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Why teachers deserve a day off for Christmas shopping

Teachers put in so much overtime – don't criticise schools for giving them a day off to buy presents, says Omar Akbar

Should overworked teachers be given days off to buy Christmas presents?

Teachers put in so much overtime – don't criticise schools for giving them a day off to buy presents, says Omar Akbar

Headlines in the popular press have been loaded with expressions of outrage over teachers being given "wellbeing" and "Christmas shopping" days.

On Loose Women, the knives were out and teachers were clearly under attack.

Statements such as "You have to just fit it in like everyone else" and "What’s all this wellbeing nonsense anyway?" were being met with applause.

What are these days off all about?

It is important to note that these types of days do not even take place in perhaps the majority of schools and so the media coverage received was somewhat disproportionate. Schools that have adopted this idea have two main justifications: it may be because a headteacher wants to reward a teacher who has consistently organised after-school clubs and trips. In addition, it may be because – and this is the more common scenario – teachers have had additional meetings throughout the year for which the extra time is now being given back.

In both these scenarios, it is the equivalent of "time off in lieu" – a concept adhered to in many other forms of employment but mostly non-existent in teaching.

But teachers get long holidays...

It may argued that our long holidays make up for the term-time slog. This argument, however, is only valid if the bigger picture is ignored. You only have to turn to the damning statistics that surround our profession (the high number of teachers who leave teaching, the high numbers of mental health problems among teachers and the 54-hour working week for a teacher – more for NQTs) for it to be clear that the "long holidays" are quite simply not having the presumed effect.

Are these days off justified?

No teacher will debate the scarcity of free time during term-time. If we are lucky enough to work at a school that gives time back to staff, we must not be apologetic when explaining this to non-teachers, or become perturbed by comments we read online. To the contrary, it is something we should proclaim proudly. And, for possibly the majority of staff at schools that do not get given a "wellbeing" or "Christmas shopping" day, they should strongly suggest this via their union rep, particularly if they know of other schools in the area that do this. A colleague and friend once told me – and the words still resonate – "money can be made again but when time has gone, it’s gone forever".

Enjoy your day off!

Omar Akbar is a teacher and author of The Unofficial Teacher’s Manual: what they don’t teach you in training

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