The Calm after the Storm
The bells could be heard chiming from the Abbey nearby in the beautiful city of Bath. In front of me, a steady procession of locals, tourists and citizens from all walks of life wandered amongst the historic buildings, shops and cafes. Spoken Italian, French, English could be heard in the air, a gentle intertwining of laughter, exuberance and excited deliberation about where to eat. I spared a glance upward, noticed that the skies were clear as the birds soared past majestic spires above. The River Avon continued its gentle flow through the city centre as I took another bite of my panini. That was my life as a teacher living in the United Kingdom.
Everyone has heard of the tidy collection and mouth-watering assortment of weeks off that a school teacher has in the UK. It is beyond comprehension. Words that come to mind include: Dream job, amazing, unfair. What you quickly learn teaching in inner-city London is that you earn those weeks off. Every single day. Particularly if you have a long-term placement in a school of certain pedigree. You start early, you come home late. You lesson plan in the little time you have to yourself at home, and diligently mark the work of students during any remaining time. Consuming food is lost somewhere in the chaotic process.
Teaching is certainly unique and cannot be truly compared with any other job. It simply cannot be. However, as most know who have been in this profession, you like doing what you do. You scrape and claw your way to some balance, you feed off of your fellow teachers’ strength in overcoming worries and stresses, and you work together. Then, just when you think you are going to break – like a boxer desperately fending off a vicious attack in the latter rounds of a fight, seconds left – the stroke of term’s end strikes. You close your laptop, you shove the exercise books into the dusty closet and you smile. Your life is yours again.
Capitalizing on these breaks takes on many forms. You have the weekend enthusiasts, dashing off to Holland or Tenerife for the weekend, for instance. Then you have the hostel backpackers, their ventures a little longer and certainly eventful. The Ryan Air intrepid voyageurs are my favourite lot. They are dauntless in the face of last minute bookings - no luggage - embracing the random locations and unknown airports in order to get close to the cities of their dreams at a fantastic price. You learn to grasp the bargains in London whenever you can.
There are also those, like myself, who love to explore the local cities, culture and landscape. As everyone should. I find the whole of the United Kingdom absolutely fascinating. The variety in towns, villages and cities is immense. Stately mansions and woodlands pepper the landscape. Medieval architecture and ageless universities. The history beckons you at every turn. That is just one way of looking at it, though. There is so much to see and do.
I had been to Oxford earlier that day, basked in the presence of grandeur and that splendid institution of knowledge in the city center. The picturesque Cotswolds and surrounding scenery guided the imagination and resonated with such beauty. Celtic traditions and Saxon artifacts could be found at a moment’s notice. Protestant churches and burial mounds welcomed my wide eyes of inquisition. There is always something new to see, to learn about, and to inspire us. What more can one ask for? Ah yes, the mysteries of Stonehenge awaited me later that day.
Teaching is such a rewarding profession, in the way you shape young minds and also personally. You teach and watch the young generation – our future – falter and flourish. You have an insight into such a variety of personalities, inspirations and hopes. If one of your students fails or gives up, it bothers you and upsets you. You feel responsible, but you always try again.
However, teaching is as much about you exploring your own path of further growth and discovery as it is helping your students begin their own journeys of knowledge and understanding – whether that is through reading on a daily basis, participating in extra-curricular activities that help the community, fundraising or just traveling. It is there to be done, opening our eyes and fulfilling us.
As I sat outside the café that day in Bath, I remember thinking back to a 1707 quote from Dr. William Oliver I read while exploring the famous Roman baths in the city: “If they can’t be cured by drinking and bathing here, they will never be cured anywhere.” I feel much the same about half-term breaks. If this time off, filled with travelling and self-betterment does not cure the ailments of stress and burdens that teaching inevitably brings about, I do not know what else will.
I always smile when I recall the joyous ringing of the Abbey bells in Bath.