Are Teachers Too Stressed Out To Enjoy Christmas?

28th November 2016

Like many of you, we’ve recently been enjoying the big supermarket Christmas adverts. Most of us had a favourite (Buster the Boxer was unsurprisingly popular) but watching the Sainsbury’s advert struck an unfortunate chord with many of Sainsbury’s employees. We couldn’t help wondering if it struck a chord with teachers too…

The advert features a busy family man (voiced by James Corden) who is despairing that he has no time to spend with his family as he is too swamped by commuting, work and Christmas shopping.

He is so overwhelmed he doesn’t ‘have time to breathe’ so he builds clones who do his work while he spends quality time with his family over Christmas, where he really ‘wants to be’.

Many criticized the ‘hypocrisy’ of the advert, pointing out that many Sainsbury’s shops will be open on Christmas eve and Boxing day meaning their staff will have to come into work instead of spending time at home, where they ‘really want to be’….

But wait, I hear you cry, aren’t teachers lucky at this time of year? If the children are off, then the teachers and school leaders are off too, aren’t they? Where they ‘really want to be?’ Jammy things, sitting at home with their families, they don’t even have to go back to work until after the New Year!

This is both true, and also a complete fallacy.

A study in 2013 showed that half of school leaders either actively worked or were pre-occupied with worry about their school on Christmas day and the workload situation has grown worse since.

A 2016 EPI report found that teachers in England work longer hours than their peers in many other countries, with a fifth of teachers in England working 60 hours or more a week. Teachers in other countries are not far behind either, with teachers in the US working 53 hours or more.

Worse still, in a recent survey, 82% of teachers admitted that the workload expected of them was ‘unmanageable’ with a whopping 73% also admitting their health had been affected. This doesn’t sound like teachers have any ‘time to breathe’ either.

The Christmas holidays should be a time for teachers to switch off and recharge their batteries, ready for the next busy term of lesson plans, emails, objectives, assessment, Ofsted inspections, school plays, detentions, parent’s evenings, marking and more. Oh, the marking.

But instead they often find themselves using the time to catch up and even get a head start on all that work looming. So unlike the Dad in the advert, teachers might be physically at home, but they are likely to still be working or worrying and not spending quality time with family.

Brian Lightman of the ASCL said in 2013 that ‘Many school leaders tell us they are feeling under an enormous amount of pressure at the moment and it’s understandable that they would feel the need to try to catch up over the Christmas holidays".

We know that this year the pressure is worse than ever, with 43% of state school teachers polled in March saying they were planning to quit within 5 years.

The results of a 2015 study desperately insisted how imperative it is that teachers take some time off for themselves over the Christmas holidays to avoid ‘burnout and exhaustion’ and this is ‘incredibly important for their psychological health’.

Dr Paul Flaxman, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology at City University London, says that “Ensuring that teachers have regular opportunities to recover from the considerable demands of the job will help to prevent burnout… it is vital that these regular breaks in the school calendar are conserved.” This doesn’t just mean not working, it also means not obsessively worrying!

We know this is easier said than done. Deputy Head Chris Hildrew says “Teaching is an all-consuming job and there isn't a day that goes by (including Christmas) where I don't think about it” while Headteacher Sue Holman explains “You can’t leave it at the front door”. But teachers, please try - even if your students have exams coming up, there is only so much you can do to help, and even they need some time off.

One practical thing teachers can do of course, is to get some HELP. Teachers may not be able to clone themselves but ConquerMaths is designed to save them literally hours of time, with automated marking and regularly updated assessment and progress reports. The system automatically emails these progress reports to parents, leaving teachers the chance to actually relax.

We should all encourage teachers to take this break, these are the people who are working with our children, who are meant to be inspiring the young minds of the future. We don’t want these people to be so exhausted that Christmas clearly doesn’t bring any joy anymore, otherwise kids may wonder, what is the point of it all?

In fact this applies to us all – if you are lucky enough to have time with your family, make the most of it and cherish them so you can all come back ready to be awesome in the New Year.

At ConquerMaths we officially give everyone permission to relax as much as humanly possible.* Merry Christmas everyone!

*Unless you have exams in January, in which case, get back to work! But seriously, do make time for a little festive fun or you’ll go mad...