Only thing to work at is art of relaxing

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
Parentline Plus, the support group, has published guidelines on how best to cope with kids during the summer hols. You know the sort of thing: give them plenty of space to chill out, find time to talk etc.

All very useful but, of course, it isn't only children who can be a major headache during the six long weeks of summer. Teachers with time on their hands, as their families and friends will confirm, can also prove a bit of a handful.

It isn't that they do not have anything to do - they have got too much.

This is because, in term time, they have been repeating a mantra which should not be allowed in schools: "I'll do it in the holidays."

So they embark on the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer with a "to do" list of the very things they do not want to do. It is a list they can neither find the oomph to tackle nor quite bring themselves to ignore. Instead, they succumb to a debilitating lassitude - almost a flu-like condition, the only symptom of which is to worry about schoolwork while at the same time feeling a compulsive need to watch everything on daytime television from Trish to the Countdown conundrum.

It reaches its crisis when the sufferer notices an autumnal nip in the air, that the football season has started, that Woolworths is advertising its Back to School range and, in a final paroxysm of self-pity, that there are no maninas left.

There are only two known remedies for this summer malady. Either the patient must work through the list as quickly as possible and then forget about school. Or forget about the list and forget about school.

Escaping to an exotic location is one way of achieving this but it does not always work. I know one teacher who jetted off to Crete with the man of her dreams for sun, sea and a Sats-free seven nights only to discover that two of her Year 6s were staying in the same apartment block. The kids naturally devoted their holiday to keeping a watchful eye on the happy couple.

Even Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster on the beach in From Here to Eternity might have had their ardour dampened if less than a yard away two boys were waiting patiently to ask if the dead jelly fish in their bucket would be suitable for the nature table.

Teachers must also try to steer clear of other teachers as it is a well-known fact that wherever two or three of them are gathered together, they will hold an impromptu staff meeting.

And they will gather together. They have developed the pedagogic equivalent of gaydar. They can spot each other, even when heavily disguised in Bermudas, shades and silly hats. Admittedly, it is not easy to avoid teachers in Wales. In summer, the untold legions of Welsh men and women who ended up teaching in England, overwhelmed by hiraeth, hot-foot it back to the green green grass of home. Added to these are those countless thousands of English-born teachers who choose to holiday here. In fact, so many of them come to Wales that the National Union of Teachers should be able to negotiate a discount at the Severn Bridge.

Of course, going away on holiday is no guarantee that a chronic workaholic will forget about work. A couple of years ago I saw a middle-aged gent at Whitesands, Pembrokeshire, who had come to the beach, not with the regulation Frisbee, and a barbecue which will not light, but an A4 pad and what looked like a year's back issues of The TES.

While his family made sad little sandcastles, he was making notes. It goes without saying that The TES is a real page-turner, but I cannot help but feel that, for the sake of his work-life balance, he would probably have been better off with a John Grisham.

Getting that balance right is common sense. The 1938 Holidays with Pay Act got on to the statute book when it became obvious that if workers were given an opportunity to relax and recuperate, they would be more efficient and less prone to absenteeism.

Teachers should recognise that it is their duty to spend the next six weeks having as good a time as possible Come September, they might even feel like tackling some of those jobs on the "to do" list.

Arnold Evans is a Cardiff-based journalist

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