‘No one can deny the holidays are fantastic but without them the physical and mental strain of teaching would be too much’

A lot of nonsense is chatted by lay folk about the teachers and their long holidays. What they don’t know is that without them, teachers’ jobs would be unsustainable. Tes reports. 

Holiday relapse

What a teacher does during term-time often dictates the quality of the break they have. If a body literally doesn’t stop for weeks – perhaps months – on end, then halts all of a sudden, the reaction can be a pretty intense shutdown. Some teachers spend the first days of a holiday in bed, completely useless to the world, lacking the energy or means to complete even the simplest of tasks. While their partners and families expect euphoria, instead they get a zombie from the walking dead.

Mentally, there can also be a slump, the intense adrenaline generated by being surrounded by children with boundless energy each and every day can be followed by a vacuum once isolation hits. When teaching in the UK, I tended to spend the first few days of my holiday in a very “empty” state, before gradually building to what one could consider normal. What people often fail to understand about teaching is the performance nature of the job: this isn’t “work” as you know it. We wouldn’t expect a West End performer to get straight back on stage and do it all again, five times in a single day, but we expect that of teachers. Often the classroom can be as high-octane as the stage. Mistakes are scrutinised, chinks in the armour exposed, teachers have to be on guard all the time, maintaining that professionalism. Actors and actresses stagger backstage and often break down in tears, wiping the sweat from their brow. Perhaps a grandiose example, but teaching takes a level of concentration and commitment sometimes misunderstood, often understated.

You don’t get paid

Teachers are paid for 1,265 hrs of work a year. That’s 32.5 hrs a week for 39 weeks. ‘Holidays’ are unpaid time. Just like the extra 20-plus hours a week many do. Teachers are paid for the “work” they do and that is defined as time in school. There is no “overtime” in teaching but there is never a shortage of it – much of it essential. There’s always more to do: planning, marking, assessment are all “open-ended tasks”, providing the average teacher with the ever-present temptation, even demand, to do more. After all, it’s the future of the child on the line.

You have to work

When I took to Twitter to ask 636 teachers how much they intended to work over this half term, 63 per cent said they expected to work more than two days of the “holiday”. When I was teaching in the UK for nine years, I can’t remember any holiday, including the summer, where I didn’t partake in some work, much of it completely necessary. I recall half terms where I spent two or three days in school, after the “recovery period” I aforementioned. I drove into school on many occasions and was camped out at my desk. I remember glancing at the sign-in sheet on the way in and out and seeing teachers who’d been in there all week, some who’d hardly left since the “holiday” started. This is the reality for many educators.

Read the full article ‘No one can deny the holidays are fantastic but without them the physical and mental strain of teaching would be too much’

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Mental Health and Teaching.


  1. wasateacher

    I came into teaching in my 30s, having done office work for over 10 years. Immediately prior to doing my degree, I worked in a local charity as an office manager. It did involve long hours and was, sometimes, stressful but one difference was that, when things were getting too much, I could go to my boss and say that I was taking the following day off or take an extra long lunch break. In teaching there is no such freedom. I also had 6 weeks annual holiday – which was real holiday – I didn’t take work home with me.

    Moving forward, I left this job, did my degree, and took a large pay cut in order to become a Maths teacher. At the same time I was offered jobs at Esso Petroleum – the salary would have been very much higher with better working conditions and shorter hours.

    Before becoming a teacher, I had been heavily involved in community activities, including an adventure playground and a community centre. I had to drop all these because 2 years in I was signed off by my gp with exhaustion.

    It is only since my retirement that I have been able to take up these activities again.

    Sadly, those who are running education have very little or no experience of being a teacher and so many of the general public believe the “short hours, long holidays” myth. Working in commercial companies as a secretary was, for me, far easier. It was also true that most of the managers had much easier lives than teachers. As a teacher, I got into school well before 8.00 am and often left after 7.00 pm (with more work to do). As a secretary, I got in at 9.00 am (other secretaries went straight to the ladies to do their make-up) and left at 5.00 pm.

  2. I say to these people who have never taught and complain about the length of our holidays, when you have been a teacher, come back to me and we will have this conversation again. Until then, shut up as you have no idea what you are talking about!

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