The Staff Room: an insight into education in Wakefield district by Catherine Jackson

Catherine Jackson from Badsworth. New columist for the Pontefract and Castleford Express.'p307a436
Catherine Jackson from Badsworth. New columist for the Pontefract and Castleford Express.'p307a436

Well, that’s that then for another year. The long summer holidays are over. They already seem like a distant memory.

Children are back to school again, much to the relief of exhausted and often frustrated parents who have juggled childcare and work, called in favours from parents and relatives and generally had their lives turned upside down by the six glorious weeks of summer.

In the supermarket at the beginning of the holidays, I listened to a parent bemoan the frustrations of bored children.

I sympathised. I am a parent too, but as a teacher my perspective is definitely different. I might, I suppose, be in the minority here, but I love the summer holidays.

I was lucky, I changed careers just before my children were born, so I have never had the real childcare struggle faced by so many.

The thought of the break keeps me going throughout the year, and now there’s a long stretch ahead until next July.

It’s actually something of an endurance test. As teachers we always think the autumn term is the hardest – it’s the longest and the time when most of the work is done, uninterrupted by study leave, external or internal exams, but actually I think the gloom of the early spring term is the hardest.

At any rate, during term time, my life is not my own and any social life, however pitiful it may be, is out of the question.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not complaining. I accept the late nights, the parents’ evenings, the unending marking, the planning, the constant changes, and the juggling of different needs within one group.

And I know now after many years of teaching, I will be unable to sleep for around three days before the start of term.

I will have to brace myself, take a deep breath and become my teacher persona, an actor, not just ‘me’. All of this I can do, so long as I know that at some given time in the future I will be able to ‘breathe’.

It’s not just me though. Much more important are the pupils. There’s been much debate by government ministers, educationalists, business people and the general public, over many years about whether school holidays should be shorter.

It would be fair to say I’m prejudiced. But I’ve seen at first hand, time and time again, just how exhausted children are at the end of terms.

Colds, sore throats and tummy bugs go on the rise. Silly discipline issues need to be dealt with, stretching to the limit teachers’ depleting reserves of extreme patience.

The numbers of ‘fallings out’, pupils’ irritations and frustrations with peers reach all-time highs. Regular breaks and holidays are most definitely needed for children to find their own equilibrium and to distance themselves from the squabbles and tensions; this all allows healing before the start of another term. It’s a little bit like ‘time out’ for pre-schoolers.

So, students and staff alike, we are all the same. I am glad that a routine begins again, but I, like every other teacher I know, face the same worries – will I have enough reserves to give each of my students all that they need to achieve their best, will my best be good enough? Will I live up to my own and everyone else’s expectations?

Yes, we may moan and bewail the end of a glorious summer. There may be much muttering in the staffroom, but for the most part it truly is superficial. We are glad to be back. After one week, we realise our stamina levels are not what they were and we are shattered, but it is good to be back.

Now it’s deep breath, and best foot forward. I’m ready to face the challenges of what another year may have to offer.