A magical transformation is about to take place...

31st August 2018 at 00:00
September is not merely the cruellest month – it’s downright sadistic, says Jo Brighouse

For large swathes of the population the shift from August to September is nothing: a mere clicking of the calendar. I have absolutely no idea what this must feel like. I cannot comprehend an existence where your whole being is not in thrall to the rhythms of the academic year and when it comes to annual junctions there is surely no bigger beast to grapple with.

For those who work in schools, September is another country. Whatever you do in the summer, chances are it will be a world away from your term-time life and the threshold between the two is not an easy journey.

While many teachers profess to be completely unfazed by the start of the new school year, I have a sneaking suspicion they are lying through their teeth. How you approach the onset of September very much depends on the type of teacher you are. There are those who stay deep in denial, clinging to their carefree holiday alter-ego until the 23rd hour when they head straight from airport to Inset day, sand still in their shoes.

Then there are those who stare straight down the barrel of the gun: the organised ones who spend every day of the final week of August in their classroom doing fancy things with backing paper, making labels for everything in sight and creating magical book corners.

The one thing we probably all have in common are the dreams. I don’t know of any teacher – be they NQT or hardened veteran – who doesn’t have at least one back-to-school dream in that final week of August.

Taking the plunge

It’s not even that September will be dreadful or that we are guaranteed to fail. It’s just a shock in the way that plunging into ice cold water after a sauna is a shock. However you approach it, it’s difficult to escape the feeling you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and emerged, blinking, into an unknown world in which other people absurdly expect you to know stuff and demonstrate skills that you blatantly do not have.

I know you come across teachers who tell you that the summer holidays are not really holidays and that they still devote time each week to thinking about and preparing for work. I don’t recognise this model at all. Catch me at virtually any point in the summer break and it’s an odds-on cert I am unable to tell you what a lesson plan is, have no idea what seven times eight equals and my pastoral care extends no further than letting the kids suck the lime from my G&T so that they don’t get scurvy.

In reality I reckon most teachers fall prey to the yo-yo diet model of professional existence where we start the holidays happily reassuring ourselves of all the things we will achieve in the endless six weeks and by the start of August we’re congratulating ourselves if we’ve managed to get dressed by lunchtime.

And now, in a mere 72 hours, I will be transformed from social layabout to responsible teacher. How this happens is still a total mystery to me. I can only rely on past experience and hope that, come Tuesday, I will have magically rediscovered my teaching self and will be confidently informing the younger generation that seven times eight is 56.

Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym of a primary school teacher in the West Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse

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