School holidays and working conditions

Aren’t school holidays wonderful? I am enjoying a week off from being a government sponsored child minder. So far I’ve been ill, done some tidying and random housework and marked four boxes of students’ work.

It’s quite a change of work style going from “normal” work conditions to teaching. Previously I was used to working in a shop five days a week with a token amount of holidays per year. The two days I was entitled to could have been together, or spaced out depending on the week and situation. The holidays had to be booked in advance and negotiated with other people to make sure it all fitted. And before that I used to work twelve hour days and get one day off a week with no holidays whatsoever because it was seasonal work so we had the entire winter “off”. Before that I used to work in an office doing whatever hours we needed, with the only guaranteed holiday being at Christmas.

Go into a school and suddenly there’s all these laws and regulations about how and when work is done. If you’re not a teacher, here’s how life goes:

We’re on a salary like most regular jobs. We are paid during the school holidays but there is expectation you do work during the holidays. We are not allowed to take holidays at any other time. Different schools have different timetables, I start at 8am and am usually finished by 4pm, but sometimes I stay until 6pm; when it’s parents evening I arrive at 8am and leave at 8pm. Teaching happens between 8:35am and 2:50pm, with a half hour break in the morning and a half hour dinner break.

One day a week I have to do a break and after school duty. So on Wednesdays I spend my break stood amongst the students in the lower corridor making sure they’re not doing strange strange things. After school on Wednesday I encourage the smokers hiding by the gates to disappear and make sure the buses leave in an orderly manner. That takes fifteen minutes.

Lessons are 50 minutes long and come in pairs with break after the first two, dinner after the next two, then end of school after the final two. There is also a tutor group/form that I have for fifteen minutes every morning and ten minutes every afternoon. Six periods a day.

I am entitled to three “free” periods a week, I get given four. I cannot be given less than three, it’s against the union rules. Those three periods when I am not teaching are for me to plan the week’s teaching, mark students’ work and prepare my lesson resources.

I personally teach about 1000 students every week and I know about 90% of their names, and know around 80% of them as actual individual students that I can recognise when not teaching them. You think it’s hard remembering the names of people you work with? Try writing 45 reports and making each one relevant to the student concerned.

On Mondays and Thursdays I teach all six lessons, on Tuesday and Friday I teach five, and wednesday four. So on Monday morning I have to know exactly what I’m doing for six lessons that day. If I haven’t properly planned my lessons all hell breaks loose. Experience and skill prevents this happening. Children are not robots and sometimes your lessons need radical changes due to totally unforeseen circumstances.

To prevent us all going mad the holidays are vital. It feels a bit of a cop-out only working for a maximum of six weeks before going on holiday, but by the time the holiday comes you’re not tired, you’re knackered. Proper tired that going to sleep at night doesn’t fix.

It’s an interesting job. It’s very social and quite mentally stimulating. There’s no “daily grind” to chew through each day. While my day is rigidly planned, the rigid planning does not describe what I do in each lesson slot. Your fancy Gantt charts don’t work here, you can’t plan fire alarms, snow days, exams or “Friday afternoon syndrome” into your schedules.

There are many tips and tricks you learn to make life more manageable. Ways of being efficient. Learning to be a teacher is actually about learning all these tricks so you have time to think in a lesson rather than running around reacting.

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