Eoin was clearly proud as punch that his mum had met mine in the shop. Students can get awkward when they meet teachers out as “civilians”, so clearly it’s more acceptable – or at least less embarrassing – when our respective older generations meet. Let’s completely ignore the fact that I am most definitely older than Eoin’s mum.
The differing generations are just one aspect of this. Eoin and his mum are of no significance in my mother’s life. In fact, the school name would have been the only thing of significance to her. While city schools bring a merciful semi-anonymity, it is most definitely only semi, as my name meant plenty to Eoin’s mum!
When I next spoke to my mother it was the very first thing she mentioned. She was clearly delighted with herself and at pains to reassure me that she hadn’t made the first move. She also protested rather too much that she hadn’t made a fool of me. As it turns out, they only got into conversation in the first place because Eoin’s mum’s call to him got disconnected while she was trying to get clear answers about what he needed for a project at school.
Overhearing the questions, my mother offered her take on it, which invited the gentle remark that she must be a teacher. “No” not being enough, she declared herself to be the mother of no fewer than three. Eoin’s mum’s clever musing aloud of “I wonder if I know any of them” baited mum easily. She revealed all three of our schools, with one being a perfect match. “And that’s how we found out that our children are at school together,” she said gleefully.
In Eoin’s mum’s eyes it is a fabulous school and he is really thriving. She is delighted with his teachers and the fantastic balance we achieve between curricular work and extra activities – we offer lots of learning in its other, more informal guises through sport, the arts, etc. Knowing full well that she could not declare her own child to be thriving, my mother did not have a lot to say in response. Thankfully, she recognised that I would not have approved of her divulging too much.
Most teachers I choose to spend my time with are in teaching because of the students and the phenomenal job satisfaction that teaching can bring
Eoin’s school is my workplace and, regrettably, my experience is not as positive as his. Eoin sees the gliding swan, my mother the paddling. Education has its own particular variation on “death by PowerPoint” in the form of an endless stream of updates on all the exciting CPD (continuous professional development) opportunities we would dearly love to avail of, but have absolutely no time for. A full-on focus on upskilling risks remaining permanently out of reach as too many vital tasks already vie to become top priority.
Teachers who openly admit that their three favourite things about teaching are June, July and August are giving a masterclass in tone-deafness. Given the challenges our profession faces, we would do well to curb such jokes this year. I’ve never found them funny, but it now goes beyond personal tastes and preferences as the crises are simply too many and too severe. To declare those favourites with any hint of truth is to permit genuine questions about whether they are in the right job at all, or frank queries as to how effectively they carry out the work if they are only in it for the time they get to spend away from it. These observations are not intended to come across as judgemental, just as I’m assuming jokes about the three favourite things aren’t intended to be offensive.
A particular favourite of mine is that during the summer break floors actually get swept before they have become an embarrassment
Most teachers I choose to spend my time with are in teaching because of the students and the phenomenal job satisfaction that teaching can bring. It’s a hard role to even begin to explain to anyone who has never held it, and that is perhaps core to a lack of understanding around our holidays. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I can share how I view the time and utilise it.
Like many teachers, I work during the summer. For some it is as a State examiner, for others it is planning and preparation, as there is no way we can keep up with the relentless rhythm that starts at the end of August. A teacher who uses the whole summer break for leisure burns out or disengages very early in a school year.
I also catch up on, or simply enjoy, all of the parts of my life that get pushed aside during the academic year. A particular favourite of mine is that during the summer break floors actually get swept before they have become an embarrassment. It is sad how much relief I feel during term time when the house is not a complete mess, and even sadder that I rarely get to feel that relief.
Recently, one of my Leaving Certs asked me about teaching as a career – she is a bright student and would very much like to teach, but is not entirely sure which subject. We ended up speaking more about the lifestyle choice that teaching is, because that is something I wish someone had warned me about.
The only advice I could really offer her was to get a grip on her approach to the job as early in her career as possible. I had figured out that part way too late.
Schools are workplaces too, and until we properly start that conversation, Eoin’s mum and mine may well be talking about the same place but they won’t necessarily know it. Just because it is a fabulous school doesn’t mean it is a fabulous workplace. All who work in schools earn their holidays and are as entitled to their break from work as anyone else.