former colleagues I would happily help to pack if they decided to try white-water rafting or free-fall parachuting.

Some teachers devote part of the holidays to attending courses that will be of benefit in their professional work. These can take many forms - updating subject knowledge, improving computing skills, developing new teaching techniques. Such activity can provoke cynical remarks about excessive keenness or ambition, so it is often wise not to broadcast attendance.

Even jaded old cynics have been known to make a gesture at professional development by devising new courses during the summer break, or simply updating teaching materials. The clearout of old papers can be therapeutic.

Getting rid of that worksheet that has been used for 10 years may constitute a small blow for intellectual freedom.

How do I spend my own summer holidays? Well, here I have to make a terrible confession. I am one of those sad people who finds holidays quite difficult. It is not that I am so dedicated to my job that I cannot tear myself away from it. I like having free time to potter about and do as I please.

But, when it comes to making arrangements for an organised holiday, I am a total disaster. I find travel tiring and do not enjoy the sun. One version of hell for me is a fortnight on a Spanish beach.

On those few occasions when I have been persuaded to go away for an extended period, I have arrived back in a frazzled state, much more exhausted than when I left. I still try to make an effort by going on short breaks from time to time, but the truth is I would much rather stay at home.

So what do I actually do? I read a lot of crime fiction, preparing for my retirement career as a professional hitman. For those who may be contemplating taking out a contract on a colleague, please note that there are a few assignments in the world of education which I might be prepared to undertake for a reduced fee.

I also quite enjoy - and this shows the depth of my holiday depravity - doing all those odd jobs that have been neglected during term. Nothing too technical, you understand - where real competence may be required - but I am willing to have a go at minor repairs and routine decorating.

So you see it's all rather a pathetic scenario. I even spend some time writing. Friends tell me I am a hopeless case. On the subject of holidays, I'm afraid I have to agree with them.

Walter Humes is professor of education at Aberdeen University.

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