Writing is writing right? Did you know that I’m a teacher by day? Today, I’ve decided to sidestep fiction and expound a little on the forthcoming return to school, the French version of which has never been bettered in a single statement, “la rentrée”.
I’m back at work since Monday 10th August and you may think that’s a bad thing but you know what I’m delighted! We teachers get bad press. “What’s the best thing about teaching? June, July and August.” I speak for myself but I have a general view too. I exited in June to get an operation done on my ankle and have been recovering since. I finished up the school year with a battery dangerously in the red and the face I usually wear (fair I hope), replaced with more of a grimace than a smile. I needed a break and the operation imposed it as only surgery can. And so it went.
Generally speaking once the exams have reach their zenith, I make the well-worn journey to Athlone, set up camp for a two day marking conference, before spending the next 24 days at least in a marking marathon. More money on top of the money I already make? Agreed. You won’t find me arguing with that but if a person is happy to work, what’s the difficulty?
I read an article in the Irish Times the other week (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/after-the-leaving-cert-what-happens-to-your-exam-scripts-1.2312506#.VcszapvZJlM.twitter) which compared the marking process in this country with that in France. Tellingly, teachers there mark exams over a 10-15 day period and may or may not be engaged on a year-to-year basis. There is an extra payment but it is understood as being part of the package for a teacher in France. Here, it’s optional. The naysayers cry from the hills, “make it compulsory sure they’re off anyway!” Again, I’d have no major problem with that if it could be woven into the accountable, transparent and fair system of marking that we already have. Separating the roles of teacher and examiner has a merit that maintains confidence and anonymity in the results and find me an Irish person to argue with that one (this applies only to the Leaving Certificate examination—the new Junior Cert. is a battle and debate for another day).
So, if you so choose, you may pack up the boxes in your classroom (if you have one), turn the key in the door and never darken the door again until the exam results come out, or if otherwise engaged sometime towards the end of August. So, what do teachers do during the summer? For me, I keep busy but rest at the same time. Evidently, this year was exceptional but it more or less matched the pattern for other years except that I had to volunteer on a “work-from-home” basis rather than showing up in person. The summer time for me consists in large part of the following: working until the exams are over (this year June 19th), then marking exams (until July 11th or so), while volunteering in my spare time and taking a holiday. I also write and read fiction, history books, newspapers, magazines (I’m big into business ones at the moment), watch films and read up on educational issues which is something I struggle with doing during term time. Throw in catching up with friends and family or helping someone to move house and it proves to be a busy time. There is a structured break thrown in at the end where my wife and I seek out the sun and kick back before I return to work in time for the exam results.
Two weeks down and I’m tired but it’s a different sensation. I’m invigorated, charged. I’ve a good two weeks’ work done with much to do between now and when the other teachers breach the threshold on the 27th August. I’m fully rested and ready for the year ahead and so it is. Brass tacks: I have a good job which pays well. I have the privilege that I have time off from that job which allows me to reflect, re-evaluate, re-energise and get into the best shape I can for the academic year ahead. For many a year when someone asked the inevitable, “and what do you do?” icebreaker, I rattled off “teacher” with a little too much deference. I’m educated and will continue to learn as much as I can (I’ve enrolled in UCC for the forthcoming year) but that doesn’t mean I inhabit a plush room in an ivory tower. I don’t consider myself superior to you because I’m so used to the sound of my own voice that I can’t hear you. I’m open to change which brings about an improvement for the pupils in our care. Would I welcome readjustments to improve the service of education to our pupils? Of course I would; without change we are dead. One way or another, I’m busy and that won’t be changing if I have anything to do with it.