After returning from the last end of term break, the energy and revived outlook that I had attained during my time away from school eroded quickly. It may have lasted two days, but there is almost no memory of it now. I think this shock sends many teachers racing off to check how many days of sick leave they have and, even if they don’t access it, it can feel empowering to know that it is there should the situation arise.
I’ve always thought you can judge the morale of a staff by checking the list of extras left on any given day. Peak times for mass illness inevitably fall during busy periods, but, why is it that we get so burned out as a profession, particularly with “all those holidays”?
I once had a two year hiatus from full time teaching and worked a number of jobs. This equated to me working six to seven days per week for months on end and, I can honestly say, I never felt that I needed a break or time out. When people attack teachers for “having it easy” because of “all our holidays”, I think back to that time and place and wonder why I never felt as exhausted as I do teaching full time. I have come to the conclusion that when you are teaching, there is so much work to complete out of school hours that, even when you are supposedly relaxing, there is always a dull acknowledgement that somewhere, lurking in the corner of your house, is a pile of marking growing and growing. End of term breaks are frequently approached with the determination to complete hours upon hours of tasks in order to prepare for the term ahead. When you inevitably fall off the rollercoaster and dare to catch up on real life (the world that does not revolve around marking and semester planners), that niggling terror of impending work never ceases to rear its ugly head.
When you are a teacher, your time never feels like your own. Many of my colleagues have commented that, even if they worked for six hours at home every night and did a full day of school work every weekend, they still would not be on top of everything they need to do. The paperwork is overwhelming. Like many teachers, I am also contactable 24/7 by email. Students can literally contact me anywhere, any time. How long before they will be beamed in via satellite or ‘Face Time’ to my kitchen as I prepare dinner and simultaneously answer a question about topic sentences? There needs to be a line drawn, or else we risk having our privacy invaded even further. We have to learn to switch off and tune out, literally and metaphorically, or we risk students following us home, not just in our minds, but on our mobile phones and computers. Personally, I would like to keep the face that I wake up with on a Sunday morning private.
Christina Adams is a member of the Australian Education Union (Victoria) and a stand-up comedian.