December comes around and you feel a change. You feel great things coming your way. Even if you don’t celebrate the holidays, you still want to sit on your veranda with a warm cup of ginger tea as you enjoy the cool crisp breeze. You want to spend time with your children while they’re off from school. You want to pause and reflect, breathe out the old year’s disappointments and make grandiose plans for the one ahead.
You say to yourself, “Boy, I wish I was a teacher so I could get a holiday right now.” But say that to a teacher’s face and you will get one of three responses:
- an ice-cold glare (#DuttyLook / #StinkEye)
- a pitying smile and a silent shake of the head or
- an argument you were not prepared for
Teachers don’t get as much time off as people think. The truth is that school holiday periods are simply an opportunity for many teachers to telecommute, rather than a true chance at any off-duty relaxation. And we take home a lot of work around this time because holiday periods typically coincide with major assessment periods.
I can’t speak for teachers at the primary and early childhood levels but I can speak for myself and many teachers of secondary schools whose plight I share.
If you’re an English teacher, like I am, at a school that has a tradition of Christmas exams, you may spend your entire “Christmas vacation” marking essays — roughly 360 essays, to give you an insight into my personal situation. I and other teachers of heavy reading subjects like History and Geography often do not completely finish marking exam scripts until January, at which point we have no time even to catch a breath before jumping back on the beat again. Later on, teachers of science often find themselves marking a heavy load of School-Based Assessment (SBA) tasks and other assignments right throughout their Easter holidays in preparation for external exams. Talk about work!
“Well, bad bad, good good… at least you still get two whole months of summer vacation.”
If you said that, you would be mistaken again because summer holidays equal summer exams for all schools and summer school for some teachers. Usually, I don’t finish marking summer exams until near the end of July. Then, school officially re-opens for teachers by the last week in August. That leaves about 3 weeks of vacation time in between. However, if you don’t wish to get caught in the mad rush of September with your head between your legs, you had better do some serious planning in those three weeks.
Moreover, the policy of the Ministry of Education dictates that teachers are on-call 365 days a year so the school or the Ministry may call a teacher at any time for any educational purpose to come in to work, even during summer vacation. Thus, many teachers spend much of their summer attending mandatory workshops and seminars.
It would be unfair though for me to say that teachers get no holidays at all. Teachers at certain levels and teachers of certain subjects do often get away with quite a bit of vacation time. Even teachers of heavy reading subjects who may only get three weeks off in summer can enjoy those three weeks to a great degree, especially if they are more seasoned and generally have their ducks in a row. I can’t deny either that many of us do welcome the opportunity to work exclusively from home for a few weeks per year.
Many private sector workers in Jamaica have telecommuting opportunities nowadays too and so a teacher’s situation is not that different. Besides, work is still work wherever you take it. Furthermore, the true vacation time that some teachers get after all the work is done amounts to almost the same as the two weeks to which a typical private sector worker is entitled so we are not all that different from everyone else.
At this junction though, you may be asking, what’s the point?
Well, I’m not saying all of this to complain. Fine… I’m not saying all of this just to complain. The idea that teachers get holidays is problematic. This idyllic belief is one of the reasons many people continue to justify the gross underpayment of teachers.
“Stop complaining about your pay! You get so much vacation time. That more than makes up for it,” they say.
It is thought that the holidays teachers get should more than compensate where financial compensation is meagre. The mythological concept of teacher holidays is also a veneer behind which we hide the gross overextension of teachers’ bodies and minds. Being forced to grade approximately 360 essays (plus tax) in the space of two weeks is nothing short of inhumane. Teachers often express that the work load they face during exam periods is so monumental that there is not even enough money in the world that could ever make up for the physical and psychological toll it takes. It is hypertension-inducing, doctor-enriching, accident-incurring stress and it is one of the factors driving many of our finest teachers out of the profession and sometimes even out of the country.
If we’re being completely real here, the promise of paid vacation is one of the reasons many teachers entered the teaching profession in the first place, only to find their jaws filled with bitter ash of disappointment and deception.
“If I had only known…” cries the teacher.
What is in the best interest of our children is to have teachers who want to and are mentally prepared to nurture them, not teachers who are overworked and bitter.
Truth be told, the issue of insufficient rest periods for teachers is similar to what faces everyone across the labour force. The only difference is that other workers don’t go into their professions expecting vacation time only to be met with deception. This disillusionment can embitter a teacher for a long time.
Some may say that every profession is hard. None of us gets the rest we need and that’s just the way it is. While that is entirely true, I can only speak for my profession. Besides, not so long ago, slavery was “just the way it was” but that didn’t make it acceptable.
We all need designated periods of rest throughout the day, the week, the month and the year. Even the very machines we use need rest. How much more so human bodies?
“Stress + rest = growth” is a formula pulled from athletics. If muscles train and train and train with no rest, they never consolidate, they never grow and the athlete never sees the gains from all his hard work. The same is true in our professional lives. In the case of teachers, if we don’t rest, we can’t be creative and if we can’t be creative, we can’t teach, we can’t grow, we can’t better ourselves and we certainly can’t better the lives of our students.
We need to treat our teachers well. The influence of a teacher is second only to that of a parent or guardian in the life-long impact it can have on a child.
The situation facing teachers during holiday periods is similar to a lot of the decisions made in the education sector, decisions enacted based on what is believed to be in the best interest of the students. But here’s the bottom line: what is in the best interest of our children is to have happy healthy teachers who want to and are mentally prepared to be with them and nurture them every day, not teachers who are overworked and bitter.
Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you enjoyed it. I had to post it now before my “holiday” starts. See you on the other side!
What do you think? Is it fair that teachers get holidays when other professionals don’t? Do teachers really need holidays or should they just work with what they have?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.