The secret teacher: ‘I’m on my 79th successive day off’

Our obscene summer holidays are a precious source of vital nutrition for begrudgers

Teachers’ obscene summer holidays are a precious source of vital nutrition for begrudgers. Photograph: iStock

Teachers’ obscene summer holidays are a precious source of vital nutrition for begrudgers. Photograph: iStock

 

I’m running out of holidays. I still have two weeks to come in 2018, and in most jobs that would mean that I still have plenty of holidays left.

I am on my 79th consecutive day off, counting all the weekends and bank holidays (I’d only be on day 56 if I didn’t count these, but it’s hard to round that up to three months and I want to be fair to the begrudgers).

Now that we are all into wellbeing and mindfulness and cultivating our own self-worth rather than comparing ourselves with the Joneses, begrudgers are becoming an endangered species.

Teachers have a duty to do what they can to help them survive, and our obscene summer holidays are a precious source of vital nutrition.

When I do go back to work, isn’t teaching little more than a part-time job, even though I am one of the lucky teachers to have a contract for full hours?

I have yet to meet a classy begrudger on this topic, a well-informed and articulate one who knows that correcting the summer exams and writing school reports take up the best part of, if not more than, a week of our holidays.

"As everyone knows, teachers have such amazing holidays that an odd bit of work here and there will hardly do us any harm."

We don’t actually teach then, and of course all non-teaching time is time off. Similarly, even if teachers do courses over the summer and read and prepare school-related material, they are off work.

No monetary gain and certainly no additional holidays in lieu. There surely isn’t any need anyway, because as everyone knows, teachers have such amazing holidays that an odd bit of work here and there will hardly do us any harm.

And anyway, when I do go back to work, isn’t teaching little more than a part-time job, even though I am one of the lucky teachers to have a contract for full hours?

Twenty hours

The “fact” that a teacher supposedly works little more than 20 hours per week gets massive airtime.

While it is true that an Irish secondary school teacher only teaches 21 hours and 20 minutes per week, there is more to that than most people think, and we certainly aren’t “off” the rest of the time. The teaching contract for Irish teachers focuses primarily (if not exclusively) on teaching time.

This is unusual by international standards, because the teachers’ contract in many OECD countries includes recognition of the essential work that teachers do beyond the time actually spent delivering their classes. So what exactly is this essential work that teachers do while they are “off”?

We write school reports at least three times a year, too, one per pupil in fact. We could hardly expect the begrudgers to let us off with anything less

Teaching a subject that is allocated, say, four class periods of 40 minutes per week means teaching eight different class groups. Assuming that each of those groups has 25-30 pupils, that’s more than 200 pupils.

This, of course, equals the number of copybooks a teacher would check per week if that were in fact physically possible.

It certainly represents the number of individual pieces of classwork, homework or tests to be corrected regularly, even if different subject areas or schools vary in their specific demands.

We write school reports at least three times a year, too, one per pupil in fact. We could hardly expect the begrudgers to let us off with anything less, what with those record-breaking holidays we have.

Euro-trashed

Are we doing enough to earn them anyway? After all, our school year isn’t even that long compared with other EU countries.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation joins the Teachers’ Union of Ireland in recommending rejection of the pay deal
"Full-time teaching for 35 or 40 years makes for a demanding marathon of a career. Ours is a profession that almost everyone has an opinion on, regardless of whether they have ever taught a class."

Our critics cannot emphasise loudly or often enough how appalling it is that we are off for the whole month of June when most of our EU counterparts are still working.

Sitting on one side of the desk as one of 30 is something we have all done, but standing solo on the other is a different matter entirely

They are correct about teachers elsewhere teaching further into the summer, but I wonder why they do not give the complete picture.

Average teaching time in secondary schools across the EU countries in the OECD comes in at 668 hours, while in Ireland we teach an average of 735. Would I be pushing my luck to point out that putting in more hours over a shorter school year actually makes the job harder? Most definitely. People just don’t want to know.

Full-time teaching for 35 or 40 years makes for a demanding marathon of a career. Ours is a profession that almost everyone has an opinion on, regardless of whether they have ever taught a class.

And here’s the rub: sitting on one side of the desk as one of 30 is something we have all done, but standing solo on the other is a different matter entirely. Not for nothing does it now take six years in Ireland to make that transition across the desk.

For those who think that’s unnecessary, surely there’s a reality TV programme waiting to be made: Teach for a Week, anyone? Probably not. Teacher for a summer is the only gig the begrudgers are really after.

The “secret teacher” is a practising secondary school teacher who will write an occasional series of anonymous columns. The teacher’s identity is known to the editor

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