Multi-term year - wind-up or wind down?

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
What is it about teachers? Here I am 5,500 miles from home, on top of an 8,000ft mountain, a week into my summer holiday. I'm surrounded by a squillion tea bushes, I've just had breakfast and am photographing the sun rising over virgin rainforest. I'm on a tour and my fellow tourists have gathered to watch this sunrise with me.

And what might the topic of conversation be? Our plans for today? The beauty of the scene? Possibly the socio-economic plight of the tea-pickers? None of the above: it's about kids in school. As a group we've been on our Sri Lankan tour bus for a day. One or two names have been learnt, four honeymoon couples have emerged and so have the 18 people involved in education.

There's been no point-scoring. By the end of the tour we'll have discovered that there are a couple of heads and a smattering of college lecturers, but most of us are jobbing teachers. When we visit a jewellery factory and are shown precious stones, there are wry comments about whether we would want to bring our students here. Personally, I think mine would be much more interested in the spice farm where we are shown plants that produce what are, for us, illegal substances.

References to school and work decline as the week progresses. We push it to one side as the focus of our lives becomes the sights, sounds and tastes of Sri Lanka. By the time we go our separate ways, we've become something of a homogeneous group. Our guide comments on it and, indeed, caring and sharing has become quite normal. There's no swapping of addresses - not even email - but there are handshakes and hugs.

At that moment a thought of school flits into my mind. We have several new members joining the staff this month. I wonder if the authority would allow us 10 days on a bus in a foreign country to set up the team spirit that we tourists have createdI The rest of the summer seems pedestrian. We stay with friends in France and once "show us your photos" is out of the way, we relax and recharge our batteries ready for this new term. But when our host asks if I want to check my email, I accept the invitation. Stupid! There are more than 30 messages waiting for me. Take out the spam and there are 10 relating to work, among them one asking if I want to know the GCSE results when they come through.

My state of relaxation is instantly back to that first morning in the tea plantation. It's always taken my wife and I about a week to unwind after the end of the summer term, something I'd always put down to our temperaments. But the group of education people on our tour seemed to suffer the same way. I wonder if they, too, prepare for the start of the new year about a week before the return date? Taking this to its logical conclusion, it means that most people in education lose two weeks of their summer to winding down and winding up. That leaves about three weeks for true relaxation and enjoyment.

My authority, like many others, is toying with a multi-term year. One of the implications is that the summer break will be cut to about four weeks.

Take out winding down and preparation time and we're left with a bare two weeks to relax. As I approach retirement, I'm becoming increasingly weary as the summer term ends and need as much time off as possible. Perhaps the advent of the multi-term year should be my trigger to seek retirement - I doubt that I will be in any fit state to start a new year without a good rest.

David Watson

David Watson works in a pupil referral unit

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