A time of loss and anticipation

It is that unreal time in schools again. It is a period of loss and anticipation: the academic year is all but done, wrung out and packed away, with its last gasp, its final blazon, being the public examination results coming deep in the otherwise blameless August, reminding all teachers of the struggles and successes of classes now fading from memory with surprising haste.

So many pupils have now departed, leaving classrooms and corridors relatively quiet. Almost overnight, pupils left unaffected by the twin intensities of GCSEs and A levels, roam the school landscapes suddenly liberated, emboldened, free from the stifling presence of their elders. Lessons take on a peculiar tone, being both more relaxed, but intent on being productive, outwardly at least. Teachers used to eye the VHS machine, nervously wondering if any members of SLT, whose teaching commitments have remained unchanged since week one, are on another learning walk; now, those teachers pray that wifi works and that they can find a TED talk, or that documentary by Melvyn Bragg on YouTube.

There is a looking-forward-to as well. The organised, conscientious teachers begin to plan classes, order books and files, write schemes of works, sort out their classrooms. They might even start thinking about books they should read, or at least start consulting lists posted online. Others stare at them with a growing sense of alarm, preferring sometimes to simply sit, drinking coffee, marvelling at the new gaps on their timetables, blindingly white now, wondering how was it possible, in those long winter days, to do quite so much in one day. In an idle moment they might reflect on that difficult Year 11 class suddenly scattered to the winds, some of them unmissed, to reassemble in different forms in the Sixth Form, and some never to be seen again, statistics that appear in name only when the September inquisitions begin.

What should teachers do with six weeks off work? Ask the general public and some talk jealousy of such a gift of time; others complain about such a period of indolence, aghast that it continues still. Parents of young children have a very different view from those who have no such emotional investment in education: those long summer days stretch out, endless, filled with unaccounted for activities and exhaustion, the juggling of childcare and favours promised. But of course teachers’ holidays have long been eroded by the demands made of an ever-more accountable system, of marking, planning, new specifications to be read. But only those involved in schools know this, or speak about it, most teachers stay quiet, calmly planning to catch up on all the things most people do when working 9am to 5pm, not 7am to 9pm.

For all this, it is a moment of delicious anticipation when, despite all the signs from the past suggesting the opposite, this Summer will be a time of reinvention, of weight loss and knowledge gain, of preparation and recuperation, and it will last for several weeks at least. Perhaps such optimism, which I find in so many teachers, is a defining characteristic of the profession, and long may it remain so: it is sustaining, affirmative, and, above all, well earned.


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