teaching with 'p' plates on

so, tell me more about why i don’t deserve my six week holidays…

Posted on: July 5, 2015

My prolonged lack of activity on this blog may not come as a great surprise to anyone who shares my profession. Although it could be assumed that the summer term is the easiest of the year, for me, it has by far been the most stressful and busiest (I didn’t even have any exam groups). I’m at the point – alongside many of my colleagues – when the end doesn’t quite feel within reaching distance yet, but that’s because my to-do list still contains an endless string of things I need to tie up before the end of the year. Yet even after we finally break up, I have volunteered my services for an extra week of summer school as despite spending the year clocking up more than my fair share of extra hours, I could really do with some more dollar as I don’t earn a single penny more than the sum printed on my contract. So, when my non-teacher friends (or just people in general) comment on teachers being slackers or how grateful I should be that I get six weeks off in the summer, I do feel a little grumbly.

Of course, the prospect of six weeks off work is rather dreamy for anyone, but I’m certain the reality isn’t quite as wonderful as it seems to the outside world. First and foremost, the clearest argument I would pose to anyone who complains about teachers’ holidays is to become a teacher themselves if they want that amount of time off – it’s a perk of the job. ‘Perk’ is an important word to bear in mind here as every job has one: you may get to travel the world, work with celebrities, get invited to cool, exclusive parties or get a serious whack of a bonus each year. Mine just happens to be more holidays. So what? Besides, there’s a reason why these people aren’t teachers – they usually say it’s because don’t want to deal with kids, couldn’t handle the workload or the constant demands and pressures laid on by the government – and that’s totally fine with me. I couldn’t do their job because of x, y and z. That’s how the world works! Also, how many of these people would dedicate extra unpaid hours to work, not because their boss asked them to or because they have to get something done by tomorrow, but just simply to give someone else an opportunity they wouldn’t get otherwise? I’m sure not everyone would. Essentially, my six week holidays are my overtime pay, but if I’m being totally honest, I would rather the money sometimes.

Stories about disgruntled families facing fines for taking term-time holidays or headteachers threatening expulsion to parents who book trips away when their children should be in school are never far from the headlines these days. Pretty much all the cases are because holidays prices are extortionate during school holidays, but whilst we’re expected to sympathise with hard-working parents who can’t afford a decent getaway with their kids in the allocated holiday times, no-one seems to consider the fact that teachers face the same issue. I’m sure anyone would comeback with ‘Well, you chose to be a teacher, so there’, yet this is exactly my point. Yes, I get six weeks off in the summer, but my wage certainly doesn’t give me the opportunity to go on the same type of holidays I could have if I didn’t work in education – I should know as I used to work in an office! Before becoming ‘Miss’, I went to America every year, but I haven’t been back since I became a teacher as the prices are mental. This isn’t a cry for sympathy, but one of the ‘reality checks’ I find myself giving to people who criticise my holiday times. I am willing to sacrifice cheap holidays to do a job I love, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could have them!

One tactic I have found to be successful for the haters is a simple question: how much do you usually spend in a week verses a weekend? Usually, I find most don’t part with their pennies beyond their commute (and maybe lunch) during the week as they need to save for the weekend. Building up on this foundation, I then get them to think about whether they could afford to have a weekend every day for six weeks: ‘well, obviously not.’ Exactly. Now, adding a final element to this theory, we need to consider how many of your friends and family are around during the week: ‘mostly none as they’d all be at work’. So, actually, you couldn’t have a weekend every day anyway as you have no-one to spend it with, right? At this point, the penny starts to drop. I’m sure anyone would be happy to spend a few days chilling on their own at home, but most people won’t be able to do it forever. Cabin fever sets in eventually, but in order to pay the extra £400 ‘school holiday tax’ for your week long (because that’s all you could afford) getaway, you have to be conscious of who you go out for lunch with and when or whether that trip into the town centre, even if it’s just to see what the world is like outside your four walls because you forgot what other people look like, will keep you debt free. My dad, who is also a teacher, worked out that he spends over a grand on ‘coffee trips out’ during the summer holidays, and that’s purely to keep him sane. Normally, this dose of dreams versus reality leaves my victims nodding their heads in a contemplative manner.

A final point, as anyone who lives with a teacher will agree with – our holiday time isn’t truly time to relax. See, our school days are taken up with meetings, twilight training, detentions and basically loads of other teacher-related stuff you probably wouldn’t understand. Planning usually happens when we get home (providing you are still relatively awake) and holidays are a really useful time to get loads done without anyone getting in your way. I spend a good week or two of my summer holidays sorting my life out for September, so actually, by the time I get to put my feet up, I may have four weeks left. Okay, so I’m still up on the normal amount of holiday time people get, but my point here is that many teachers aren’t work shy – the reason why we’re on holiday, in fact, is because our work is closed. Our job – teaching young people – doesn’t exist during these holiday times because school is ‘closed’. No matter how much I feel like going to work during the summer, I can’t!

I’m sure everyone views their school holidays differently – I will probably change my mind when I have kids, but that’s partly why I became a teacher; it will be ideal to be off when they are, as I know many working parents have a nightmare with childcare over the summer. But just like you may get overtime, a generous bonus, travel the world, work with celebrities or get invited to cool, exclusive parties because that’s part of your job, it’s just the same for me and my extended holidays. Swings and roundabouts.

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