Diary of a Primary School Mum: 'Teachers? They deserve 20 weeks holiday'
Thursday 08 November 2007
Half-term holidays should be abolished. Day one and cries of "I'm bored" began well in advance of 10a.m. It's hardly surprising. Twins Claire and Oliver only started Reception five weeks ago, were just getting into the groove and then wham! Time off. A newbie to this whole primary school lark and previously spoiled by a private nursery open all year round, I did the maths. State school holidays total a whopping 13 weeks a year and that's before inset days and general elections rock the boat.
Crunching our muddy boots over a carpet of fresh autumnal leaves in a nearby wood, I tell my best friend – who's a primary school teacher – that she and her colleagues have it so easy. "Three months paid holiday a year," I goad. "How much do teachers earn?"
My friend's tone turns sharp.
"What exactly is your point?"
"My point is it's a great gig. You work 9am to 3.30 pm and get vacations galore. Why don't more people want to be teachers?"
A lesser person would have found such glibness irritating, but my best friend doesn't rise to the devil's advocate bait. She calmly enters a diatribe (as if I'm one of her pupils) about the finer points of her profession and why teachers (like nurses) are the greatest, unsung heroes.
"Teachers can easily do a 12-hour day. We've got to prepare, set up, plan themes and do marking, after-school clubs and parent teacher evenings. You try teaching PE and dance to a class of 30 snippets.
"It's physically exhausting. I love my job, but it's incredibly intense with no personal space. We need time off to keep up our energy levels and motivation, otherwise we'd flag and be crap. Is that what you want?"
We stop at the café, for a reality check and a couple of cappuccinos. As I spoon chocolate powder off the milky froth I think about how whenever we arrive at school early the twins' teacher, Miss Perry, is always there getting the classroom ready. How displays miraculously appear on walls overnight. How she's always smiling, even when her sinuses are full of cough and cold. How she's always nice to us pushy mummies. How on the Friday before half-term, when the class managed to fill the superstar jar full of bricks for good behaviour, Miss Perry turned the room into a cinema and screened Dick Whittington, treating every child to a cup of popcorn and a chewy sweet. Damn it, such saintly behaviour deserves 20 weeks holiday and a fat cat salary to boot.
Back at school after half-term I asked the twins at pick-up time if they'd finally started lessons. "Oh yes," said Oliver. "We did the write dance."
"What's the write dance?" I asked. They shoved their jumpers and anoraks into my arms and began a traffic stopping, Oscar-winning performance of mechanical movement. "I am a robot, I am a robot," they sang in staccato bursts, drawing squares in the air with their limbs. "That's wonderful," I clap when it's over, "but what on earth has it got to do with lessons?"
"Well," Oliver said, "when we finished dancing we sat down and wrote the word 'hello'."
All this learning through play – Miss Perry is a teaching genius. As we opened the front door I asked the twins if they preferred being on holiday or being at school. "I like both," said Oliver, ever the diplomat. Claire, who took much longer to settle than her brother, had a different opinion.
"I like school better," she said. "We won't have any more holidays too soon, will we Mummy?"
Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax
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