You've acted the part, enjoy the intermission

15th August 2008 at 01:00

It's a teacher's biggest perk, the envy of all other jobs and I'm sitting in the middle of it right now: the summer holiday. No matter that it's pouring with rain, there's still plenty to keep me busy: the cat needs to be stroked, a leaking gutter mended and Ulysses is still waiting to be read. How do I ever get time to go to work?

I cannot think of another job that has such a bizarre yearly rhythm, with periods of frantic activity and emotional intensity followed by long breaks. Neither can I think of another job that provokes such contradictory responses from other people.

At one end of the spectrum are the open-mouthed, over-my-dead-body brigade. These are the people who find one teenager at home quite enough to cope with, and who express undying admiration for anyone who can manage 30 of them hour after hour. Then there are those who think that 13 weeks' holiday a year and finishing at 3.15pm every day is a good little number, and what in the hell are teachers moaning about all the time?

The moaning bit is certainly true. There can be few professions that feel so downtrodden and unappreciated, and where there is such a gap between what they do and what they say about their job. Watch teachers at work with kids; see the patience, the banter, the pride, the obvious satisfaction in nurturing success. Then listen to them moan about their job - the paperwork, the long hours, the relentless pressure to achieve results.

Several of our teachers have previously worked in business, one in sales, another in publishing. They are among the most positive members of staff because they have seen life on the dark side. They know all about long hours to meet deadlines in a culture where a failure to hit targets, or a sudden corporate downsizing, can mean arriving at work in the morning only to find yourself clearing your desk and out of the door by lunchtime.

No prizes for guessing that I think teachers deserve every penny and every minute of holiday that they get. That's not because of workload; most studies show that teachers do work harder than comparable workers during term time, but not especially so when averaged through the year.

It is rather that there is a unique pressure to teaching. I watched three young teachers supervising a trip to London during our Challenge Week. For over 12 hours, their eyes were constantly scanning and checking as they shepherded the group on and off the tube, into a restaurant, around Covent Garden, the Tower and BBC Television Centre. They (we!) did not have a minute off, and it was non-stop conversation all the way, from explaining how blue screen television works to why you do not need to wear wellies on the underground.

That's what teaching is like day in, day out. It's no use comparing the job with banking or street cleaning. Teachers are actors. They are always performing, coaxing, interacting with their audience, and what's more, the audience does not always want to be there and is liable to start a fight in row C. More work goes on backstage to prepare for the one-hour performance than anyone ever suspects.

When was the last time anyone asked Keira Knightley how many hours a week she works or how many days' holiday a year she has?

Those teachers who left business to work in a school did so because they wanted a job that was more fulfilling and had more moral purpose than just making money. Hold on to the importance of what you do and enjoy your well-deserved holiday.

Roger Pope, Principal of Kingsbridge Community College, Devon.

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