Spare a thought for the world out there

6th July 2001 at 01:00
AS you know, I always try to drag teachers out of their protected existence in the classroom back to the real world. So be patient while I tell you about a little teacher soiree I was present at recently.

The company seemed promising enough. Quite often I end up sitting beside the Sourpuss of the Year who talks about nothing but when the next holiday is and how there's 300 hours 4 minutes and 3 seconds to demob day and, OK she's wishing her life away, but that's her prerogative.

On one side of me was a young probationer. Having had a difficult year coming to terms with how inadequately teacher training college had prepared him for the big bad world, he said things like:"I'm going to go into school during the summer to get some preparation done for the new session." Naturally, there were plenty of old cynics around to do the ha, ha, ha mockery on this young enthusiast. "You'll soon have that nonsense knocked out of you."

On my other side was an experienced teacher who said she regarded teachers as fortunate in comparison to just about everyone else with regard to quantity of holidays. It's amazing how many apparently well balanced teachers react with a kind of irresistible defensiveness to that kind of comment.

Did I say react? Twittering and squawking and Byronic wringing of hands as people considered the diagnosis of what ails the non-teaching world when it points an accusatory finger at teachers and queries the holiday allocation.

The large empty floating speech bubble above my head was obviously more than some in the company could stand. Quite a cabaret it turned into. "What's your problem?" I was driven to asking an angry challenger across the table. "Nothing," she grimaced. "Those people who are complaining about long holidays should just become teachers themselves."

Thus the company flicked through the cliched arguments and milked them until curdled. Quite a sorry tale, I must say. But do we have a monopoly on stress? We've become so used to churning out homilies about us needing our long holidays because we think that we have more anxiety than any other profession or job.

Take my own family. A nurse, a police officer, a freelance journalist, a businessman, a financial consultant, to name but a few of the occupations which gather round the clan dining table. There's no denying it. No one has the amount of holidays we have. And it doesn't matter how much you swag up our job to be the toughest nut of all to crack, it won't wash with other exhausted workers.

The police officer, for instance, may be called upon to work for 16 days on the trot without a single day off. Sometimes he will arrive home at midnight and be expected to report for duties by 6am the next morning. His children will be in bed when he leaves in the morning and asleep when he returns late at night. When I pointed this out to the aggressive and definitely touchy teacher she was ready to argue the toss. Aware that she really was going for the jugular now, I drew back from all out war.

We ought to be a bit more considerate in our frenetic rush to the end of term. Clamouring about life in the fast lane is wearing a bit thin. And arguing about it? Well, it has certainly given me a dose of post traumatic stress. A reviving glass of wine may help but spare a thought for the world out there while we hibernate for the summer.

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