Sabbaticals for Teachers?

Image courtesy of anitafrances at Flickr Creative Commons

As I was scanning my Twitter timeline, a tweet from @schoolsontap made me stop in my tracks: ‘Teachers should have ‘sabbatical’ to avoid burnout and return ‘refreshed’, says incoming Ofsted head’ and it linked to this Mail article. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, finally, someone gets it. Why would I support such a costly idea? Well, it’s clear from the article writer that they think the holidays are enough. But what if they aren’t?

It’s true. Teachers have three months of holidays a year. And when summer comes along, well, lets put it this way, the MasterCard advert has it spot on! So why aren’t the holidays enough? Most teachers work twelve hour days – at least. They’ll do this for five or six days a week. Teachers aren’t paid for these hours. The salary doesn’t cover work at home in the evenings, weekends or during holidays. You can’t bid for overtime or take time off in lieu of the work you’ve done outside of school hours. You can’t book a medical appointment during school time, unless it’s an emergency. You can’t even go to the toilet when you want.

Why do it? If you want to be a good teacher, or pass threshold & add to your salary, you need to have the results to show that you’re worth it. This requires time and effort. Most teachers teach 21 or 22 hours a week, giving them about 3 hours to do all their Planning, Preparation and Assessment (marking) in that time. If you want your PPA to be good, and by that I mean marking with comments; different resources for your different abilities; lessons that are engaging and challenging, then three or four hours isn’t enough. Lots of teachers in the schools that I’ve worked in have either come in early, stayed late or both. I used to do both. I’d be in by 7.30am and stay till 5.30pm, always working during break and sometimes during lunch. I’d then head home and work until about 9.30/10pm. I’d do this almost every day. And then work for at least 5 hours on the Sunday. Then add on a trip or an off timetable day which your planning for, parents evening, open evening, and the workload increases. Or say the National Curriculum or exam syllabus changes…again. This is not that uncommon.

And those holidays – yep, I’d work in those too. Usually from home where I’d plan, make resources, analyse results, write reports, etc etc. I rarely went back to work feeling refreshed. A friend of mine said to me at the start of term this year, ‘It’s like it never ends – I feel like a hamster on a wheel!’ And that’s the problem. The pressure to perform remains. Every group has their own challenges and each teacher has to show, not only can they get those students to achieve their targets, but that they’re adding value as well.

It was suggested that I take a sabbatical this year, but I knew the school couldn’t afford it. There is no way schools could. What it will mean is that sabbaticals don’t happen. Teachers continue to work themselves into the ground helping students to achieve. They’ll be vilified for the ‘pensions’ strike, which isn’t just about pensions. It’s about standards. It’s about the pay cuts. It’s about job losses. And it’s about teachers standing with other public sector workers saying No. Enough is enough.

So glad I got out when I did.

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