How much do we need the summer holidays as teachers and how much do our students need it?
I've never really given much thought to weather students need the 6 week break, too consumed with my own clawing need to make it to the end of term. That is, until a student on the last day of term, in response to me telling them to go online and revise throughout the holiday, replied with: "Maam, I'm not being funny but I need to rest over the summer, I'm just not going to do Maths when I could be out with my friends!" Needless to stay I was a bit stunned at the outburst and my immediate reaction was something along the lines of " In 6 weeks I'm sure you can find 30 mins a few times a week to do some work, GCSEs are difficult and you need to keep revising!" I'm going to hold my hands up here and call myself a massive hypocrite, because I have one rule this summer; NO WORK.
First, let's state the obvious. As teachers we need the break. I don't know about everyone else but I nearly didn't make it to the end of term. I suffer from migranes and a big trigger for me is stress. The second to last week of term I didn't go in for a whole week (unheard of for me. I will struggle through almost anything; I came in for interview after dislocating my knee the night before, on crutches) a 5 day migrane kept me at home. If you know anything about migranes they are soul destroying. The more stressed I get the more migranes I get and the worse they become. So needless to say I desperately needed the break, the relaxation time and the time not to think about work. So far so good, no migranes since we broke up. But it's not just about the migranes, the pressure that was building up towards the end of term was intense, we had exam week for all students, inevitably followed by marking those exams, reports due in and ofcourse the fallout from those reports with both students and parents. I was exhausted! I couldn't even look at twitter or this blog until now, because I just needed to unwind, get my feeling of wellbeing back. But I think the mistake we make, or at least I've made, is thinking we're the only ones who feel like this.
I've spent the entire year telling every class the same thing: "the new scheme of work is HARD, really hard. You MUST put the effort in NOW or you WILL struggle later." My expectations for them were that they be consistantly going over topics at home as well as doing the homework I set. Some would nod to placate me and then do nothing, others went at this with a tenacity I can only admire. Now, I can't say every student worked hard in my class but those who do work hard, do they work as hard as me? Probably? Maybe? Because if they do then I have to say they do need their rest, a time to recoup so they can face another year come september.
But, it's not just the work they've done in my class. I mentioned exam week earlier, yes I had to mark all their exams, but these students had to DO the exams! A whole week of nothing but exams, 5 days, 3 exams a day! (15 exams in one week, I think I would have had a mental break down!) Then the first day back after their exams, we start them on the next years work or continue the work we were on before. I don't think I really took a minute to consider how the students coped with that amount of pressure. As an icing on the cake, we and many other schools had year 10 do a whole other set of exams for pixl curve. Just to put that into perspective those students sat 6 1hr 45min exams in maths in 3 weeks (and thats not even mentioning their other subjects).
Thankfully, my days of exams are over, but I can think back to Uni and A Levels and even GCSEs; they were stressfull! So how can we possibly say that these students don't truly deserve a break too?!
If I hadn't been so wrapped up in my own pain, maybe I would have realised this sooner, or maybe I did think they deserve a break, but not as much as me. I'm not sure. But I do know one thing, if I could I'd probably take back what I said to that first student and instead say something like this:
"OK, you're right, you do need to rest. So rest, go out with your friends, sleep till noon, do nothing all day then do it again the next day. But in a couple of weeks time, once you feel better, IF you feel better, and IF you're bored, because 6 weeks is a long time to entertain yourself, take a few minutes to do a little bit of maths. But, if you don't find the time and you don't get bored, that's OK, because that will mean you have had a fantastic summer. And you know what? You won't get that many, one day your summer will be spent working, paying bills, cleaning and maybe even looking after your own kids. So enjoy it while you can, Math can wait till September."