It has only taken me 18 tears of teaching to crack a school holiday without burnout. No doubt, my sharing of this newsflash will cause my non-teaching readers to log out muttering, ‘cry me that river, teacher’.
I came to teaching late in life and did not adapt well to enforced ‘free time’. This is ironic because when the children were young I would often have to work through their school holidays, convincing myself that the world of marketing could not function without me. My children were gold card members of every holiday club on offer and got to know both sets of grandparents very well indeed. Big shout out to grandparents here for selflessly providing child care and putting their own vacation plans on hold. Before I was a teacher it was not uncommon for me to meet my parents at a service station at some ungodly hour, transfer my nearest and dearest into their care and drive off to the sounds of, ‘Grandad, can you do that thing when you rearrange your false teeth to pull a scary face at us, you know, that face that makes Grandma go ballistic’.
Before I also lose both of my teacher readers, I should point out that since those days I have uncovered the pedagogical holiday myth; all teachers know that any school ‘holiday’ is spent either looking at a bag of marking and feeling guilty about it, ignoring the bag totally, or spending at least two days – usually the last two days of the break – attacking said bag with a graceless snarl and an air of burnt martyr (‘Oh yes, I would love to swan off to the cinema with you, but these books are not going to mark themselves, ask Grandma, she and Grandad have stopped speaking since your last visit, so she may be glad to get out’.) Those partnered domestically to another teacher may at least get to share the same down time/guilt trip. For those who are not, experience tells me that your holiday gift will be a list of things that never get done during term time – glitter ball tasks like drain cleaning, meter readings, trips to the dump, for example. (If you are a single parent teacher, you at least get to write your own list).
I have now spent 18 years of teaching feeling guilty that most of my friends are not teachers – I don’t feel guilty that they do not teach, I just feel guilty that they manage their time so much better than I do. I justify my appalling failure to socialise during term time by flooding my diary with catch up meetings as soon as the holiday starts. In reality – even for me – there is only so much caffeine a girl can drink, so the friends who meet me for a cheeky coffee towards the end of a holiday, are greeted with a sprint chat on steroids rather than a relaxed and cosy tete a tete. Historically, these friends have met the burnt out me rather than the rejuvenated teacher I had hoped to project.
Anyway, this half term – thanks to Storm Eunice and my kids – I believe that deep learning has finally taken place. Every day is a school day when you are a teacher- even when you are not at school apparently. Let me talk you through my reprogramming in a leisurely fashion; I am on half term so I have the time.
On the last day of term, Eunice was throwing her toys about so wildly that school had to be closed and we were told to work from home. This was a dream ticket for your’s truly (largely because Eunice didn’t really come near my rural community and because if the school had been open I would have been on two gate duties, lunch supervision and some Covid-related lesson cover; instead I managed to complete all my admin from my hastily convened office sofa. I was calm and juxtaposed to the storm raging outside. I was blissfully oblivious to the maelstrom of flying trampolines and fencing panels that would feature later on BBC Points West.
Because of this enforced WFH day at the end of term, I am now rejuvenated and have the energy to turn my learning into a 10 lesson programme. It is the least I can do after 18 years of mastering my pedagogical craft. I gift you this holiday scheme of learning.
Lesson 1: Finish the term calmly and on top of your in-box (You can then highlight this on your calendar as WWW – What Went Well). For me, it would have been EBI (Even Better If) I had also finished my pile of Year 9 marking, but I had some unfinished binge watching on Netflix to complete instead. In the absence of another school closure on the last day of term, we may need adapt this scheme of learning to include a Duvet Day option.
Lesson 2: Plant a Red Letter treat in your diary right at the start of your holiday to get you into the ‘down-tools’ mindset from the off.
For example, Eunice-related WFH aside, my treat took the form of tickets to ‘Mama Mia’ in Covent Garden on the Sunday. Favourite Kids (FK’s) had birthday gifted me these tickets and all Mama J had to do was get herself to London via rail on the Saturday. Additional context, I was lured into London a day early with an invitation from Favourite Daughter (FD) to check out the Sloane Square Zara. From experience, I know this emporium to be a theatrical treat in itself, for I adore watching beautiful people shop with their beautiful handbag-sized designer pooches. I do love a bit of animal print.
Strangely, Storm Eunice made the weekend so much more of an adventure; she made me feel like I spent longer in London than just one night. In truth, most of the time was spent standing at train stations, or languishing in GWR train carriages that refused to shift anywhere. Weirdly, for a worry wart like myself, I remained strangely calm. I think this was because FK’s were constantly sorting things out for me – tracking live train times, looking up new connections, checking I had caffeine, promising me that we would still make it to Zara. I felt tired but very cherished. I also had a seat – I was one of the lucky ones – on a stationary train between Bristol and Paddington, where I became best mates with the lady besides me on account of FK’s also sorting out her ongoing travel arrangements. I had time to reflect back on my marketing career and was just rethinking the, ‘let the train take the strain,’ strap line, when the carriage limped gamely back into action and we arrived in London – just in time to see all other trains cancelled for the day.
Lesson 3: Just go with the flow. I had the best time in Zara – even though FD wrestled me away from an animal print blouse that was calling out to me (perhaps a lucky escape from a Cruella De Ville- inspired purchase; some of that animal print was remarkably life-like, I have to admit).
Lesson 4: Try new things (animal print does not fall into this category). For me, Saturday night involved Spanish tapas (this wasn’t new, but sharing my food in a very dark cellar was), drinking sparkling red wine (tried it, won’t do it again) and then ordering a Wagamama takeaway on the way back to FD’s flat because I was still hungry (I rest my case about my inability to food share).
Lesson 5: All half terms should start with Sunday lunch in Covent Garden and a ‘Mama Mia’ matinee. On the way to lunch we got to pass through a silver arch and I find myself posing like the Insta celeb I am not. This is photographic evidence that I was already relaxed.
You may be wondering where Favourite Man features in my half term adventure, but truth be told, he does not and we never intended him to; we knew a ticket to a musical would be a ticket wasted on FM. FM stayed home – he was insultingly excited to do so – with the football and a stash of beer. He returns to the lesson plan later.
What a joyful event ‘Mama Mia’ is. Platforms, flares and and timeless lyrics are the perfect antidote to a school term that had been screaming S.O.S for weeks. I sense Favourite Son may not have been as familiar with the lyrics as FD and I, but he lasted the course. He tried valiantly to rise from his seat to dance during the finale but was wedged in by an exhausted granny on one side; she had spent 4 hours supervising her excited grandchildren as they battled from Swansea to reach this matinee and had no energy left for dancing. ‘I am going to stay put and eat my snacks – I was nearly defeated but will win this war – if you get my drift – by not leaving my seat’. Fair play, she allowed her grandchildren to crawl all over us in their efforts to hit the ‘Mama Mia’ merch store in the interval and they came back with some bejewelled Mama Mia face masks before regrouping for their return slog to Paddington. I rest my case about grandparents and school holidays.
Incidentally, during a powerful rendition of ‘Super Trooper’ – I find myself broadsided by the memory of prancing around my childhood bedroom with my sister. In my memory, we are dueting soulfully in Abba hairbrush harmony. Sis did not even like Abba and, back then she was probably just humouring me as a distraction from the Donny Osmond poster that we both had our eye on. Perhaps one of the reasons that I like to keep myself so busy these days is to avoid too much looking backwards. Here, in the theatre, in this leaky eyed moment I am reminded of the one person I can no longer meet for a cheeky half term coffee. At least Sis is here in the theatre with us – I would hate her to miss out, unlike FM she loved a musical. Sis knows I am in safe hands with my kids and sure enough she would soon see me distracted by a key change and another song – this time I hang on to FD’s hand during, ‘Slipping through my Fingers’. I am impressed as FS brandishes a clean handkerchief in my direction and calls me a ‘soppy old cow.’ Love my kids.
Lesson 6: However long the journey home, take it anyway and leave your FK’s to get on with their own lives – no-one wants their mother sleeping on their sofa for the whole of half term, even if she is rather gorgeous. I should mention that FD is also an English teacher and that enforced holidays are even more pants when her half term is out of kilter with mine. (I was relieved not to see a bag of unmarked exercise books knocking around her flat, she seems to have cracked this teacher holiday thing).
Paddington and a long, long journey home await, but once again I have a seat and FK’s keep me afloat with travel updates and encouraging messages. I must also shout out FM here for collecting me from a rail station miles away from home at a totally random arrival time – I told you he would reappear in the story.
Lesson 7: Wake up on the Monday of your half term knowing that you have already packed in enough excitement for the whole week and that you can happily now take your foot off the gas. Take the whole of this day just to potter about and ignore that bag of marking that is still sitting there staring at you.
Lesson 8: Ask FM – or your significant other/obliging neighbour – not to let you out of your house until said bag of marking has been tackled.
Lesson 9: Having completed Lesson 8 successfully, get on with the rest of the week, in the smug satisfaction that the bag of books has now been marked and is safely stowed in the boot of your car – you don’t have to look at them again until you return to school. Later, brace yourself when you read that there has been a spate of car thefts in your local area.
Lesson 10: start booking in meet ups with your mates, for once this week is over you will not get to see them for another term. In my case, I am confident that my chums will want to know about my trip to the Big Smoke. They rely on me for entertainment and I know that they will thank me for my metaphoric music – as long as I do not actually sing.
So, as I reflect upon my new holiday learning, my take away is that – however tired I feel at the end of each term – I must ensure that I have some Red Letter event to dive straight into before I allow sleep and marking to erode the possibility of a vacation that any non-teacher would die for. ‘I have a dream’ (sorry, earworm) to master this holiday practice before I retire; I can try again in seven weeks. New term tomorrow, and ‘Here I Go Again.’