Six weeks to do things differently

15th August 2008 at 01:00

I am not usually given to generalisations but I can't help noticing that there seems to be a bit of a pattern about the way teachers approach their long summer break.

When it comes to the end of term and staff are finally released (generally for good behaviour) from the confines of a year-long institutional stint, they seem to fall out into roughly defined groups.

As they stagger into the bright sunlight, clutching plastic bags of belongings, knick-knacks, papers, plants and so on, the first group you can't see for dust. I call them the escape artists. They're off, without so much as a backward glance, shaking off the shackles and generally heading for the nearest airport.

I have colleagues who are always on the first flight out - to anywhere - and while most of us are still wandering around at home in a kind of daze, they are knocking back the gin on a plane and then waking up in another country, indeed another world. The other world being the point, of course, the bold getaway to somewhere entirely different.

Then there are the people who are instantly sick. It is a well reported syndrome that within 24 hours of school breaking up there are a lot of teachers out there breaking down. It's not just the physical collapse (headaches, backache, flu symptoms, nausea and so on) that is delibitating. It is the horribly corrosive effect on the mind. I mean, how infuriating is it to spend any part of a holiday feeling like you've been hit by a lorry?

In contrast to the escape artists, there are those that can't seem to stay away from school and are back practically the next day. It is a bit like coming off a drug - tiny steps at a time. These are the souls who ease themselves out of the asylum gradually. During that first week they can be seen pottering around in their blissfully quiet classrooms, tidying, sorting and chatting to fellow inmates who also haven't yet managed to cut loose.

And there are those whose lives take on an entirely different form of being busy. They are immediately immersed in doing dozens of jobs which never get done during term time: decorating, gardening, spring cleaning (in August), repairing, mending, baking (well, maybe not). Add to this the rediscovery of socialising, entertaining, phoning friends, eating out, and staying up late (wow!). In the course of a few weeks, a new lifestyle is kick-started (only, of course, to stall again in September).

I would like to say there is a fifth category, those professionals who are able to switch off immediately and do absolutely nothing all summer. But I haven't known many of them.

Teachers are, by nature, incredibly purposeful and driven, and the six- week break is absolutely essential for recharging often dangerously low batteries. How we do it is a matter of choice and inclination. The important thing is that, for a short period of time, we do things differently.

The pace does not need to be slower but it needs to be on a different running track. The level of activity does not need to be less but it needs to be in pursuit of different goals. And if 10 hours sleep a night and breakfast at noon is what delights you the most, then go for it.

As for me, already this summer I've been through the busy phase, the collapsed phase and the visits into school. Tomorrow I'll fly out to the sun for three weeks, and, yes, I'll have a large gin and tonic on the flight, and perhaps for a brief moment in time will think of absolutely nothing at all.

Then, come September, as the school year begins all over again, I will be quite happy to march back in again, like the majority of the teaching profession.

Lindy Barclay is deputy head of Redbridge Community School, Southampton.

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