I do wonder sometimes, if the long summer break, the One Big Perk, isn’t one of the reasons why people give teachers stick when they meet them at social occasions (that, and the way they suddenly remember all the teachers who ever told them off or made them feel silly over something or other). They always mention it, that and the 9 til 3 thing. No matter how hard we try we just can’t seem to persuade the general public that actually, teachers work really long hours.
The contrast between term time and holiday time is also one of the reasons, I am quietly convinced, that many people give up on the job after about five years. It’s a bit like the way I once heard airline piloting described: hours and hours of sitting around doing very little punctuated by minutes of intense activity and stress – only the other way round. It’s all very well if you are partnered up with a teacher and you can go off for the entire summer, live at the beach or a month and pretend that you are one of the gentry, so rich that you don’t need to work, but it doesn’t exactly promote a balanced work/life balance. The constant see-saw between pressure and nothing is stressful in itself.
I’m not saying that children should be in school for any longer (if you don’t count my idea to make the school day longer, but with longer breaks contained within) – they are only children after all, and there is only so much learning and sitting at school desks, staring out of the window and longing to be as free as the birds that a child can reasonably be expected to do – but really, when you think about it, do we have to structure the school year this way?
Children can struggle with the long summer break – and especially those, like Sam, who have special needs, or who live in chaotic or unhappy homes – six weeks is a long time, and long enough to do some prodigious forgetting. And while I’m at it, does it have to be in August? I’m sitting here, watching the rain come down and thinking of July, when it was sunny, and too hot to teach, and everyone was grumpy because they had to be in school when really all they wanted to do was loll around doing nothing very much and that was just the grownups.
And we all struggle with the Autumn term. I know the summer one goes a bit bonkers, what with sports days and end of year shows and assemblies and reports and exams, but that is nothing compared to the darkening marathon towards Christmas. We start in September, all mellow and gentle mornings, and we end up, carols coughed out in the semi-gloom of the winter solstice, with about three days, taking away all the enforced visiting and merrymaking we have to do, just to spread the germs around a little bit more, to recover ourselves and get on with the next bit.
The thing is, though, that we can’t have schools trying it out, just as an experiment, like. Schools are made up of families, and coordinating INSET days, from a parental perspective, is bad enough. In my house, if you include my erstwhile school, we have four institutions to placate (including one parent who can’t just take a day off when she needs to). If we’re going to make a change, we all have to do it together.
(Actually, if it were me, I would have July off, two weeks in October and three – at least – at Christmas. Give us all a bit of time to decompress, get a bit of balance and restore good health.)