Secret Teacher: working in the holidays devalues our profession | Teacher Network

I understand why teachers go into school in the holidays. I used to, too. It would be the end of term, with everyone giddy from the sheer exhaustion of school life. “I can’t wait for a break,” I’d say, yet I would still go back in. Just a couple of days at the start of the holidays to tidy my classroom. Then before term, a couple of days to prepare. I’d hope to sort out a display or two, label some books and – what joy – laminate. Great. Whatever made me feel happy and settled seemed fair enough.

But it gradually dawned on me: I could never be completely up-to-date or optimally prepared. However many extra days I worked in the holidays, I’d still be shunted into survival mode within a few weeks of the beginning of term. And worse, I’d be fatigued quicker and teaching poorer lessons because I’d not really taken a break. Sacrificing time I could have spent on my own interests to do more schoolwork was making me bored and boring.

I noticed that the school tasks I was doing in my holiday time were, quite logically, the less important ones: administration and tidying up. If they had been critical, they would have been sorted in term time. Choosing to spend my own time on these frivolous things while complaining about workload didn’t make sense.

Other teachers have explained to me that their “professionalism” dictates that they work into the holidays. I suggest they speak to a lawyer about working for free, or ask a dentist how many root canal surgeries they do in their spare time.

A teaching year in schools in England equals 1,265 directed hours, spread across 195 days. I suspect I’m not the only person to have taken their salary and worked out their daily and hourly pay. Mine works out at about £180 per day. Not bad, about the same as I pay a plumber or an electrician for a day’s work on my house.

But while I understand that teachers are required to “work such reasonable additional hours as may be necessary to enable the effective discharge of (their) professional duties”, I can’t help feeling that the scales are not tipped in the teacher’s favour.

Every extra day – every extra hour – that teachers choose to devote to their job earns them precisely zero pounds. The extended holiday entitlement for teachers is fantastic, but the idea that it is a perk, an unwarranted and fortunate bonus, is bogus. Teachers are paid a salary to have a positive impact on their pupils: if that now requires significant additional working, teachers’ contracts need to be amended and their pay increased.

By working in the holidays, teachers are showing that they don’t need them, that they needn’t be paid well for the time they allocate to a crucial job that is supposed to improve society. They are devaluing themselves.

Often the nature of the work done in holidays is superfluous: previously these clerical tasks were identified by teaching unions and resisted. By taking on these duties in the holidays, teachers are devaluing their profession, spreading their pay ever thinner and devaluing their salary.

If you’re a teacher, you might expect my passion for the vocation to carry me above these worries. You might want to reject these as the concerns of a jobsworth aiming to do the minimum. But how is working in the holidays helping you, your profession or your fellow teachers?

Try dividing your salary by 220 days rather than 195 and consider, what are you really worth?

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