“What’s the best thing about teaching?”
“July and August!” – so the old joke goes.
But as the schools split up and many teachers prepare to spend time with their own kids, busman’s holiday style, while catching up on their drinking, the time has come to ask: do they really deserve such a long break?
And if you don’t agree, try standing up in front of 30 children, all wearing circulation restricitng black Superdry clothes, chewing gum and clutching their phones like a Catholic nun holding her rosary beads.
Five days a week.
Not many of us could handle it – having to perform to that level day in, day out. No scanning social media, no nipping out for a quick coffee and you can’t even go to the loo when you want.
At this point, I must confess to knowing next to nothing about education as regular readers will attest, although I have a wife and sister who are teachers and a dad who was a headmaster. I think you call them “Principals” now.
This was of mixed benefit to me growing up. On the plus side, it was great when faither brought home the school video recorder for six weeks or more in the summer holidays allowing my 12-year-old self and nine-year-old brother to catch up on classic slasher horror movies like The Hills of Eyes and Last House on the Left.
And his school belt, the Lochgelly Tawse, was a handy weapon to threaten my brother with during our daily battles, while acting as a deterent against setting fire to the garden hut as I went through my childhood arsonist phase. As you do, boys will be boys.
But he disappeared each Saturday morning to take his school football team and the regional Lothian Schools select team on a Sunday, all in the name of extracurricular activities.
Then there were the endless hours he spent ‘timetabling’ classes for the whole school, before computers a seemingly impossible Krypton Factor-style pursuit that definitely helped him gain promotion.
This week alone my wife has spent two nights in a tent taking pupils on a camping trip and when I phoned my sister to ask her about teaching she was in France on a school excursion to the killing fields of World War One. This led to me phoning social services to complain about neglect but all I got was the engaged tone.
Other teachers I have spoken to say that the working time agreement – setting aside 195 hours for collegiate activities like parents meetings and preparing course work over the 39 weeks of the school term – is nowhere near enough and they never get everything done.
The reality is that hard-working teachers do a lot more than these hours and need time to have a life.
Teachers often have to assume the role of social worker, police officer, doctor and de facto parents for children with troubled home lives. But who is looking after the growing number of teachers experiencing severe stress that impacts on their mental health and wellbeing?
All of this while under extreme scrutiny from the Scottish Government who have made education their number one focus, although their report card to date is certainly of the ‘must try harder’ variety.
They certainly haven’t made the lives of teachers any easier with their Curriculum for Excellence and the ongoing recruitment crisis, reduction in subject choice and increase in multi-level classes in senior secondary schools.
All of this against the backdrop of a poverty-related attainment gap that makes Nicola Sturgeon’s claims about making education a priority ring hollow.
The recent hard-fought pay rise that works out at 13 per cent over three years – but needs a teacher to explain it to you properly – was a decent result.
But too many Bright Young Things are choosing well-paid jobs in the private sector and someone with a much-valued maths degree will quickly go on to make a six-figure salary in the financial industry rather than 30-odd grand as a teacher in their first few years.
“Aye, but they get loads of holidays” doesn’t really cut it and no-one goes into teaching for the money.
The job seems like more of a vocation, an increasingly old-fashioned concept that harks back to gentler times when teachers were genuinely held in high-esteem.
They were pillars of society, valued in the community and listened to by parents who accepted the teachers word over that of their kids.
Not so now where the prevailing culture is to blame the teacher if the pupil doesn’t get straight As. We’ve come a long way from the ‘help the jannie class’ I remember from my school days at Leith Academy, where a single file of kids deemed to have ‘learning difficulties’ helped the janitor pick up litter from the playground.
Either that or they got sent to something called ‘Theatre Arts’ that sounded way better than conventional lessons. Yip, that’s how we dealt with complex mental health issues back in the 80s.
Outdoor pursuits for us was caneoing in Leith Docks – not the Water of Leith may I add – the actual docks, where we were up to our necks in sh***.
Teachers are now called upon to cater for a wide-variety of pupils, many of whom require additional support in overcrowded classrooms all in the name of inclusion. There’s no punting them onto the janitor these days.
Looking in from the outside, teaching unfortunately seems like one of those vital jobs like nursing and caring where the people who chose to do them because they want to help others are often treated shabbily.
“They do it, so you don’t have to” is a mantra that could be applied to teaching.
And, with this in mind, we shouldn’t begrudge them a single day of their holidays.