The Teachers' Countdown to the Holidays; Ritual or Ruse?
What is the one thing more guaranteed than death or taxes?
A teacher knowing how many weeks to the next holiday or break! Whether its the first day back in September, and knowing its 8 weeks to mid-term, or during the Christmas play and concert madness, knowing it's just 2 weeks to go. You can be sure someone in a school knows how many weeks to the next school holidays. These countdowns are often seen with a rye eye by non-teachers.... "holidays again" is the usual throw away comment and it can an embarrassing jolt to get we we are caught doing it. Yet, these countdowns are a ritual that many teachers take part in, whether overtly by randomly reminding everyone in the staffroom each Monday or more covertly, with holidays planned and internal anxiousness for the holidays to come. However, is are these countdowns a ritual or a rouse?
Ritual - a series of actions or type of behaviour regularly and invariably followed by someone.
The ritual of the countdown can be very helpful - when there's a tough day, tough class or tough week, the feeling of grounding yourself in the amount of time left until a holiday, can get you through the day. It can sustain you and help and motivate you. Saying "its 2 weeks until mid-term" can be better than a bar of chocolate or a glass of wine to fix your problems!
The ritual can also help with your work and planning, working against a pre-determined timeline can keep you focused when certain pieces of work need to be covered. It means that you can project manage your class from goal to goal with specific time constraints in mind.
The ritual at a micro level - countdown to the weekend, serves workers across all professions and jobs really well, and teachers just expand it to a more macro level. I think that without the ritual and the perspective the countdown gives, we would have far more burnout within the profession.
Ruse - an action intended to deceive someone; a trick.
The countdown to holidays and weekends often allow us to escape the feelings or realities of the present moment. A daydream of sorts, to support and protect us from an uncomfortableness or something tough that may overwhelm us if we have noting to look forward to. It could be looked at as a evolutionary trick teachers have adapted to help them wade through a very unpredictable job.
This unpredictability of teaching is inherent in the role. Looking forward is a way of dealing with this. However, as the teaching calendar year remains the same, it can become counter productive. This pattern of always looking forward, can prevent us from really living today. The anecdotal proof? The colds and flues and sickness that all teachers succumb to, just as the holidays hit. The defence of looking forward even tricks or bodies into waiting to get sick. So if we are putting off getting sick what good stuff are we putting off?
I have met teachers who think that the countdown is not counter productive and they really find it helpful. Me, I find it really anticlimactic - I always convince myself that the time off will be when I get more done, all the jobs! However, often if I am unhappy in school and putting off this feeling by soothing myself with the countdown, I am still unhappy when the holidays hit.
So I stopped the countdown in the traditional patterned way. I book a holiday for mid September but don't do anything in the mid-term. So I look forward to things in a more unstructured way, this way it doesn't become a crutch. I have treats on a Thursday and not a Friday.
So why not embrace the countdown, but in a different way. It might help you live for today and look forward to tomorrow all at the same time.