Are Summer Holidays All That A Teacher Dreamt They Would Be?

Are Summer Holidays All That A Teacher Dreamt They Would Be?

I love teaching and teachers. It’s such a fab job – it may bring its stresses at times but I consider myself pretty blessed to have taught teenagers because they taught me and made me laugh (esp at myself!) so much! It was a good call for a career for me.

Back in the day when I decided to train as a teacher all my friends said it was only because I was lazy and wanted the long holidays. There was an element of truth in both of these comments of course! After all, who would say no to several weeks “off” in the glorious summer?

The other evening, near the end of the summer term, I was chatting with a very tired looking relatively new teacher friend about this very matter and I asked about his plans for the summer break. The first thing he said was that he has a list of jobs to do around the house – things he’s put off during the hectic term which he was looking forward to tackling.  I recognised this tendency immediately because list building is a habit so deeply engrained in me because even though I left teaching five years ago I still write a list with my wife headed “Summer jobs”! And I do try to tick some of them off the list even!

This chat brought back lots and lots of memories about my summer ‘holidays’. I had 35 summers as a teacher. 35 long summer breaks which allowed me time not only to tackle my list of jobs but also to relax, experience things fully, enjoy spending (quality) time  with my family and friends and to take stock. I have some great memories of these summers although some may be a little hazy for various reasons!

Obviously each summer was different in detail but whilst chatting it became ever clearer that there were quite a few common threads that ran through some, or more, of these summers of mine. As we chatted it was also interesting to see that both of us shared so many of these threads – I wonder just how widespread these are in the profession today or was it just a co-incidence?

The threads which my summers as a teacher seemed to share were:

  1. A great sense of anticipation. I and the whole family so looked forward to this extended break from work. From routine. I remember being excited by the “freedom” of the forthcoming weeks.
  2. In the last week or so of term I started getting a little panicky. Not about the often unrealistic nature of my hopes for the holiday period or even about the length of my “To Do” list. No, I began to realise that all the things I wanted to do before the end of term just weren’t going to get done. This may have been due to disorganisation, tiredness, the arrival of unexpected extra work, or the aforementioned tendency towards laziness. Whatever the reason, it seemed that I never once completed all my tasks I had planned to by the end of the summer term.
  3. Creating a list (I said I’m a list man!) of things I had to do before the next term – starting with the unfinished tasks. Perhaps I thought that by writing things down they might miraculously be done for me. Inevitably perhaps every year this list was too long and didn’t get completed before the start in September.
  4. At the start of the break I was always dog-tired (am I still allowed to use this term?). Really shattered and a touch (my word!) short-tempered – so my family reminded me during this chat.
  5. A lot. According to my family it seems that it took at least a week before I became human again.
  6. Once I’d rejoined the land of the grown ups and felt great there followed about two or three weeks where I bubbled with energy, was truly relaxed, wore a ready and easy smile, and laughed loudly.
  7. And then I started to think about my students’ exam results. Due in mid-August these thoughts started small but grew as the results days dawned. The days of the actual results brought hope and trepidation in almost equal measure. Afterwards I spent some time thinking about why the results were as they were and wondering how (never if) I could have done more. My wife always said this was the beginning of the end of the holidays.
  8. Usually near the end of the holiday I found my list and realised that it would have been better had I tackled this earlier and done a bit at a time. So in the last couple of weeks of the holiday I’d rush around tying up the loose ends from the summer term and do things I’d promised to sort around the house. Every year I gave myself a stern talking to as well!
  9. Finally, I’d start thinking about the forthcoming term. Which classes I had to teach, who was in them, my room, what needed to be prepared before the term started, and all the other hundreds of small things which add up.

And to cap it all near the end of the holiday I often felt unsure about my teaching and motivating skills. Now, this is not a bad thing by itself because it  worked to keep me on my toes but it came with a cost – wakefulness, introspection and classic anxiety dreams. I suppose I started to become less human and less family-focussed thenceforth.

My young friend asked for advice about how to get the best out of his summer holidays. Why he did this I’m not sure because I clearly never cracked it! But I did offer one piece of advice that I hopes he can take on board. This was to start looking after his stress level during the holiday. To sort out, and start a programme to build his resistance to stressful events (real or imagined) and to consciously promote his relaxation response during the holiday period. Then, by the time term started again he’d be in a routine, a groove which would make it easier for him to continue with it during the term.

Then, I suggested, he would enjoy the terms more and consequently be less tired at their end, be able to work with greater efficiency so have less schoolwork to do in the holiday and be able to knock over all the chores around the house with ease. He liked this. He said he would try it and report back after next summer.

Incidentally, on my list for this summer was cutting the hedge. Not an onerous task and with the sunny weather one I’d thought I’d tackle the other day. Things didn’t quite go to plan as I managed to fall off the ladder and break my wrist. Annoying, inconveniencing and downright stupid but it did remind me firsthand of what a brilliant system our NHS  is and just what wonderful people there are that work in it. Hats off to them.

It was painful to admit, also, that perhaps I should have taken more interest in all the staff training I’d enjoyed over the years as a teacher on Risk Assessment!!

Enjoy any break you get.

Are Summer Holidays All That A Teacher Dreamt They Would Be?
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About the Author Nigel Lowson

I loved teaching and loved working in schools because I learnt so much from my colleagues and the students. They never failed to inspire me and make me laugh! My curiosity in what makes people tick moved me into pastoral care and I was privileged to be in charge of a school's pastoral care and co-curricular programmes for 18 years. Here I saw first-hand the pressures on both staff and students (and their parents) and learnt so much about human nature, especially under stress. My focus has always been on offering practical, easy, quick solutions that work which are supported by science.

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