Should teachers work in the holidays?

Posted on 22nd July 2016 by Joe

Teachers take very, very different approaches to holidays. Some teachers come home from their last day of term, calmly pack their school folders into a cardboard box, tape it up, dump it in the loft, and pretend they’re not a teacher for the entire summer.  Others are consumed with toxic resentment for the first four weeks of the holiday because they feel they have to work for the last two weeks.   Others will just come into school for a day or two to change their displays and seating plans with the zealous vigour of someone on The Great Interior Design Challenge.

And then there are those we are all envious of.  I have a colleague who is going on a 6-week jaunt across South America.  She will not be reading this blog.  She will be sunbathing on Copa Cabana.

Why I work in the holidays

I usually work on a few days of the holidays and I justify it with two reasons: freedom and foresight.  Firstly, let’s look at freedom.  Yes, in the holidays we get the freedom to go sunbathing on Copa Cabana, and the freedom to draw the blackout curtains so we can watch back-to-back series of Game of Thrones.  But we also get the freedom to work how we want to work for a change, unrestrained by the 60-minute-seamed strait jacket of the school timetable.   And free from the sigh-inducing infestation of interruptions endemic to most classrooms.

Secondly, there’s foresight.  After eight years of teaching, I personally know that I’d prefer to brush up on difficult subject knowledge in the holidays, rather than spending exactly the same amount of time on it in term-time evenings, when I’m exhausted and under pressure.  Yes, this comes at a cost to my holiday, but I know that term-time me will be ever-grateful.  If you see a storm coming, best buy a good raincoat.

So when I work in the holidays, am I being some sort of traitor to the cause?  I don’t think so.  I think I’m just choosing the work/life balancing configuration which suits me.  And others choose different configurations – perhaps saving their holidays by working hard on Sundays, or waking up very early on weekdays.  All of us teachers know that realistically we need to work hard outside of the 8:30-to-3:30 at some point.   If a school is supportive, it’ll give you flexibility of when.

Are you asked to work in the holidays?

Now, the question “Should teachers work in the holidays?” is very different to the question “Should teachers be expected to work in the holidays?”  If a school is asking its teachers to do substantial work in the holidays above and beyond specific responsibilities (such as the head of sixth-form fighting UCAS fires), then something has gone wrong.  This school doesn’t seem to be respecting the holidays for what they are.   Teachers are forever wary of Janus-faced leaders telling them to “Rest, relax, recuperate!”, whilst simultaneously sending emails to the effect of “Mark those damn books!”

Schools would do well to realise that teachers who do work in the holidays choose to do so, and will be far more productive if they are working on projects that they choose to work on. These may not follow the School Improvement Plan but will be important to those teachers and should be respected.   Studies have shown time and again that a major component of job satisfaction is having a sense of autonomy and control over how you work.    Teachers – what with at least 6 mini-deadlines every day – often feel fairly starved for freedom and control.  The holidays provide a refreshing change of menu.

So do you work in the holidays? What tips do you have?   We’d love to hear your comments below.

Photo credit: Laura Hoffmann