All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…

You have arrived at your summer centre all bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to get stuck into your work as a teacher. The first few weeks are fantastic, in fact, work and play blur into one. You may have just finished teaching for the day but you promised some of your students a kick around on the football pitch after dinner. Later that evening, you find yourself helping out with the arts and crafts activity.

You look at your watch and it’s already 10pm. Just as you were thinking of getting some sleep, you get a call saying there is an impromptu soiree going on in the staff room. You decide to go along, just for 10 minutes…

It’s now after midnight and you have managed to drag yourself away from the lively chatter. You are tired but happy to have had such a stimulating evening talking about teaching and travelling. Actually, if work was not beckoning, you could stay there all night. Now let’s skip forward a few weeks…

Things have certainly changed. This eager teacher is a shadow of their former self. Long gone is the rush to get stuck into anything and everything. That abundant optimism has turned to a melancholy that nobody saw coming.

What has happened to this person? All everyone hears are complaints about the most trivial things. The constant moaning is bringing the mood down in the teachers’ room. There is a giant elephant in the room and everyone is walking on eggshells to try and not say something that might be misconstrued. Only this morning someone said something after the teachers’ meeting that was taken as a backhanded compliment. Raised voices, tension in the air… oh dear, what happened?

I should make it very clear that I believe summer school is a wonderful place to work, but it can be stifling for a minority. The fact that you eat, sleep, work and socialise in the same location can take its toll. It can manifest itself in a number of ways but quite often, you don’t see it coming- it creeps up on you and bang, it’s got you. This malaise is the twin brother of homesickness as it shares similar symptoms. The victim may put it all down to feeling tired or feeling a bit off colour but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt the real diagnosis is Cabin Fever.

As a DoS, it’s important to keep an eye out for those who may be about to fall victim. It will sour the environment, affects everyone and has a knock on effect when it comes to teaching. Without sounding too fatalistic, it’s quite often the case that teachers live as well as work with you- so as they don’t go home at the end of the day, there will be no respite either from the problem.

So what can be done? It’s always good practice to do the following:

  • Remind staff to get off campus at least once a day, even if it’s just a walk to the local shops. You might be surprised to know that some teachers don’t actually leave the school for weeks. You can forget there is a world outside.
  • Contact friend and family. Seeing the same people day in, day out and having similar very focussed conversations is not healthy.
  • Sleep, sleep and sleep some more… I can’t stress this enough. It’s very easy to skimp on sleep, and catching up at the weekend is no good either. Teachers work very hard and need to be well rested. That bright eyed and bushy tailed teacher I mentioned at the beginning will not be like that for very long if they are exhausted.

Summer school is all consuming and creating a disconnect is very important for your own well-being. Yes we work hard, but we should be mindful of our mental welfare. This issue is particularly acute with teachers who have never done a summer school before. As a bit of a veteran, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that as soon as your working contract has finished and you leave, you quickly adapt and all the drama is soon forgotten. A week down the line, it’s no more than a distant memory.

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