Three Months Holiday a Year: The Common Misconceptions of Teaching

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend-of-a-friend. This is how it went:

Them: So, what do you do?

Me: I’m a music teacher.

Them: Oh, so you’re on half-term at the minute?

Me: Yes, I’ve been on half-term over the last week.

Them: It must be great having three months off a year…

Suffice to say, the conversation didn’t last very long.

I’ve been a qualified music teacher since July 2007 and have been employed in secondary schools on a permanent basis ever since. This is not the first time I have had the ‘three months a year’ comment directed towards me, usually by people (friends included) that have no experience or understanding of the profession. I used to be furious at this, now I usually just roll my eyes and change the subject of the conversation, but for some reason the comment really irritated me yesterday.

Teaching used to be a highly respected profession. Used to be. This has changed dramatically over recent years and in lots of circles we are now regarded as glorified babysitters that are paid far too much, have far too many holidays and spend more time striking than we do in the classroom. The subject of teachers and education is the catalyst for furious debates across the media and I’ve read many scathing newspaper articles about ‘the state’ of British schools, usually written by people who have never worked in any area of the profession.

1: ‘Those who can’t do, teach.’
It is often thought that teachers only enter the profession because they have failed in their initial career choice. I trained as a classical violinist at a music college, with the intention of becoming a professional performer. However, a few years into my degree I realised that I didn’t want to be a musician anymore – the amount of competition and elitism that exists within the classical world was too intense for me – but I had always enjoyed teaching others and working with children. When I left university I was employed as a Learning Mentor in a school and was offered the chance to train as a music teacher, which I took because it was an exciting opportunity. I am not a failed musician – I still play in a professional string quartet – but I made the choice to become a teacher because the job is fulfilling and challenging. Most of my teacher friends knew that they wanted to be a teacher and so went into their training as soon as they had finished their degree. Some even did a degree in teaching and education itself.

2. The quality of teaching has diminished.
I remember both the inspiring and the incompetent teachers from my own school years. I remember an english teacher with no behaviour management skills who’s lessons consisted of making students read out their stories that they had written for homework, science lessons copying out of a textbook, an entire music lesson listening to Mike Olfields ‘Tubular Bells’ without any explanation of what we were listening to and what the purpose of it was and food technology lessons spent listening to the teacher yell and scream at the poorly behaved members of the class. A friend of mine was assaulted by a teacher she had an argument with and another teacher had a romantic relationship with a student from the Sixth-Form. I left school fifteen years ago, and the school that I went to was considered to be a good one…

The teachers that I have worked with over the years are good. In my current school, they are excellent. They are enthusiastic, know their subject inside out and they spend hours developing new and exciting ways to teach in a way that will engage their students and encourage them to learn, with great results. Yes, in my career I have witnessed a few examples of indifference and incompetence, but the majority of the teachers that I have worked with are excellent practitioners who strive to bring out the absolute best in their children. If anything, my experience is that the quality of teaching and learning has improved.

3. Teaching is easy.
Imagine this situation: A group of 20 – 30 youngsters walk into the classroom. Each have had a totally different day. One may be feeling ill, one may have had an argument with a family member before the school day began, two or three may have fallen out during lunchtime, one has been involved in some silliness in the previous lesson and is angry because they have been disciplined by another teacher, one may have a family member that is ill in hospital and one may have split up with their boyfriend of two days. They’ve been to four or five lessons before they reach you, the weather is cold and miserable, they’re tired and want to go home.

Your job is to engage them in a calm, relaxed manner and in a way that is suitable for each child’s learning style from the minute they walk into the room. You have to be aware of what every single child is doing at all times, that they understand the content of the lesson and that they demonstrate this by making great progress. You have to remain positive, give praise, encourage and motivate, apply sanctions where necessary and make sure that you finish the lesson on time. Each individual child is set a target grade that they must achieve. If the child doesn’t reach this target, we as teachers are held accountable, regardless of the many barriers to learning many children have.

Easy, right? Now multiply this by twenty – one – the average number of lessons a teacher does a week.

4. Teachers work from 8.30am till 3.30pm.
This is perhaps the most irritating misconception for me. This is my average day.

7.15am: I arrive in work, set my laptop up, answer my e-mails and get any paper resources that I need ready into small piles in my room.
8.15am: I go to a staff meeting. I have one of these each morning with different groups – some are faculty based, some pastoral, some are whole-school.
8.35am: My tutor group arrives. I register them and give them notices and hand out any letters that they may need for the day.
8.45am: I begin my lessons.
3.00pm: The students go home. I then begin an extra-curricular activity – choir, coursework catch-up, one-to-one coaching, small ensembles etc.
4.15pm: The remaining students go home. I then print off resources for the next day if I need them, have meetings with parents or other members of staff and make phonecalls home to other parents.
5.00pm: I go home. I get changed, have something to eat and sort the cats out.
6.00pm: I get my laptop out. I mark work that the students have emailed me from Year 12 and 13, plan lessons (I try to plan 48 hours in advance), create resources, complete reports, develop schemes of work and mark various BTEC folders.
10.00pm/11.00pm: I have a bath and go to bed.

This is an average day. This doesn’t include break and lunch duties and meetings. It doesn’t include time taken if a child comes to you with a problem. I go to the toilet once in the entire day if I am lucky. However, if I have a concert, I’m guaranteed not to get home until 9.30pm. If I have a parents evening, I arrive back at 8.00pm. The marking and planning still needs to be done, so I get to bed at about midnight. I also spend many hours over the weekend doing the same thing, and I have been into school over the weekends for rehearsals and concerts.

5. Teachers have three months holiday a year.
This is what I do during the holidays:

  • Host coursework catch up sessions. In an average half term, I will be in for three of the five days from 9 o’clock onwards. (I also pay for pay for pizza – for some reason this seems to encourage the older students to attend). I don’t usually get paid for this.
  • Hold workshops and rehearsals. Over this last week I had twenty primary school children with me over the course of several days, in which we did singing workshops with a concert at the end. I wan’t paid for this.
  • Plan lessons, mark completed work, develop schemes of work, assessment criteria and accompanying resources on both paper and the school VLE, assignment briefs, fill out data spreadsheets and analyse it. The last time I planned a scheme of work it took approximately 35 hours. An average lesson takes two or three. I may be sat on my couch instead of in a classroom, but the work is the same. I am not paid for this.
  • Put up displays. I go into work, create useful display items on the computer, print them off, cut them out, laminate them and stick them up. It takes hours to do one display. I have eight display boards that need updating regularly. I am not paid for this.
  • And do you know what? I go on holiday for a week or two, like everybody else does!

The point of addressing these misconceptions is to try and dispell the myths that surround some elements of teaching. I like my job, accept the workload and enjoy what I do, but i’m growing a little irritated by the remarks made by the ignorant. No, I don’t risk my own life like my fireman friend does or save lives like my doctor friend does, but I work hard and I do my absolute best to make a difference.

65 thoughts on “Three Months Holiday a Year: The Common Misconceptions of Teaching

  1. As a former teacher in the US, I used to hear variations of this all the time.
    The quote I always keep in mind (although I can’t remember who said it) is “Teaching is an easy job to do poorly, and a hard job to do well.”
    Nice post!

  2. Suzie, I am just so amazed and impressed with you and many other teachers I know. I volunteered with a language resource teacher who cared so very much for every child that she looked tired and worn. She gave them everything she could and seemed to be afraid they would fail in life if they didn’t do well in her class.. I tried to persuade her that they could still fail grade one and be a success in life. These six-year olds and their future meant more to her than they could possibly know. The world needs teachers such as you and her.
    Jean

  3. Respect is something that is missing in todays society, respect for the police, for doctors, for teachers, respect for each other and in themselves. I have worked with so many children over the years and very few showed respect for those around. Children learn from what they see around them and if they are seeing disrespect, they will copy it, they see in on tv, there are childrens programmes showing adults being made to look foolish at the hands of children, most of all they learn it from the people who are charged with looking after them, mainly their parents. I have seen adult shouting and swearing at teachers because they have had a note home about the behaviour of their children, I mentioned this before, I had asked a parent if they would talk to their child about behaviour in my craft class, I am trained sufficiently to spot the behaviour of a naughty child and a child with behavioural issues and all his mother could say ‘well its not his fault, he is waiting to see someone about adhd’ I really wanted to say was ‘Get off your arse and try being a parent for a change instead of letting him run wild and dies whst he likes’ but I bit my tongue and smiled and said if he carried on he would not be allowed back. He came back the next week good as gold, the following week back to his naughty self.
    Teachers and the staff that support the teachers and children work so hard, under very difficult and enegy sappy rules that common sense has no part in education and what those at the coal face know what is right by experience and know what is right for the children, its all decided by faceless monotonous drones who follow guidelines by people who was last in a classroom when they were 15.

    What should be happening is give the classroom back to the teachers, put the respect back into teaching, raise them up on pedestal and make it a criminal offence to harass any school staff. There are less and less young people going into teaching because the uni fees are to much……teacher training should be free, take the fear out of secondry school teaching and give all teachers the full support of the UK government.

    Just my thoughts on the matter ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. You’re preaching to the converted as far as I’m concerned. I go wild when I hear all the crap people spout about the teaching profession. My dad was deputy head of a comprehensive school, and I used to sit at the kitchen table as he worked during the holidays – he never had much time to spend with us once he’d finished all the exam organisation, lesson preparation, marking etc. He loved teaching and funnily enough, his students still remember him – just like the French teacher I had, his passion for his subject was catching. Good on you, and as for the detractors to the great profession…. nil illegitimi carborundum ๐Ÿ˜€

  5. Pshhh, teaching is hard. Everyone knows this, but for some stupid reason many hate acknowledging it. As a kids’ swim instructor and English tutor, I sometimes want to tear my hair out because knowing how to get kids to listen and to behave is a SKILL. Also, knowing how to make information accessible to people who aren’t experts in a field is a skill. That’s why plenty of college professors suck at their job– they know how to talk about their fields with other experts. but not how to teach it to beginners.

    Besides, if there weren’t teachers, how exactly would kids learn? Not every parent can/ wants to home school..

  6. Suzie, you have put into words what I’m sure every teacher feels. I know I certainly do! So many people take for granted the hours and hours of planning and preparation that go into lessons, never mind the break/lunch times and afternoons given up for extra-curricular rehearsals for concerts, school productions, etc. I love my job so much and couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but I get so irritated when people think we teachers have it easy. I spent my half term arranging music for my Concert Band, writing exams, and updating GCSE and A Level notes. However, if we took those three months “off” and didn’t do that extra work (that we don’t get paid for), I imagine there would be some very unhappy parents!

  7. I’ve been teaching for a while now. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, even though not on a long-term basis. I consider it a very dignified and significant profession. I loved the thoughts you put together in this post. I have to say, I completely agree with everything mentioned here. Loved your post! And, by the way, your Freshly Pressed post brought me here. So, Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  8. This should be a front page news article, in the UK and the US and probably everywhere else. You’ve written what it means to be a teacher, all the dedication and hard work that goes into the profession. Most teachers also continue their own education beyond their first credentials and constantly earn certificates and diplomas that increase their skills and usefulness to their schools.

    Now let’s look at the parents. Nothing is demanded of them past the registration of their kids. All else is optional. There are many excellent parents who send to school kids who are prepared to study and engage, who have done their homework, and have a positive, respectful attitude. But so many parents, and the number seems to increase every year, do not teach their children to respect their teachers or value their education. Too many parents think teachers are their kid’s adversaries instead of seeing them as advocates for success and achievement.

    That anyone would write so often as you do about teaching indicates the passion you have for your task. Your students are lucky to have you, their parents are lucky you are their kid’s teacher.
    I certainly know how hard you work and how much you deserve to be valued for your skills.

  9. I used to believe that I wanted to teach (I come from a family of educators) – and then I realized that I don’t really like children. I didn’t think it was funny when my friends joked that THAT would make me a perfect teacher. I had amazing teachers when I was growing up – teachers who lifted me up and inspired me to be the very best I could be – who found a way to pass on their love of learning. Nowadays teachers who shine and inspire are few and far between – your students are lucky indeed.

  10. I sometimes think I might want to be a teacher. Your post makes it sound very difficult. Now I’m not so sure.
    I don’t know where you got the idea teachers are highly paid. From what I can find out here in the US, they are not paid much at all.
    I found your post here through the wordpress NaBloPoMo Opinionated Mans post on sharing these posts ๐Ÿ˜‰ Good job writing an explanation on teaching!

  11. I did quite a bit of voluntary work in the local schools as my children went through them. I could only ever manage up to seven children at a time. I am in total awe of anyone who can contain AND teach thirty plus children. I also did some one-to-one research with children, so I knew I was messing up the teacher’s days as I pulled kids out of class individually. The staff were amazing. After a child’s parents, teachers are the greatest potential for good or ill in a child’s life, they should be the highest paid, highest calibre and most respected profession and I, too, am sick of the way politicians and press harass and demean teachers and mislead the general public. You have my respect and most of the parents I know, so hang in there.

  12. I totally understand your perspective, education is a full time more than fifty hours a week commitment! Also, having chased after and taken over 45 credits towards my Master’s to ensure my keeping (but alas, did not) my job, most people are always seeking further education… I am sur this is an eye opener for some, but I really “feel your pain!”

  13. I never ever think that teaching is easy. I once had a professional that needed to teach others and I could feel that teaching others is difficult and I need to prepare a lot before stepping into the role of teacher.

    Speaking of my former teachers in school, I still remember those who were passionate about their subjects and tried to convey knowledge to us, their students. Some teachers might be very strict but I knew that they just wanted the best for us and I always feel grateful towards them.

  14. Pingback: Should parents be able to take over their child’s school for non performance? | Don't Label My Kid!

  15. Bravo, Suzie! Needs saying loudly. I too love my job. My classes get the best of me. Children are capable of drawing on all your resources. By the end of the day there is little left for anyone else. But you do it because you hope and believe you are making a difference. It’s a privilege to teach but it is disheartening when others dismiss it so lightly in terms of workload or dedication. Like you, I mostly choose to roll my eyes at these comments now. Thirty years in the job. All the teachers I know who have retired look marvelous. That speaks for itself!
    Good on you, Suzie. Needed saying. Now back to eye rolling. ;)x

  16. I have never been a teacher in the proper sense except in teaching my five children how to fit into the world, but I have three family members who are teachers and I know how hard your world is. My niece’s school has just had a grilling from Ofsted and past with flying colours. She teaches 11 to 16 year olds and I know from just being a mother just hard it is to hold their interest. One relation has only just become a fully fledged teacher and she is pretty and looks very young, yet she controls the minds of a class of 28. I know I couldn’t so the message shouldn’t be ;โ€˜Those who canโ€™t do, teach.โ€™ but ‘Those who teach shape the world. ‘

  17. Reblogged this on HarsH ReaLiTy and commented:
    I actually really appreciate teachers, even the ones that broke me down a bit. In Korea teachers are highly respected, perhaps even a little too much in some instances in the past, but regardless it is a profession that should get all of our respect. This is a great post and thanks for sharing! -OM
    Note: Comments disabled here please comment on her post.

  18. Teachers today do not get the respect they deserve. Half the time they go above and beyond the common notion of teaching itself. Today they are expected to be their pupils friend, councillor, social worker, mediator and goodness knows what else.
    I would love to become a teacher in my field. I would be honoured if anyone thought I was worthy enough to teach the subject I love.
    I think teachers need to be respected. It is a hard job. Not everyone can do it. We can all recall that one teacher we hated and learnt nothing from.
    In all honesty, I think society needs to value education more. Then I think it might start valuing its teachers.

  19. Wonderful post. Teachers are facing the same problems here in the United States. I always tell people that if I broke my wage down by the hour I’d be making less than minimum wage with the amount of hours I work. Thank you.

  20. You cover the waterfront. When I served in the Peace Corps, their motto was “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” I apply that to the teaching profession as well, but only for those dedicated teachers who lead their students to think for themselves and to express those thoughts in clear, coherent, creative writing skills, who don’t care if they are liked or not. They only care that their students continually strive to raise their potential and to learn for a lifetime.

  21. Great post! As a teacher, I have heard variations of the above and yes, many people do not appreciate the “heart” and professionalism of caring, motivated, professionally trained teachers. Teach on and know that you are making a positive difference in this world and in the lives of students.
    x

  22. Yeah, that is the dread of being a teacher. In fact, I tend to shy away. After having working experience, I realised I perform better with one to one teaching. Helping my friend in revising for her exams and even teach my son about art. Recently, I work as assistant teacher and this helps me to overcome my shyness.

  23. I am a teacher in the US. They don’t get it here either… I once posted my schedule for summer on my teacher profile it didn’t help but made me feel better lol.

  24. Nobody says that teaching is easy. It isn’t. but there are a lot of professions with long hours, challenging conditions. But NOBODY gets 3 months off to recharge their lesson plans etc. They have to do it on the fly and be lucky to get 2 weeks vacation. Work is hard.

  25. ‘Round here, people who do not teach like to “remind” us that we are so lucky because we are paid to do nothing (ie: we are paid during our 7 weeks off at summer, etc.) What they fail to understand is that our salary is based on the 200 days that we do work and instead of being paid uniquely during those 200 days, our salary is spread out so that we receive pay during the whole year. It used to bug me, but I’ve taken to telling people who complain “you know, every school around is looking for new staff, why don’t you come and teach, the school board will even pay for you classes so that you can get your accreditation”. The answer is always invariably “no way, I could never teach, I’d go crazy”.

  26. I know personally how hard teachers work. I am amazed at their dedication and commitment to their profession. My daughter is in sixth form and all her teachers are in before 8 am even on cold dark snowy days and leave home nearly at 6pm. Most of them commute long distances too.

  27. I love this post. It’s so interesting reading what it’s like for the teachers. I actually DO respect my teachers (although it’s difficult for the ones who are really incompetent; I feel really sorry for him but the new Physics teacher – who, of course, was given to 2 of the GCSE classes cos’ THAT makes sense – is reported to have told his other class that he doesn’t believe in gravity because he used to be a Vicar. I just… and he suddenly went off ‘ill’ and we’re pretty sure he had a mental breakdown. I do respect him, but I mainly pity him) but I’m pretty much the only one. Some of the others are so disrespectful and so ungrateful it’s shocking, and they will hate teachers mercilessly just because they’re ‘strict’ or they told them off, claiming they’re ‘favouritists’ and that they ‘don’t like them’, exaggerating and telling obvious lies that people are foolish enough to believe. It’s insane.
    No, I respect teachers.
    Is it odd that I’ve read this and I’m still interested in being a teacher?
    No, I admire teachers in general and I definitely admire you…how you manage to get through all of that I don’t know; I’d get overwhelmed immediately, procrastinate, and be caught in that bitter cycle. Ugh. Xx

  28. Reblogged this on Lessons from my daughter and commented:
    Out of respect for my mom, my sisters-in-law and my step mom (all teachers). As well as for all the teachers I’ve had over the years and the ones working with my daughter. I have a tremendous respect for what you all do and I am sharing this amazing post so others can understand better.

  29. I so enjoyed reading this. You have articulated what teachers are up against without sounding bitter! And this is without mentioning that they also have to put up with a changing syllabus every year as the result of a government that won’t stop making changes seemingly for change’s sake. I understand your frustration when people make certain comments; my mum was a teacher so I get annoyed on her behalf. It is only since she left the profession recently and gone into another area that I have been able to see her at sociable times, and without the dread of an unfinished lesson plan hanging over proceedings. Thank you for writing this, I hope that it will change some minds.

  30. If this is of any consolation to you, although it isn’t to me, I could just translate your post and stick it on my Italian blog, as it is. The very same half-joking half-serious comments. The only thing I can add is about holidays: plus my vacation periods are fixed in times of the year when going anywhere is a bit too expensive for my salary. Sob.

  31. I get the same kind of comments from people about my English teaching job in Japan. It is hard work. I teach a lot of kids, as well as adults, and the kids can be both fun and very challenging. I have one class that is often out of control, but that’s what all teachers say about them. They’re a group of 3, all 6 years old. One boy doesn’t have much interest if he’s losing any games. Another boy has a very low attention span. And the girl will throw a temper tantrum if she’s forgotten a word or if anyone tries to help her. She once threw a 30 minute tantrum because she forgot the word “like.”

    The adults are generally quite good, but when asked a question that is way out there, completely unexpected, and something only linguists could answer, I do have a very difficult time trying to explain. It’s also difficult to make a dry topic into an interesting one.

    Other people often say we have an easy time. I get some time between lessons, but I’m busy preparing and entering my teaching records. I don’t do any work outside of my job, as everything is at the school, but I work a full week. I get 10 days of paid holiday a year. I don’t get national holidays off, I work them. Others who have tried the job and quit because they didn’t get all the free time they’d imagined they’d get complain about how those who continue to work in this job are gullible chumps. Well, guess what? We work just like everyone else, full time, and have no time for goofing off at work. Who has time for that in a real job? Those are the people who think teaching English is an easy job in Japan, then discover that they actually have to work. Poor guys. Many of them recently graduated from university and have never had a full time job. Well, welcome to employment!

  32. Reblogged this on Librarian Eyes and commented:
    Such a fantastic post about what it’s actually like to be an educator. Nothing irritates me more than people commenting on teaching life who have no idea, yes we get a lot of holiday and yes we “finish” work in the afternoons but as a teacher you NEVER stop, everything you do, every time your brain is functioning you are thinking of new things you can do with your kids, new ways to engage them, it doesn’t ever stop – maybe for a couple of days in the summer where you don’t have to start planning for the new year but that’s about it.

  33. As a retired music teacher (although I still teach private lessons) married to a retired teacher I enjoyed reading your post. Too many people haven’t a clue about what it takes to be a really good teacher. Parents never hesitate to call you at home, expect you to stay late because they don’t get off work, and other wants/needs outside of that unrealistically short day. And, unfortunately, way too few tell the teacher when they’ve done an outstanding job. Well said. Thanks!

  34. Reblogged this on mungman and commented:
    This really nails it regarding just how irritating it must be as a teacher having to deal with the popular myths surrounding the profession. I know a few teachers, and it’d drive me up the wall, especially with education routinely treated as an easy target for politicians on the make.

  35. Bless you for writing this. Every teacher everywhere needed this said on their behalf. There are hours and hours of unpaid time put into every school year. And there are few jobs more important than that of those who teach future generations.
    If people realized that we all work hard and quit thinking that everyone else has it easier, we could make one another feel more appreciated I think. Thanks for putting all this into words!

  36. Great post, Suzie! My parents were both school teachers and I had a brief stint in teaching. It is NOT easy by any stretch of the imagination. Thanks to you and so many others out there who do so much to help students of all ages be better than they were.

  37. My mom taught for a handful of years and I actually considered it for a while when I was in high school. Teachers are definitely under-appreciated and are an important part of our society. They shape the children who are our future, and that should never be discounted.

  38. Pingback: How To Know When You’re A Teacher | suzie81's Blog

  39. Reblogged this on Suzie81 Speaks and commented:

    Today I am one of over one million public sector workers that is on strike in the UK. While I am lucky to work at an excellent, well-managed school, my profession is in crisis. Here are the common misconceptions of teaching.

  40. I think teaching is one if the hardest professions there is. I have two middle-schoolers, and cannot imagine spending even one day in a middle-school classroom. Tipping my hat to you and all teachers.

  41. I teach high school English in the States but it sounds like we face similar situations and attitudes. One reason I became a teacher is to instill the love of literature into young minds. Another reason is to be off when the kiddos were off. The long holidays to me are compensation for the long hours and low pay. Frankly, a nine to fiver wouldn’t be my cup of tea anymore since I’ve gotten so used to the marathon pace of the school year. Summer is my cool down period after the race.

  42. Amen to all the above. We teachers are constantly learning and striving to be better, even the books I read are more professional than recreational. And if we want to be the best at our job, like most of us do, thinking about school sometimes CONSUMES us, and we have to consciously make a shift. I’m getting better as the years go by. Just yesterday someone asked me how much I was enjoying my 3 summers off! It was really a challenge to not ramble off what I was filling my summer with to be prepared for the next year. Like you, I just say, “yes.”

    Suzie, have you have you heard of Taylor Mali? He’s a poet that has written about the honor of teaching and making a difference. Keep fighting the good fight!

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