Ask any teacher at Secondary Level and they will tell you that the Christmas to Easter term is longest and most tiring one. I’m aware that those in other occupations will be laughing to themselves at the idea, but hear me out before chuckling – working in a school is tougher than people imagine.
This is the term where you have to ensure all pupils are completing coursework, sitting mock exams and preparing for their final ones, completing projects that have been going all year, keeping up to date with marking and paperwork and reports and parents’ evenings…and then there’s the day-to-day teaching that has to be done as well. The preparation, execution, reflection and marking that comes from that is a job in itself.
In the world of education Teachers are restricted by fixed holidays – again I can hear the chortling – but we are told when we are getting days off; we can’t just decide we need a couple of days downtime because we have some left. In most businesses the holiday sheet comes around and you can work out when best would suit you – when you think you’ll need a few days off after a prolonged period of work. Not for us. Yes we are more than compensated in the summer, but across the year (especially Jan to April) those breaks are not always enough.
What you need to understand is it’s not just physical tiredness that hits you, it’s the mental fatigue that wallops you. There is not a moment when you are not working as a teacher. You have to be “On” throughout the day. With thirty expectant pupils in front of you five, six or seven times a day, you have to be ready for them and get the most out of them in the short time you have together. Spreadsheets need to be filled, records kept of progress, preparation done for each class.
Having worked in offices over the years I know there is the ability to have downtime; to plan out your work across a day, week or longer. You can take five minutes to yourself or go for a wee walk around the office – I can’t do that. If I leave the classroom for a second to get something there can be a transformation from sedate little angels to wild feral creatures in the space of thirty seconds. A PC doesn’t do that – you can walk away and the worst you come back to is another couple of emails.
But here’s the rub – while it is the most all-consuming of jobs it has such rewards that you trade-off that tiredness for the moments of pure elation. In the last week fundraising for Comic Relief and taking part in Rock Challenge has pushed my sleepiness to its limits, but they were both completely worth it. The reaction and satisfaction you get from those extra-curricular activities is huge. Even the day-to-day work where you see pupils achieve their goals, pass their test and have brilliant Eureka! moments make everything worthwhile.
The other reason I’m so tired is that I’ve spent most of this academic year trying to fight off the deepest darkest bout of depression I’ve ever endured. Having the strength to battle that on top of everything else have made it an unbelievably difficult year. But, and it’s an important but, having been away from Teaching and now being back in the fold, I am enjoying things second time round much more. Yes, there are still problems and the government and SQA don’t make our lives easy but if you remember that the pupils are the reason you are there then you find your focus quickly.
Like any job there are those who are ambitious and look to promoted posts as their next step – perhaps I will feel that urge in a few years – but I’m not ambitious in that way just now. Having stepped back and actually considered why I want to do the job, I know it is all about the pupils. They are where my ambitions are – in them. Might sound twee, but it is true. I came back into teaching because I knew that those moments of realization, success and recognition that pupils have in front of you are worth all the lost hours of sleep and jokes about the length of the summer holidays.
There are few jobs that can tire you as much, but there are also few jobs that can reward you so much. It might not feel like it today after the final day of term, but I know that with hindsight it will have been worth it.