Friday, December 09, 2005

Holidays and work

Reidski's comment in the post below brought back to mind the whole issue of University life and education and people's perceptions of what it entails (please note: I'm not attributing any of these attitudes TO Reidski, but it was in reponse to his comment that I am writing this.)

I know that the world thinks university life / education is a piece of cake. It is possible that someone like Shuggy, for example, might agree with me that despite the years of public debate about education, the perception is still that teaching - all those long holidays! - is a somewhat cushy existence by comparison to other professions. Perhaps it is. After all, it isn't shovelling shit for a living (though metaphorically it can feel like that). Maybe it is in the nature of each of us to perceive our own circumstances as peculiar and even difficult. That's not to say that nothing is good/bad, better/worse than anything else, but differences - between people and experiences - should not be treated as competitive. I'm getting rather tired of the "I've got it worse than you" mentality that seeps through conversations with other middle-class professions: they ask how you are and then after your reply they immediately respond with how how much worse it is for them. Sorry: I wasn't aware how we had to all just go one better with how crappy things are. (I have the Monty Python sketch running through my head now: "house?" you were lucky....")

Anyway, let's just take the forthcoming period towards the end of term and into New Year. I've booked the 22nd off my holiday entitlement. The University physically closes at the end of Thursday 22nd. Monday and Tuesday are Bank Holidays. Wed-Friday 28-29 the university also keeps its admin doors shut. The 2nd Jan is another Bank Holiday. So I am off work from the 22nd December to the 2nd January inclusive. I am happy to admit that compared to many working professions, this is more holiday at Christmas than most would get; although, I personally think that given the hours most people work in this country - unpaid as well as paid - we probably all deserve more holidays than less (I don't think the American standard for 2 weeks would work here at all, and I'm both terrified and admiring of how they can manage on so little).

Am I lucky? Yes, undoubtedly. My job isn't physical, dirty or mundane. And I do love it: it is hugely rewarding. But that doesn't stop it being emotionally exhausting, intellectually tiring, administratively complex and, in terms of hours in the day, overloaded. We've had around a 1/3rd increase in student numbers contacting our service this year. But we've unsurprisingly had no corresponding increase in staff (for some good reasons - vital staff training and professional development, new staff taking over etc - it could even be argued we've decreased our staff numbers). I'm tired of having to take work home just in order to keep as behind with things as I am doing... Yes, we almost certainly could be more organised, as every instititution often can be; but the key problem is we are doing too much, and the danger is that we're going to start doing it badly.

We do need to reassess what we do and how we go about it. But ultimately the work we do and the way that we currently do it IS good and IS worthwhile. It's just there is too much of it for us (let me say "me" and avoid putting my colleagues in with my take on things). I could not take work home at the weekend; but that would mean reports take three weeks to produce rather than two. Frankly, when I'm doing one of these assessments per week, I can't keep three weeks worth in my head at a time to interpret my notes: two, I can just about manage. But thanks to delays and illness and scheduling, I got off on the wrong foot with this task and I can't get straight with it. the plan had been to do the assessment in the morning and write up in the afternoon. That has not happened (the first one was scheduled for the afternoon - not my choice or control); then I was off ill; and it was a very complex report to write (a difficult situation, again not entirely within my control - though if I had had more experience I may have been able to deal with it better but it was my first). I have been playing catch-up ever since and despite blocking time out for specific tasks... well, its not easy to say to hysterically anxious people "sorry, I can't see you for a fortnight: please go and delay your breakdown until a more convenient moment."

As Cloud sang at me this week: "You care, you care a lot."

Also, riffing on one of our favourite films: "a study support tutor's life is intense; a study support tutor's life is always intense..."

I know, I need to relax and switch off, but it is easier said than done. I could also dow ith having greater backbone for ignoring people and telling them to bugger off. I'm too saft for my own good....

6 comments:

HolyhosesRob said...

People who bring up the "long holidays" thing about teachers make me mad. School teachers have to put up with unbelievable amounts of stress. People's kids are horrible, especially when they run in packs - as they do in school. Noise, abuse, threats of violence...

And there are misconceptions about university teaching, too. Unsocial hours (evening lectures), conferences to attend (I personally hate having to spend nights away from home) and all that pressure to publish. The so-called holidays are supposed to be used for research and writing anyway.

Which is before you get to the politics and the back-stabbing.

Rob said...

Rather scarily, the other Rob said pretty much exactly what I came in here to post. Except I'm not a lecturer (it's Hilary who teaches in an FE college).

Maybe I should change my name officially to EineKleineRob...

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

It's the double Rob effect!

Yes, I have to be careful to check which one I am replying to now!

Nice you boys to both drop by...

HolyhosesRob said...

I hasten to add, EineKleineRob, that I'm not a teacher myself - but my wife is, and I empathise.

Reidski said...

That Reidski is such a tosser - he's off from the 22nd until Jan 2nd. He also doesn't say that he gets an extra day off every bank holiday, he gets the afternoon off when his department goes out for Christmas dinner, he got the afternoon off last week on day of the work's christmas party and he gets every other Friday afternoon off. And, believe it or not, the organisation grants him and all other employees a day off in December as Christmas shopping day.

Therefore, Reidski's comments on the previous post were not to be taken seriously, cos the Reidski really really does have respect for those such as teachers and those who work in schools, colleges and universities and can't stand it when those (including his own dad, two of whose children are teachers) criticises the amount of "holidays" teachers get, because the Reidski always has in mind the fact that he walks past one of our local teachers going to school at around 7.15 EVERY morning and thinks that this particular teacher is not unique.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

It's alright Reidksi, I did get the joke: honest. It was just anot starting point to give me something to post on that allowed me to vent a little and get over my hump of despair.