Coming Back After Christmas: why I’m glad I teach English.
The first week back after Christmas is, to my mind, one of the toughest of the year. There’s the mental build-up that begins a few days before New Year, that niggling voice at the back of your mind that keeps trying to remind you of all the things you haven’t done. Then there’s the realisation that you feel seriously unhealthy after all the alcohol, meats, cheeses, takeaways, caffeine and sofa-time. Then there’s the turning on of the alarm for the first time in a couple of weeks, the sleepless Sunday night and the inevitable groggy start on Monday. Add to that the appalling weather we’ve suffered and the knowledge that you’ll be seeing little, if any daylight, for a good few weeks yet, plus the possibility of a month without booze, and there’s no wonder January is so tough (a friend of mine always waits until February for a dry month, claiming that January is depressing enough as it is. It seems a great idea, particularly because it’s the shortest month!).
For me, Monday was a real toughie. I had to lead staff training in the morning, which I knew would be hard. The last thing staff want when they get back is to be given a load of ideas and strategies to use; they just want to be left to get on with it. And who can blame them? Fortunately we had the luxury of an afternoon in departments to “put into planning and practice” what we’d covered in the morning. This was great as it gave us the opportunity to rejig our KS4 long term plan and to revise our vision of how the course would evolve. We all left that meeting with a sense of purpose and a clearer vision of where we are headed. Windows of time to discuss big issues are so important as, despite best intentions, once the term gets underway we all get bogged down in dealing with the day-to- day issues of teaching and running the school.
The start of Tuesday was also difficult. Seeing the students for the first time since the heady giddiness of the week before Christmas is like watching a stag party emerging the day after the party is over. You try to rally and chivvy them, but they know that it’s dark, cold and wet, and there’s not much to immediately look forward to. I was worried that this would be the shape of things to come over the next few weeks (experience should have told me otherwise), and I prepared to batten down the hatches against the imminent onslaught of those twin enemies of teachers, apathy and lethargy.
But I was wrong. I should have realised I would be wrong. Why? Because, luckily for me, I’m an English teacher. This week I’ve begun Macbeth with my Year 10s (lots of witchcraft, treachery, murder and intrigue afoot) and An Inspector Calls (always an old favourite) with a Year 11 group I’ve inherited due to a colleague changing her hours. I’ve been studying English Renaissance Poetry with Year 9, Orwell with Year 8, and Ted Hughes with Year 7. Quite honestly, the week has just got better as it’s gone on. I couldn’t imagine teaching any other subject and being able to go back with such an arsenal of exciting study material – I have pity for any English teacher who can’t make the first week back a cracker with that little lot.
And therein lays the rub. The holidays are great, and the longer they are the more distanced we become from work, which is what holidays are for after all. But the whole “coming back” fear is, for me, all in the mind. As English teachers, we are perched on top of an incredible legacy of amazing work that we can draw on to inspire and motivate our students, regardless of age and ability. And that’s why, when you teach this subject, coming back is never as bad as it seems.