I usually enjoy teaching at college, but the lead-up to the end of the autumn term can be an arduous trudge. Some years, my response to colleagues cheerily offering a “Merry Christmas” has been, “Thank f*** that’s over”.
You see, I’m a hapless victim of the predictable, but shockingly abrupt, first-term optimism drop-off. In September, work is a weightless glide along a tropical beach. By Christmas, I’m furiously flapping in quicksand.
Every academic year, I dust off the this-term-will-be-different mantras:
* I will religiously adhere to my scheme of work, splattering it with scrawled suggestions to refine my practice.
* I will meticulously monitor students’ progress, J Edgar Hoovering up their every learning move.
* I will mark whatever wafts within 100 yards, dishing out valuable feedback like sweeties.
* I will remember that if a learner doesn’t present their best self, there’s a reason for their behaviour.
Yep, that’s how it starts. But by Christmas I’ll be cobbling together lessons on the hop from beneath a deep email drift of apparently urgent administrative tasks, all the while reminding myself that it’s not OK to fantasise about walloping my most irritating charges with a cast-iron skillet.
Falling over the finishing line
Then we reach the third week in December. I’ll get home after the last day of term, rip my lanyard from my neck and slap it down in a location that I’ll immediately wipe from my memory. Here’s a little tip: don’t do this. The search will cause untold panic in January before it eventually surfaces in the freezer/dog’s basket/bottom of a cursed well.
For the first 24 hours of life on the outside, my mood will veer between confused elation and snarling exhaustion. After a long spell of stillness on the sofa, my legs will start to throb and I will submit to Christmas. Then it’s time to do all the usual Jingle Bells stuff, but more importantly, it’s time to actively seek boredom.
Being bored is a lost art. I spent most of the 80s being bored, staring at equally bored sheep from my bedroom window, just counting the seconds until the internet would be invented. Back then, boredom was not through choice. Now, it’s a great pleasure. Of course, what I call boredom you might call meditation or mindfulness or relaxation.
Though I’m not a qualified brain doctor, I firmly believe that conscious, purposeful boredom creates a mind vacuum, one that needs to be filled. It provides room for the optimism to seep back in and produces the motivation to start again.
I’m a massive fan of the festive season, but once I’ve reached peak Christmas, I’m over it. I want it disappeared. I want clean surfaces. I want everything decluttered and deglittered. With a good dose of boredom under my belt, I’ll be gagging for a new year and a new term.
So, this holiday, make time to get bored. Power down so hard that you’ll be desperate to restart. And maybe next term will be different.
Merry Christmas, FE pals.
Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons