Teachers' holidays aren't a luxury - they're valuable CPD

5th August 2011 at 01:00
Those who attack our long vacations ignore the value of our extra- curricular interests

Much as I recommend teaching as a job to newcomers, I sometimes feel guilty that the best bit often seems to be that you don't have to do it for 11 weeks of the year. I'm probably not alone in feeling that, though. Lots of teachers are like me and have partners or spouses who are also teachers, and the value of 10 or 11 weeks of simultaneous time off simply can't be overestimated.

But unless you've been living in some sort of bubble, you can't have failed to note that the holidays are under serious attack from all quarters, especially parents who see schools as no more than the free childcare service to which they're entitled. Teachers are a soft target at the moment, and don't expect the unions to be too sympathetic either; they don't get the same holidays teachers do.

So why are holidays, especially long holidays, so important? To understand that, you have to give a little thought to what teachers try to do in the classroom. The general idea is that teachers try to share with their pupils their knowledge and understanding of what happens in whatever fields they specialise. The best teachers have a pretty broad view of what represents their "specialist field", and weave all sorts of things into their classes' learning experiences. We've all done it, I hope: illustrating a lesson with some reference to a sporting event, EastEnders, T in the Park, or a news event. My history teacher taught me all I know about both religious education and art history. My maths teacher was also an amazing golf historian. The best teachers don't just teach their own subject; they teach everything they're interested in (Curriculum for Excellence is just a re-branding of that idea).

How many teachers find that only in the holidays can they catch up on that pile of reading at their bedside? It's only during the holidays that they manage trips abroad, to indulge their personal hobbies, even the simple act of spending quality time with their families. All of these, and so much more, can be shared with classes in the years to come.

The longer the summer holidays - or any holidays for that matter - the more they have to offer. Universities have long known that simple truth, and lecturers are expected to use some of their spare time, especially the long vacations, to broaden their horizons with research; write a book; produce a paper. Then they pass that knowledge on to their students.

These summer holidays don't just recharge the batteries, they're an important part of teachers' continuing professional development. To all teachers reading this, I hope you're having a good one. Your pupils need you to.

Gordon Lawrie, Former secondary teacher, taught modern studies.

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