Holiday homework

7th August 2015 at 01:00

Six weeks. If you've ever worked in the private sector, you'll know how precious that is. When I was employed in nightclubs, I was lucky to get two weeks away. When I ran clubs, I took time off when the owners did, so that I didn't fret about getting fired as I sunbathed. Six weeks is a sack full of rubies and diamonds tied up with gold thread.

Teachers often vie to outdo each other in piety when it comes to the annual sabbatical: "We've earned it"; "We work through most of it"; "No one works as hard as we do". The first is true, the second partially so and the third less so. Six weeks is a blessing and a perk that most people don't have. And the second we take it for granted or sound ungrateful, everyone outside of education rightly hangs us for it.

So what are you doing with the time? It's a gift-wrapped godsend, and something that is hard to buy. No matter how much you love the day job - and I do - it's hard to deny that what we do is emotionally exhausting. We are forced into situations where we are required to care, and sometimes not to care. We bite our lip in the face of sniping and carping (and that's often just the adults) and stop ourselves from saying the obvious things to people who deserve it. We're asked, required, to be more than ourselves, all day, most of the year. No wonder we need to blow off steam.

Which is why it's so important to actually manage the time we have available to us as carefully and stingily as the time we are so meanly allocated to teach, plan, mark and do every other damn thing. It's easy to treat each minute as a pearl when deadlines stream over us like a waterfall, but strangely a lot of us don't do the same with our time off. It's strange because a summer minute lasts no longer than a term-time minute. And as our experience of time is subjective, you could argue that it's even shorter, since scarcity increases its value.

I don't want to sound like a Monica here (note to the under-30s: a pedant from the 1990s sitcom Friends) but the fun needs a plan, even if the plan is "have fun". One thing that does differentiate teaching from many other careers - as an actuary, say, or a shelf-stacker - is the emotional commitment the job entails. Teachers need to consciously decide to unwind. If they don't, and instead make the horrible mistake of treating August as a very long Inset day where they can "really catch up on marking", the true value is lost.

We need the detox. We need the reboot. If you don't take it, you carry the anxieties of yesterday into tomorrow. This calcifies the heart; it ossifies the soul. Like limescale, it blocks and chokes our enthusiasm and energy.

Take the time to take time off. The school calendar has ended. No clocks will stop if books sit unmarked in the sun. I recommend that every teacher use the summer to rediscover who they are outside of teaching: a father, daughter, high-wire artist or juggler. Who are you as well as being a teacher? Who were you before? Who did you want to be? You have only a few weeks to find out. GO!

Tom Bennett is a secondary teacher in East London, director of the ResearchED conference and the government's new school behaviour expert

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