The long, wet summer just passed me by…

I’m very lucky, in many ways, to be a teacher. Forget things like pay and conditions – which in actual fact, aren’t that bad – there are lots of things to be thankful for in my profession. I get to work with young people full of ideas, emotions, hope, naivety and energy for one thing. I get to help kids produce amazing things. I get to work alongside them and many brilliant colleagues and I have to admit that I get to have what can feel like endless laughs.

All very nice, right? And now you’re thinking, here comes the bad stuff? Make way for the abuse, the long hours, the meetings, blah, blah, blah. Well, you’d be wrong. What I wanted to mention was the summers. The teacher’s summers. Because after a couple of decades of teaching, it’s still the summer holidays, those six blissful weeks, that are the most attractive feature.

So, I thought I’d go through a quick review of my latest summer holidays.

After all of the build up, I’m not going to lie; this one’s been pretty damn poor in many ways. One of my favourite things about summer is standing in the garden early in the morning, hanging out washing on the line, looking up at a blue sky, feeling the sun on my face and just thinking about the fact that the rest of the day is stretching out in front of me, as is the rest of whatever remains of my summer. Bloody wonderful.

Except, that hasn’t really been the case this summer. As the rain fell and just continued to fall and fall and fall, I distinctly remember that our washing basket was positively overflowing. In fact, I remember my son telling me that he’d ran out of underwear at one point! So, it’s safe to say that the weather this summer has been really underwhelming. And that, ladies and gents is more than enough to make your summer…well, a bit of a bummer. Not only does it impact on one’s leisurely laundry fantasies, but it means that days out, gardening, and any outdoor jobs and projects that have been saved up for these precious 6 weeks, just sit there, undone and nagging at you. As a result, I have to say that in many ways it’s not been the best of summers.

One thing that we have done that’s really maximised the fun we could have over summer is to take a couple of holidays. I say holidays; one was a three day break that was then followed by two days in Newcastle seeing family and friends, so that was a holiday in a kind of left field way.

I’ve blogged about our main summer holiday in North Wales, so I won’t dwell on that here, suffice to say that we had a lovely time in a truly special part of the UK. We left the day after the end of the academic year and it felt absolutely amazing to be wandering around on a beach, escaping the stress of work life so quickly after leaving my classroom.

Our other holiday was a bit different. Firstly we spent three days in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. We stayed in a nice guest house, spent some time on the beach and spent a whole load of time in arcades – having raided our coppers jar for 2 pence pieces in advance – while also upholding the family tradition of having dad (me) hold the bags while mum and the kids go on some rides! It all felt really relaxing.

Straight after returning from Scarborough we headed to Newcastle for a couple of days for a break that we had all been looking forward to. The main reason for this was because this would be the first time we would see family and friends in 18 months (because of Covid, not out of choice).

Again, we had a lovely relaxing break, meeting up for coffee with our closest friends on the Quayside in Newcastle, going out for tea with my parents and then out for a nice walk with them the next day. We also visited an excellent gluten free bakery which happened to be in a part of the city where I’d spent a lot of my childhood, but hadn’t been back to in probably over 25 years. So that was a really interesting thing to do, not least because it allowed me to show my own children these places. Interesting to note that in what we might call a slightly rougher end of town, within seconds one of my children was asking if we should be locking the car doors!

When we returned home after our breaks in Scarborough and Newcastle we were exhausted and apart from getting through a veritable mountain of washing, we made sure that we relaxed and did very little for the next few days. And I suppose this is an excellent example of the privilege’s of a teacher’s summer; there often isn’t any sense of urgency. Whether you go places, take on projects or extend yourself in any way is entirely up to you – you do not need to give work or going to work even the briefest of thoughts for whole chunks of your summer. Ask most teachers and they’ll tell you that there will always come a point in every summer where they genuinely don’t know what day it is.

By this point I’d also managed to do myself an injury which did its best to curtail my summer fun. Maybe it was the sense of freedom that did it, but while throwing myself around in goal during a training session for the team that I coach, I damaged a nerve under my shoulder and found myself in quite intense and constant pain for a while. And because visiting a doctor during these Covid times is quite a drawn out affair, it took far too long to get proper painkillers. Thus, my decorating slowed down, my enthusiasm for anything remotely physical waned and my mood took a bit of a beating.

A planned break in the Lake District was duly postponed – too much to do at home, too tired from galivanting around the country for the previous few weeks – leaving us to see out the last couple of weeks of our summer together with the odd day trip and catching up on some of those long put off jobs around the house. The weather didn’t help the appetite to leave the house as the British summer petered out and seemed to surrender far too easily to autumnal conditions. And before I knew it, I was doing the usual of kidding myself that it was a good thing that I still had3, then 2, then 1 day left at home.

I can’t complain too much. Even the weather doesn’t get in the way of the fact that I can spend 6 weeks not having to wear a suit and tie and that my shirt ironing is down to a bare minimum. It’s also 6 weeks of leisurely cups of coffee, of an extra hour in more in bed, more late night television and best of all, 6 weeks of possibility where work will hardly ever get in the way.

So while Summer was wet and seemed to pass by far too quickly, it was still peaceful, it was a considerable amount of fun and despite the injury still hanging around, it was still, in many ways, pain free.

I hope you enjoyed reading and as ever, feel free to leave a comment as they’re always appreciated.

Poetry Blog: End of Term

A hastily written poem this one. I had a few lines running round my head one evening in the final week of term and thought it might be worth seeing what happened if I tried to join the dots.

It’s about…well, let’s not treat people like idiots here, it’s about what it says in the title. As many of you know, I’m a teacher and so this time of year is very special to me – and all teachers, I hope – and it always prompts a great deal of thinking. What will next year be like, how will I get on, what’s kid X going to be like in Year 9, do I think I’ll get along with this class next year, etc. And that’s before you even get to thinking about how tired you are and what you’ll be up to over the 6 blissful weeks of summer.

The last week of the academic year is always quite a strange time. For me personally, it always feels like a week too far and I know that’s silly really. There has to be a final week and, as I’m reminded of regularly by people who clearly never went to school, I have a lot of holidays. On a side note, I’ve never figured out why people who moan about teachers’ holidays don’t just solve the issue by becoming teachers.

The last week generally sees a small dip in the student population, a smattering of unauthorised holidays being taken, sometimes a downturn in behaviour and eventually, a slackening off in the quality of lessons. The weather seems to always be ridiculously hot – relatively so; this is the UK after all so we’re not claiming European levels of scorchio – and so it becomes a case of trying to evade some form of heat exhaustion too, for teachers and students.

So anyway, I wrote a poem about the whole phenomenon.

End of Term

A strange mix of exhaustion, excitement and familiarity drifts around for days.
Every morning is greeted with half closed eyes and a walk that has more than a hint of Marley's Ghost 
You trudge out of the door, drag yourself through each day,
tolerate those you are faced with and smile through gritted teeth,
as if that alone will make the clock go faster.

From Monday through those last five days, classrooms will echo to a familiar refrain;
'Can we watch a film?'
And you brawl with your conscience hourly to stop from caving in.
The minutes fail to fly as you attempt to solve the mystery
of how to craft one more lesson on a text long since finished and tired of.

Outside the sun shines without mercy, turning the classroom into an oven
that bakes until all enthusiasm is burnt and thoroughly dried out,
like last night's re-heated lasagne.
Windows and doors are propped open and you battle with all on the corridor to be heard,
while your voice gives way and your feet grumble dolefully.

After a week that felt like a year you arrive on that final day,
too shattered to appreciate the glee that greets no uniform.
You smile weakly at the fashion show and finally put on a film, while your class complains 
that this one's boring and that the teacher next door brought sweets for her class.
Summer can't come soon enough.

It’s been a very difficult year in schools. Things have been different to say the least. Covid has changed everything and this year has featured a heady mix of room changes, teaching in bubbles, watching on not really knowing how to react when pupils have been taken out of class to be sent home for dreaded periods of isolation, bubble collapses and whole year groups going home, split starting times, dinner times and finishing times, Teams lessons, Teams meetings, school closures and teaching to an empty room, and of course more hand sanitiser than you could ever imagine!

It’s been a year to test the resolve of teaching and non teaching staff as well as students, parents and guardians. As a result, as the final line of the poem says – and with more emphasis than perhaps ever before – Summer can’t come soon enough.

As ever, comments are always more than welcome. Thanks for reading!

My Hopes for Summer

It’s been a strange old year. The academic one, that is. I’ve found it a bit of a struggle, but always try to keep stuff to myself – he says, writing a blog that thousands hundreds fourteen or fifteen people will read – and so I don’t think many people would realise. Apart from a few people that I’d class as relatively close to me, who either notice that I’m not myself or that I might just confide in.

It’s cliched, pompous and pretty poor form for me to say that I’ve been to Hell and back, mainly because I haven’t. But I think it’s fair to say that I’ve boarded the bus to there a few times in these last twelve months or so. I just got off a few stops early.

I won’t divulge much by way of detail, but a lot of my problems have been either work related or age related and despite the presence of more than enough good people in my life, I’ve felt very alone at times. If you know me, please don’t mistake this as a cry for help; it’s not. Imagine the mess I’d make of one of those! But, I have felt alone. It’s no one’s fault. Worse things probably do happen at sea, as they say. I mean, imagine who you could get stuck next to on a deckchair on your dream cruise for instance. That’s if cruises even do deckchairs. I’m aware that everyone has their problems though.

Given the age nature of some of my problems, you could be excused for mistaking this for a mid-life crisis. It isn’t. But if it was, I think only I could get it so badly wrong. No Porsche, no ponytail, no piercing or ill judged tattoo and no cringeworthy flirting with younger women as I struggle to cling on to my youth and masculinity. No, if it has been a mid-life crisis, I did it by writing a blog and some poems. Trust me to err on the side of a cautious crisis.

With all of this in mind, my summer break can’t come soon enough. Six weeks of not going to work but getting up in the morning with each day stretching out in front of you and a lot more possibilities than usual. Bliss. I’m even looking forward to the mundanity of jobs around the house and garden. Anything that takes my mind away from the type of things that I find are bugging me on a daily basis at the moment.

So what do I plan to do with my time? I always imagine that the summer holidays is some kind of blank slate upon which I will write a novel, do some sketching, do more running and fitness, watch some football, do some decorating, but in fact life gets in the way. The mundane still needs to be done, so there’s food shopping twice a week, days out to places I don’t really want to head to, but have to in my role as dad and husband, shopping trips for uniform and school shoes and endless talking and planning about jobs that we need to get done, but run out of time to do. So it’s a balancing act between idealism and everyday life.

A friend used to say that, as teachers, our summer holidays were worth £10,000 a year and I have to say that I’ve always agreed. I can live without the extra money, but don’t even think about taking my holidays away.

I imagine that at this time of year every teacher is simply hanging on in there for the end of term. I’m exhausted and I need to know that there’s a block of time when I don’t need to be up and out of the door before 7.30am five days a week, I don’t need to be dealing with the demands of 30 pupils and everything else that comes with working in a modern academy trust.

Most of all I need the time and space to be able to think. I’ve been a teacher for over 20 years now and have found things a little stale this year. At the very least, summer gives me time away form it all, enough to be able to re-charge my batteries, so to speak and to work on regaining some of my old enthusiasm.

I have some serious questions to ask. I need to think about retirement plans because ideally it’s not that far off and I want to be well and truly prepared so that I can spend it doing stuff that makes me, my wife and my family happy.

I also need to give thought to my present role. While I don’t feel tremendously unhappy, I also don’t feel tremendously fulfilled and it’s clear that something needs to change. Whether that’s where I work or just how I go about doing my job, I don’t know, but it needs some serious thinking time. I still have ambitions as a teacher and I think I’ve let things drift a little off course. I love my job, the school that I work at and the people that I work with, but something still doesn’t quite feel right and at least this summer gives me time to figure things out. Summer might just give me time to relax and be able to start all over again in September refreshed and raring to go.

I started writing a novel during lockdown. I know, I know…half of the population started writing novels and screenplays over lockdown. But I genuinely felt that what I was writing was good. It was a fully formed idea, rather than just something half baked that I believed I could make into something as I went, but it got shelved somewhat once I returned to work. It is without doubt something that I’ll be revisiting over summer, with the intention of getting at least a first draft finished. I figure all I’ll need is a typical British summer with just enough rain to keep me indoors for long periods of time and I’ll have the timeframe needed! It’s definitely something that I feel positive about though, and definitely one of the most exciting aspects of my summer.

There are lots of other things that I want to achieve over summer, as well as the kind of things that just need doing and can no longer be avoided when everyone knows you have so much time on your hands!

I’ll be looking to run more and get fitter and I think that will involve as many early mornings as I can manage as I just love the freedom and solitude of being out running at that time of day. I even have a race to take part in in early August and I’m looking forward to testing myself against others again. It’s been such a long time since I ran among lots of people, so it’ll be very strange, but I’m sure hugely exciting too. If nothing else there’s a blog that’ll come out of it! Once I get that out of the way, I’m hoping that there might be the opportunity to compete in at least one more as well. I think I need to get back to fitness workouts too, so if nothing else I’ll be revisiting my old friend Joe Wicks’s YouTube channel and flinging myself into that!

We have a holiday to go to as well. We’ve managed to book a week in North Wales, despite rising costs and demand, post Covid, and it’ll be lovely just to relax on our favourite beach. It’s always a good place to do all of that post work reflection!

I’ve also considered taking in a bit of sport. I don’t think it’ll be football, as I think I fancy something different. Before lockdown I was looking into going to watch our ice hockey team, Leeds Chiefs (now Leeds Knights) but Covid scuttled that plan. I think it’s something I’ll revisit, but the season doesn’t seem to commence until September. I’m considering taking in some games in the upcoming new format of cricket in the UK, The Hundred. We have a team based in Leeds and I reckon that the shorter format might be enough to keep my son’s interest, so I may well have a look.

But it can’t all be exciting over summer. There are a lot of humdrum jobs that need to be caught up on. I have a back garden that resembles a jungle and is in need of major maintenance. My wife seems to have big plans that centre around the movement of some long standing shrubs – and we’re talking plants that are my height and above here – and I would imagine that this will end up being a time consuming job.

Summer always sees decorating rearing it’s ugly head in our house too. My daughter’s bedroom – recently started while she was away on her Duke of Edinburgh expedition – needs to be finished. Our kitchen and dining room still awaits and our bedroom could really do with updating as well. And I see that I’m stretching myself quite a bit here and that there’s quite possible no chance at all that these rooms will all get finished, by the way! But if we can’t be optimistic at this time of year, then when can we be?

I hope to be able to visit my parents for the first time in something like 20 months, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’ll be able to happen. Having spoken to them, they still seem very reticent and fairly paranoid about Covid. Despite us being double jabbed, I think that my mother in particular would rather avoid contact and I have to respect that. There’ll no doubt be conversations to be had, but I’m starting to wonder if the thought of hugging my parents once again will remain just that for a while longer yet. Hopefully I’ll have some nice weather to offer some comfort instead…

So, with a few days still to get through at work, my summer holiday feels like it’s more important than it’s perhaps ever been. Clearly, I’m going to benefit from the time, but hopefully I’ll find lots to do and be able to enjoy lots of it with my family and friends. I’ve no doubt there’ll be a few unexpected surprises; there usually are, but in all, I’m just hoping to feel a lot more settled about everything by the time September rolls around again. I feel that I need to be coming back to work feeling an enthusiasm that not only gets me through the first week, but keeps me going for long enough that I’m not starting to feel restless again.

Whatever form it takes and whatever you’ve got planned, enjoy your Summer everyone!

Poetry Blog: A Slice of Heaven

It’s undoubtedly been a funny old year. I don’t think I need to give you some kind of encyclopedic explanation as to why. However, recently we managed to get away for a week’s holiday in the UK, something that we felt wasn’t going to be possible and another thing to fall victim to the pandemic.

Initially our holiday had been cancelled and then we received an email letting us know that it was once again possible. Somewhat hesitantly we agreed that we’d go, our reasoning being that a different four walls might be just what we need. We never imagined that we’d be able to go to our favourite beach.

It was that thought that led to me writing this poem. I was just sat one night, thinking about the upcoming holiday and previous ones and remembering the feeling of heading to our favourite beach. Whenever we’re there we’re relaxed and happy and so it really is like a slice of heaven to us, hence the title.

You clamber up the steep path, weighed down by a day’s food, drink and entertainment, round the last curve of the dead end street, stalking the low wall that snakes along the cliff edge and catching a first glorious glimpse of the sea. Soon, your feet will feel the first crunch of gravel. You glance right and see the bench where you all first huddled during a gale stricken picnic, because that was what families must do for a sense of adventure. The memory fades, just as you do, engulfed by hedgerows as you crest the first hill and disappear from sight, furtively glancing back, relieved that no one follows to discover your almost secret. The path narrows and curves, dips like the lasts wallow of summer before turning to sand, just like the feeling of life before this place. Your progress now covered by the tree line, you tramp steadfastly on, gasping for breath a little, still weighed down by explorer’s provisions. You remind yourself of what awaits as you stagger to the top of an Everest-like rise with nothing now between you and the sky. Deeper sand, a rickety bridge and then you creep down steps steep until you sink into pristine sand at the bottom and moonwalk exaggerated stpes across the cove, finding the perfect spot and spreading out your things just a little too much to hint that no one should come too close. Seconds pass and you remove layers of clothing, while simultaneously discarding a year’s worth of work, stress, life, before collapsing onto a perfectly placed blanket and gazing, awestruck, through sheltered eyes at the rest of your day. The estuary with its strong currents, where if you time it right and challenge the tide you can wade out through ever warmer water until you find yourself on a sand spit that feels like another planet, cut off from all other human life. You remember his hand clasping yours as he trembled, trying to be, desperate to be your big boy, as the water lapped at his chest and with every step he sunk deeper into the sand beneath. Eventually you picked him up, daddy’s got you, and bury your own trepidation until you made it onto the ever-fading island and let him run through the rock pools while you sat and took pictures with your mind that you knew you’d cling on to forever. Later, you’d watch them both playing on the rocks, best friends for once, keen to be grown up adventurers; the elder doing whatever it took to keep the younger happy. Their happiness shrieked its way across the sand so that even when you drifted off and lost sight of them, you could find them easily again. Beside you, the love of your life lies on the blanket, no longer propped up on elbows, book still stuck to fingers, headphones still in ears, but breathing a little too heavily to feign being awake. While the sun beats down, you leave her be, safe from the demands of everyday life; the phone calls, spreadsheets, meals, entertainment. You turn your eyes seaward, touch hand to head and feel the heat absorbed by dark hair, as if somehow this is an unexpected comfort. Your eyes catch the shimmer in the ripples of the sea and you imagine yourself one day out there, gliding back and forth on a paddle board, hair a little less dark, but mind a little more relaxed, in the autumn of your days. This is where we come to relax, reflect, to dream, to escape, to forget.

Not a lot of explanation needed here, really. It’s a poem about our favourite beach. You have to take the cliff-top coastal path for about ten minutes, until you get there. I think that puts some people off as it’s quite tiring if you’re carrying a day’s worth of beach gear for everyone. It’s worth it though.

The cove is on an estuary and when the tide goes out you can have adventures on the newly exposed sand, but you might have to wade out for a while to get there. My children love this.

In short, it’s somewhere we love – we’ve considered buying a holiday cottage there, we love it so much – and it’s a place where I think every one of us is able to relax.

Feel free to let me know what you thought of the poem in the comments. I’m always interested in hearing what people think.

It’s time for a new teaching year…and I’m stressed out already!

backtoschool

From next week thousands of people will be returning to a place that they most likely have a love hate relationship with. A place that, while it brings them fantastic highs and untold joy, will also land upon them terrible amounts of stress and enough moments of disbelief in a typical couple of months to last a lifetime. Sounds like a cross between a crack den and a soft play centre, doesn’t it? Well in fact, I’m talking about school.

After 6 weeks of summer holidaying – or if you’re British, dodging downpours – us teachers (and other school staff) are set to return to work. Most, for any number of reasons, will be dreading it, which is something that lots of non teaching folk and those who don’t work in education simply refuse to understand. Well, allow me to explain.

You’d expect that after six weeks worth of holidays that we’d be fully relaxed, re-invigorated and enthusiastic to go back to work. And I’ve no doubt that some staff are exactly like that. These people are not to be trusted in my humble opinion. Wrong ‘uns, the lot of them.

This next academic year will be my twentieth in teaching. It’s a job I love – no two days are the same, there are highs and lows aplenty, there are some great people – we’ll leave the not-so-great ones for later – and working with kids will always make you smile. But I’m not one of the teachers who don’t mention the pull of the holidays. Thirteen weeks a year and I can honestly say I genuinely think that it’s still not quite enough. Every half term will leave me exhausted and so any time off is largely spent recuperating, rather than enjoying myself. I’ve never spent 6 hedonistic weeks in Ibiza or somewhere partaking in copious amounts of drugs and free love. More likely, I’ll watch a bit more telly and try in vain to do jobs around the house. For me, the holidays are vital.

So conversely, I find the going back to work bit quite the ballache. Now teacher or not teacher, I know what you’re thinking. Or at least the kind of thing you’re thinking. It’ll be within a ball park that contains outrage, a feeling of negativity towards my perceived ingratitude and probably the odd utterance of that strange phrase ‘Man up‘. I don’t care. And furthermore, I have plenty of colleagues and friends who don’t care either.

An old Head of mine used to compare teaching to being on an oil rig. The feeling being that mentally, we’d be completely out of reach for our families during term time, as if we were offshore, almost. It was a particularly challenging school, by the way. As each term ended she’d tell us to switch off, go back to our families and loved ones and spend precious time with them. So if you don’t like my trepidation about going back to work then you’re heartless; I’m off to a bloody oil rig, for Christs’s sakes.

Psychologically, the problems with going back to work can start at any time during the six weeks holidays. And we’ll all have suffered with it. I’m talking of course about the anxiety dreams. You’re sitting in front of a class who just won’t listen. They’re all laughing hysterically at you, even the nice kids. Especially the nice kids! Whatever you try, fails. And try as you might these kids just won’t listen or do what you ask. You might even end up in tears in front of them, pathetically calling out things like, ‘Guys?‘ (always as a question). Inevitably you’ll wake up in a cold sweat, heart racing and possibly in need of a parent. But that parent can’t help. You’re going to repeat that dream – possibly exactly the same dream – a good few times before stepping back over the threshold of your school again in September.

As a rule, I don’t suffer too badly with the anxiety dream and the out of control class. In fact, I usually save mine up for one big nightmare on the eve of my return to work, resulting in me going back looking worse and more exhausted than when we broke up for the six weeks! This year though, has been different. I’ve had a number of these dreams and every last one has left me sat in our bathroom, sweating and trying to yoga-breathe my way to some kind of tranquil mindset that will enable me to sleep again.

The worst one actually started quite well. I’m in control of the class, cracking the odd joke, everyone enjoying their learning and Mr Crosby is kind of a big deal around these parts. And then, slowly but surely, things fall apart. The odd bit of calling out, some general low level disruption. And just when it looks like I’m about to wrestle back control, a boy the height of a giraffe gets up and wanders into my cupboard before emerging again wearing a lampshade as a hat and wandering aimlessly around my room. Every time I try to get to him, he appears back in the cupboard. Try as I might, Giraffe-Boy Lampshade Head just will not listen. And you don’t get that in your council office, your accountancy practice or your supermarket. It’s not you sitting naked – sorry, fight that image, think of giraffe boy – sweating on the edge of a bath considering doing warrior pose or downward dog in order to get back to sleep.

The next thing that can contribute to a dread of going back to work seems like a nice thing, but in fact, it’s not. As an adult, I thought that those signs telling me that it’s ‘Back to School’ soon were no longer applicable. And then I went into teaching and found that every summer the lure of those Back to School signs and their promise of stationery was to prove all too much. Stationery is a huge part of life as a teacher. At least I hope it is and that it’s not just me clinging on to shiny notebooks and refusing to grow up! Even now, after nearly twenty years in the job, I still get a little bit excited at the thought of new pens, highlighters, markers and the like come September. And I still enter Asda with a spring in my step at the prospect of a rollback on notebooks and plastic wallets.

However, while the acquisition of such things is a delight it will quickly lead to stress. Now I’m aware that this is probably just a particular foible of mine, but there is a possibility that somewhere, within the educational community there are more of us. So let’s see how many people find themselves nodding along to this. The fact is I get ridiculously precious about my new stationery and as a result I tend to stockpile it. I become like a stationery squirrel, with drawers of pens, pencils, notebooks, folders and files that are so lovely I’ll allow no one to us them; including me. Sometimes the teacher in the adjoining room to mine – a friend I’ve known for years – will pop in searching for a pen and I reluctantly agree to get one, slowly ripping opening the packet with a rictus smile spread across my chops as I attempt to hide the fact that this is killing me! Lately pupils have started to ask if they can have a plastic wallet, something I have hundreds of. They need them to carry certain notes around and I then have to pretend that it’s no problem and that of course they can have a plastic wallet, when really, hidden just beneath the surface the real Mr Crosby is screaming, ‘GET YOUR OWN PLASTIC BLOODY WALLETS!’ But of course I look forward to going back to work and of course I’m sure that my behaviour is fairly normal. Whichever way we look at it though, the pursuit of the perfect stationery can be a particularly stressful thing for us educators.

Another one of the stresses, one of the painful adjustments that needs to be made by people in education returning to work can be found with clothing. Imagine that, for a 6 week period almost everything you wore was casual. You got up in the morning, and dependent on the weather, you slung on a crumpled pair of jeans or shorts and a t-shirt. If you had to go out, you wore trainers, almost exclusively. And sometimes, just sometimes, you didn’t even bother to give your hair – and maybe even your make-up, although I personally like to spend at least a week in summer dressed as Ziggy Stardust, just for kicks – a second glance. Now you may not admit it, but this would be a world of bliss. Except for the Ziggy themed days, which frankly can be a pain in the arse. Go on, give it some thought…

Nice, isn’t it?

I haven’t ironed a shirt for over 6 weeks. And, let me tell you, when I do iron a shirt I’m pretty damn precise. No corners are cut and each one can take quite some time. So my break away from this is absolutely fantastic. The same can be said for polishing shoes. I haven’t even looked at my work shoes for the entire summer. I’ve slobbed around in Stan Smiths, Nike runners and even flip flops without a care in the world. I’ve worn t-shirts and shorts for days on end – different ones, I’m not an animal. I’ve gone sockless, like some kind of ageing surfer. And now, within hours, I’ll be back in a routine of wearing a suit, shirt, tie and brogues five days a week. All of this formality – and I love to look smart – weighs me down. I don’t miss the days of suddenly remembering, I need to iron a shirt. But I’ll miss not putting a great deal of thought into what I wear. I know, that as an adult – almost a fully functioning one as well – I shouldn’t find any stress in this, but I do. And you would too if you were annually given a massive break from it.

Lots of people don’t realise something really, vitally important about the summer break. And when they find out the truth, it can prove difficult to handle. But, for the uninitiated, here it is. We get paid for the time off. It’s a question I’m quite often asked and when I answer that yes, of course we get paid it can lead to meltdown for some. And while I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of this fact here, I would ask this. If you got paid to take 6 weeks off work, every year and do anything you liked, or even nothing at all, would you miss that when it was gone? It’s simplistic and almost boastful, but I really, really like getting paid for not going to work. It’s not just what gets taken away that makes returning to work for those in education a stressful and sometimes even miserable time. Undoubtedly, what happens when you get there can grind you down as well.

After 6 weeks away from work we inevitably return to what’s referred to as a ‘training day’. Now without swearing it’s hard to express my negativity about these days adequately. But, suffice to say, I’m not a fan. Training days used to be relaxed affairs. You’d have an initial all staff meeting, a department meeting and then be left to your own devices to get organised. This meant that the pay-off for sitting through two mind numbing meetings was the joy of pottering. Bliss. And it meant that I had time to sort out everything I needed in order to be ready for the new term. But not anymore.

Nowadays, with education it would seem moving in a far more corporate direction, training days are…what’s the phrase? Oh yes…’a massive pain in the arse’. An all staff meeting can last hours while various people tell you about things like ‘vision’ and ‘missions’ while referring to you all as ‘guys’. So lots of my favourite words then. The schedule that you’re given might as well come with a match to destroy it as time and again people talk beyond their slot, so to speak. And that’s not necessarily a criticism – when talking in class or conducting an assembly or a staff briefing I inevitable run over time while getting carried away at the thought of just bunging in another joke or better still, talking about myself. But after 6 weeks away from the job, I’m not in the mood – or headspace if you’re under thirty – to be talked at. In fact, I’m probably not listening. And I’m not the only one. You, dear colleague, are probably not listening either, so that later when we get together in another meeting, none of us has the first clue about where we work anymore, let alone our ‘vision’.

On the first day back at work I will almost certainly be given a schedule of where I have to be at any given moment during the day. And, when I read said schedule, I’d bet my mortgage that I will whine like a small child something along the lines of ‘Why do I have to go to that?’ And this is because, after 6 weeks gone rogue, I have regressed to kidult. And now this kidult is being forced to behave like a proper adult once more. Three days previously I was playing Scalectrix with a ten year old or burying my face in a chocolate muffin while watching ‘A Place in the Sun’ or ‘Homes Under The Hammer’ and now someone far more skilled at adulthood is banging on about their mission. Don’t tell me that 6 weeks off is long enough!

It gets worse. At some point you will be faced with a mad scramble to gather together things like exercise books, a diary, a planner, pens etc. Bloody stationery again! Inevitably, you will get to a store cupboard to find it’s already been ransacked by the dreaded young, enthusiastic colleagues who were ticking it all off their desk planner while you stared at your classroom walls for a moment that turned into 20 minutes! But it’s OK, because you will rise above this stress and have the last laugh by entering their classrooms once they’ve gone home, to pilfer the books that you missed out on, while telling yourself that your 20 years service to the teaching profession allows you such privilege! Little do you know, that you’ve forgotten to pick up any of the set texts you’re meant to be teaching, because year in year out, you don’t actually look at your desk planner.

More stress will come in the shape of things that others have planned for you. For instance, I dread the Duty Rota email like no other email across the year. Even writing about it makes my blood run cold. Will I get outside duties again? Because believe me, winter in deepest Dewsbury is like, well…summer in Dewsbury really. Rain, wind and more rain. And then there’s the issue of who else is on duty. Will I share a duty, will I know this person, will I have to actually speak to them? This year I’ve been blessed in that although I’ve been outside I’ve had good company. Someone of a similar cynical mindset to me (cheers Paul). But what awaits me this year? In terms of conversation I only really do subjects like football, music, football and moaning. And so if I’m lumped together with someone, what do I talk about? I mean perish the thought that someone wants to talk about education. And what if it’s one of those younger members of staff, someone in their twenties? I can’t escape the fact that I may well have to stand on duty with someone who I’m old enough to be the dad of. What can I talk about? These people are off living a life, going out, travelling, seeing bands, while I’m inevitably battling for control of the telly with a teenager at home. It may well be easier to just see the doctor and get signed off with stress at this rate! (If you work in HR, that’s a joke. I’ll explain jokes at a later date, but I’m not going to get signed off work with stress).

And there may well be other surprise bits of responsibility. Because while I know that the Duty Rota is coming, it’s not beyond a more senior colleague to have a surprise up their sleeves with my name on it. In the past for instance I’ve been assigned as a ‘buddy’ for newer members of staff. That’s right, me, a buddy. Imagine being so shit at life that you got me as a buddy. I think I managed to catch up with this person twice across the year, partly because I’m fairly useless, but also because they had already been assigned a mentor. And so I spent far too much of the year worrying that I wasn’t really helping, while simultaneously wondering what my job might be as a buddy. If it happens again I truly feel for the poor thing that’s landed with me. I’m not exactly sociable or talkative, I’m fairly certain I can’t solve your crisis and I have a tendency to furtively leave the room when colleagues cry. I’m genuinely shy and don’t actually like meeting new people. Clearly someone sees something in me that I simply haven’t got. Some buddy! But this is the kind of thing that we face in those first days back.

Once the initial training day is over we’re then left with facing new classes. And this truly is a battle of wills. Pupils are trying things out to see how much they can get away with while I’m, as usual, maintaining a heavily sarcastic streak and well, seeing how much I can get away with, really. If I have a Year 7 class I always feel that I have to appear ever so slightly cheery and friendly, which again is quite the battle due to the fact that I’m not in the least bit cheery or friendly, but I have to make the effort in their early days at ‘big school’. After all, by the time they reach Year 8 I’ll simply be a familiar grizzled and sarcastic figure for them so the odd smile at this point probably isn’t going to harm any of us. It does add to the stress of the return to work though.

Further worry will arrive in the form of new seating plans and trying to work out just the right mix of pupils in order to keep classes stable. This is complicated by the need to have certain types of pupil sat in certain areas in order to keep any observers happy when they look at data. Ridiculous really. And another time consuming exercise that for at least one of my classes will be inevitable forgotten about for far too long, resulting in chaos every time they walk in and find that there’s still no seating plan. Later, I’ll kid them that it was a deliberate ploy, designed to allow me to observe behaviour, friendship groups etc in order to create the perfect seating plan…eventually.

So there you have it. Having had 6 weeks off work many of us will feel nothing like going back, however much we love what we do. And many more people will not understand the stress. But this time next week, I for one, will be back to being Scrooge, although I mot likely won’t have collected the texts.

Is it too early to start counting down the week until October half-term?