Workforce - What do teachers get up to on their summer break?

TES survey shows they spend a quarter of their time working

After a long school year slogging away over lesson plans, interactive whiteboards and exercise books, it's no wonder that teachers can't wait to get away from it all during their summer holidays.

But a TES survey has found that most teachers are spending about a quarter of their break on school-related activities, such as marking exam papers and preparing for the new school year.

Among the 1,200 teachers across the globe who responded, two-thirds (66 per cent) said they worked for more than a fifth of their summer break (see table, page 20), tackling school work and swotting up on their subject knowledge.

"It's no surprise that teachers are doing work in their holidays to prepare for the next school year," said Adrian Prandle, policy adviser at the UK's Association of Teachers and Lecturers. "That happens." But many teachers have been even busier than usual this summer, Mr Prandle believes, as they prepare for a raft of qualification and curriculum reforms under way in countries such as the US, Australia and the UK.

"It's likely that more teachers are working at the moment because there's so much change coming. In this profession, things never stay still, but teachers do deserve a break."

The survey also offered an insight into how teachers like to spend their leisure time during the precious few weeks away from school. More than two-thirds (69 per cent) prefer to travel overseas rather than exploring their own country, for example.

But it is clear that teachers have very different views on how best to wind down on their travels. Whereas some teachers are content to relax on a sun lounger, cocktail in hand, others prefer more adventurous alternatives.

The classic beach holiday, though, comes out on top, as one of the favoured options of almost three-quarters (73.4 per cent) of respondents.

"It's really important for us to recharge our batteries, so a beach and pool area is a must," one teacher said.

Not far behind, the next most popular type of holiday is cultural or heritage breaks (53.7 per cent), followed by activity holidays (42.7 per cent) and exotic or luxury breaks (35.4 per cent).

The traditional choice of camping or caravanning languishes in fifth position, with just 27.5 per cent of teachers choosing a back-to-basics break. Almost as many teachers would opt for a pampering spa break (23.9 per cent), ahead of a safari (16.6 per cent), skiing (12.9 per cent) or a cruise (12.4 per cent).

Perhaps not surprisingly, at the bottom of the list comes backpacking, with just 11.4 per cent of the vote. After all, who wants to bump into intoxicated sixth formers in a hostel in Amsterdam?

Close encounters

Worryingly, though, several teachers reported awkward holiday encounters with their students while on the road.

One writes: "I was lying on a beach in the south of France, topless, when I heard a `Hiya, Miss'. It was not so much the little girl but the ogling dad I objected to. We ran into the same family on the next two years' holidays as well, so we now avoid the south of France."

Although the odds of bumping into a student on holiday might seem to be low, this was far from an isolated case. Another teacher writes about an encounter while she was queuing at passport control in Majorca. "A boy was running up and down, being a pain. As he ran past me, I realised it was a horrible boy who was in one of my classes.

"At the (baggage) carousel, his mum recognised me and started to have a parents'-evening-type conversation with me - just what I wanted while looking out for my cases and looking after my own two children."

But while it may seem that getting away from the day job is an impossible mission, one teacher in Peru thinks he has the answer.

"As soon as the bell goes for the last day of any term, I pick up my backpack and jump on a bus," he says. "I never book and I never plan - it's the ultimate adventure.

"No other profession would allow me so much time to explore the world and expand my knowledge of conservation and biology by visiting beaches, rainforests and glaciers. I have managed to see some of the real pearls of the continent, and being a teacher always opens doors, both with the locals and fellow travellers. People always want to know about the job and the kids - and a few horror stories never go amiss."

But top marks for year-round devotion to the teaching profession must go to Rachael Davis. During term time, she teaches primary pupils at Fourfields Community School in Cambridgeshire, England. This summer, she has been working in Cambodia as an intern on the teacher training programme of the charity AboutAsia Schools.

"It is a project that equips Khmer (Cambodian) teachers with the skills and knowledge required for teaching English lessons to children in rural schools around Siem Reap," she explains.

"So far, we have visited four different schools - on a tuk-tuk, in the wet season, along dirt tracks - to observe the quality of teaching and learning."

Although to some exhausted teachers, Ms Davis' educational adventure may sound like a busman's holiday from hell, for her it has been a summer she will never forget.

"Hopefully, I will be instigating sustainable changes whose positive impact will be felt by students and teachers across Siem Reap province long after I leave."

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