Tuesday, 28 October 2014

3 months' holidays for teachers - is it enough?

A previous post of mine seems to have sparked a lot of debate. I moderate all comments (to prevent spam) but I have published all related ones. The post in question was written in jest and was intended to be a light-hearted comment on some of the ways teachers can drive people mad! However, lots of comments rolling in on it show that it struck a nerve with some people. The main topic of debate is the subject of how hard-working teachers actually are. Here's my take on it (not in jest this time!).

I'll get right to the point. Do I think teachers actually need three months' holidays? No! Of course not! I must say that having half-term breaks, Christmas Holidays and Easter holidays are a fantastic way for teachers to recharge their batteries and start into the following weeks with more energy and a clear head. I definitely am more focused after a week off. Does it need to be a week? No. I'm sure an extra-long weekend would provide the same results. Do we need two full months to relax during the summer? Absolutely not! I'm just thankful that we have that perk in this line of work!

Teachers often complain of being over-worked and stressed out. Does this occur in other professions? Yes! Then why do we hear so much about teachers "needing" a week off to get their energy levels back up? In my opinion, the root of this problem lies in the fact that the amount of work teachers need to do and the deadlines that need to be met are up to the individual person. It's not always clear to a teacher when to stop and it's often not easy to stop thinking about work. 

In a profession that is increasingly becoming more "textbook free" and where the age-old method of "chalk and talk" is being abandoned (thankfully!), teachers are under enormous pressure to create a myriad of lesson ideas and resources. Not just that, they also have to meet the needs of children with a variety of learning styles and of very different abilities. This takes a lot of time and effort. 

Then you've got the problem that many teachers don't have a benchmark for their teaching and learning. In many schools, you don't get enough feedback. How can you know if you're putting too much into your planning and preparation? If you don't know the answer to the question, "Is it good enough?" or "Am I going about it the right way?" then you can spend far too much time on something that doesn't warrant it.

After careful planning and preparation, a school day is far from stress-free. You've got to be incredibly flexible (timetables change, accidents occur, lessons don't always go to plan), full of energy, hold a class' attention, manage disputes between pupils and guide learning. That's the easy part, where you know very clearly what needs to be done. Once the children go home, you're facing into correcting work, modifying plans (based on what you've noticed about the children's learning), preparing resources for the following days, perhaps meeting with a parent to speak about a child's needs and if it's that special time of the year, prepare for reports or parent-teacher conferences, help to write a script for a show... 

I've just listed a very busy job description. Is it worse than that of a flight attendant, a doctor, an engineer or a person who works in a bar? It's very subjective. (Just to note, in all jobs, you'll find people who work harder than others and those who are lazy and unmotivated). Certainly, in all of the above professions, your shifts can be tiring and you may not have time to think properly. The difference to me is that, with many other jobs, you leave your shift and it is over. Yes, you may need a while to wind down if somebody you encountered during the day (a customer, a colleague, a boss) has bothered you or if you didn't have much time to sit and have a break. 

To me, a huge problem with teachers is that they can't see when their working day ends. It's very clear that when the children go home, the teaching part of your day is over. It's not so clear as to how long you should spend on "the other stuff." Personally, I struggle with this too. I find it very hard to close the laptop and say, "I'm finished. I don't need to think about work until the morning."

In summary, it's useless to argue about who works harder. People in all walks of life are over-worked or stressed out due to long hours, a high level of responsibility, dealing with conflict in the workplace, etc. For those of you who have chosen to be in a profession where you get paid to do whatever you like during the summer, savour every minute of it. You are so lucky! However, during the busier 10 months of the year (and I need to listen to my own advice here), try to find ways to manage your time so that your working day has an end. 

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