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Make Your Half-Term Break an Actual Break

23/10/17

Half-term! Hooray! A break! I’ll be able to do so much. I can read that book I’ve be waiting to read, decorate the bathroom, take the kids out, sort out the garden before it gets too cold, visit the parents, do a big shop to stock up, go out for a meal, go to the theater or the cinema or the museum or the gallery or maybe all of them!

And then… presumably go back to school for a rest, like we always say on the first Monday back after the holidays.

If you are anything like me, you have a long list of things that you want to do in the half-term break. Either you will do them all, and then go back to school feeling exhausted, or you’ll do hardly any of them and feel like you’ve wasted your time, and then when you hear about the holiday your colleagues have had paragliding down Everest, you’ll feel even worse.

When I asked my Twitter followers what it took to be a good teacher a few weeks ago, one tweeted, without irony, that you needed to be ‘good at moaning’. I didn’t rise to the bait, after all, what could I say that wouldn’t look what he was accusing me of in the first place? But, maybe, he had a point. As a profession, we are often overworked, stressed and disrespected by amongst other professions. To many, we are the part-timers that only work between nine and three-thirty for a few months of the year. They don’t see that we are the people that work all hours of the day, worried about the pupils in our care, from their nutrition levels to whether our lessons will stretch the bright ones while supporting the weak ones. Results and funding are the tip of an iceberg of concerns. We’ve got to deal with the practicalities of classroom and behaviour management, in sometimes really difficult situations, while dealing with the office politics of every work place.

Parents were surprised to find me in my classroom a week before the start of term once. I pointed out that classroom preparation didn’t happen by magic. This, too, came as a surprise.

At the moment, there is a real concern about the number of teachers suffering from stress or stress-related illnesses. Even more worrying is the number of teachers leaving the profession. Last year, I faced this choice and decided to stick with it, but three members of my family left when given the opportunity, and didn’t look back.

So, what can be done about it?

Make your half-term holiday an actual holiday. Relaxing is as important and essential as anything else you can do and will have a positive effect on your health.

Do go and see your parents and loved ones. The time you spend with your family and friends doesn’t have to involve going somewhere ‘special’ like an over-priced theme park or adventure holiday centre. Go to the woods, go to the park, get the family involved in doing the gardening together (however reluctant they may seem) and make memories that you can look back upon. Take photos you can Instagram later. If it rains, so what? Dress for the weather and make mudpies. You can wash the clothes; the memories stay forever.

When you are outside, be Mindful. Take a moment to listen to the wind, taste it, smell it, feel it on your cheeks. Let the rain fall, taste the drops, smell that tangy aroma, splash those puddles. Kick the leaves and revel in their rich scent, and dance in them as they fall around you. Create pictures with the colours the trees provide you. When walking, feel the ground under your feet, and the differences in the earth from hard ground to soft, springy grass and squishy, squashy mud (don’t forget your wellies).

If you have been saving a book to read, by all means read it. If you want to go to that gallery or museum or film or play, go. But, and this is a big BUT (not as big as that snooty Reception teacher’s butt, but hey, let’s not go there), don’t always save them for the holidays. If these things bring you joy, do them whenever you can. Set the stopwatch on your phone and work out how long it takes you to do what you love doing that doesn't have anything to do with school. I bet it’s shorter than you think and being an excellent organiser like all teachers usually are, you’ll be able to slip that in to your day.

Recently, I read an article in a magazine that recommended getting up an extra hour early to meditate and do yoga stretches. I’m no great early riser, so I am reluctant to suggest anyone should do anything that I struggle with, but it does mean that you are guaranteed a bit of time when you can be solely you. You’re not a mother, father, daughter, son, Miss, or Sir – you’re free to be who you are. I liked the morning drive to work for the same reason when I had a half hour commute and no phone synced to the car, but as a supply teacher, those days are gone.

There’s something to be said for quiet time. Desiderata, often said to be written by Max Ehrmann, says that we should 'remember what peace may be found in silence’ and meditation is something I find very useful. My dad used to come home from work and look at the roses in the garden, which was his version of meditation.

This half-term, be you. Be quiet, be noisy, be busy, relaxed, whatever you are comfortable with, but do take time to be Mindful. Take time to enjoy the small things around you, from the scent of fresh oranges to how it feels to be held by someone who loves you. Time spent reflecting and thinking is a pause, a moment to help you gather your strength. It is never time wasted.

And that colleague paragliding off Everest? Bet she photoshopped that picture on Instagram.

Emma Middlemiss

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