Teacher watch: a summer special

24th July 1998 at 01:00
As schools break up for the summer, doctors are not preparing to cope with a rush of teachers suffering from withdrawal symptoms during August. Most teachers will be so keen to escape for a while, that few will need Prozac to tide them over until September.

If teachers are eager to go on holiday, however, that is as nothing compared with their pupils. For children holidays are magic. The thrill as a grown-up of driving through the Alps, or flying into an Italian airport, pales alongside the sheer excitement of seeing Blackpool Tower on the horizon as a child.

I remember childhood holidays as if they were yesterday. They began with packing the bucket and spade, as opposed to the mosquito repellent and sun lotion of today. Then we got on the train, since few of us had access to a car.

The most exciting part of the rail journey from Sheffield to Blackpool was crossing the Pennines through the Woodhead Tunnel, several minutes spent in darkness before we emerged. Nowadays the Woodhead Tunnel, or "school inspection" as we like to call it, involves several weeks of darkness.

Finally the sight of the beach and the squawks of seagulls completed the magic. It is virtually impossible to recreate it in adult life.

One reason why teachers do not suffer from withdrawal symptoms during holidays is because many find it hard to switch off daily routines. If you see someone picking up litter and tut-tutting about mess, it will either be the local loony or a teacher on vacation.

Watch out for the person organising an untidy fish and chip queue into a straight line. Ten to one it's a teacher. If she's saying, "Now don't be silly", then it must be an infant teacher.

There are other giveaways for the eagle-eyed. See if you can spot the English teacher (inserting the missing 'm' in the word 'accommodation' on a notice), or the geography teacher (counts all the passengers twice on any bus excursion).

If anyone corrects your French and makes you repeat the phrase again (but this time with better intonation), it must be a modern languages teacher.

The holidaymaker who splits each hour of the day into 15 minutes of sunbathing, 15 minutes for a drink, 20 minutes of quiet reading and 10 minutes of table tennis, has just been on a literacy hour training course.

The anxious guest rushing round the hotel to find a substitute for the waiter who hasn't turned up is probably a deputy head back home. The one organising a local authority grant to improve the hotel swimming pool is almost certainly a head, as is the one smarming round any parents present.

I wonder if school inspectors fill in those evaluation questionnaires you get on aeroplanes and in hotels by writing "generally sound" in each blank space.

Academics are the same. When bus couriers say, "Good morning everybody. My name is Darren and we'll be taking you to the Acropolis", the smartass rabbiting on about "a temple to Victory and the Propylaea started in 437 BC" is almost certainly a classics lecturer.

One of the hazards of being an academic on holiday is having a PhD. Airline staff always note anyone called "Doctor" on the passenger list as a possible medic ("We've got two doctors on board").

When I got my doctorate I always dreaded having one day to explain that a PhD in classroom interaction process analysis was going to be of little help to some poor beggar having a coronary at 30,000 feet. ("Now sit up straight and stop making such a fuss about a silly little thing like a heart attack. ") After a fortnight of being a teacher while on holiday, perhaps the logical consequence is to behave like a holidaymaker when teaching again in September.

People could return to school wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sing the "birdie song" in assembly while strutting up and down clucking, put a towel down to reserve a favourite chair in the staffroom, pour a can of lager over anyone who misbehaves. According to some newspapers that is what happens in schools now, so there is nothing to lose.

Have a good summer.

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