The myth of gained time

One of the many lies we tell ourselves about the summer term is the one about ‘gained time’.  For teachers, struggling through the spring term and faced with the inhumane amount of work that surrounds preparing young people for exams, the thought of ‘gained time’ in the second summer half term can seem like some sort of salvation.  A holy grail.


According to the NUT, gained time is “the time during the academic year, particularly in the summer term, when teachers who take examination classes or groups are released from some of their timetabled teaching commitments as a result of pupils being on study or examination leave.”

I had so much hope for mine, I wanted prepare fantastic lessons, overhaul our departments resources, clean out the cupboards in my classroom and file all the papers on my desk.  In short, I had planned to do great things. Well, in my head at least.

But, alas I have not.  My time has been occupied with one-to-one revision sessions, UCAS week and helping with personal statements and end of year administration tasks (thanks SLT, nothing I like more than filling in a grid or two).  We are planning a new linear curriculum and we have managed to bash out the overall structure but I have failed to add any of the detail.  To be honest, I have yet to pick up a Year 2 book, other stuff keeps getting in the way.  I have done some planning but nowhere near the amount I had thought about in my head.  At the moment, this holy grail seems like nothing more than an empty cup.

I do not mind any of these other tasks getting in the way of my great plans but I am a more than a little frustrated and disappointed in myself.  I feel deflated.  I feel I have failed.

However, it is these feelings which are interesting to think about.  I am forgetting where we are in the emotional landscape of teaching and learning.  Part of me began to wonder why I had built up these few extra hours into this magical time and what purpose this idealisation might have?  When things are difficult, one of the common defences is to ignore the pain of the now and focus on a bright, perfect, idealised future.  One that does not involve the compromises or stresses that surround the difficulty of the day-to-day.  We have all heard this one from others – things will be better next year.  But my emotional response to my failure to complete things feels much more that this idealisation complex.

I often find that the endings and beginnings are often the most difficult times for me.  Of course, I am finding difficult to throw away the work of the students who have just left me.  A part of me is not yet ready to let them go, so I have let ‘their’ stuff linger for longer than it should.  It sits on my desk, in my cupboard with a fantasy that our time is not over, that our bonhomie will not be forgotten.  I worry about them.  Will they find their feet now they have flown my nest?

On the other hand, is it any wonder why I am finding it difficult to plan the detail of the new material for my new classes. As I am a sixth form teacher, they do not really exist yet but they are occupying my thoughts.  There is no class list but I am beginning to imagine their types and individual needs.  They are an unknown and I am already anxious about meeting them.  Will they be as good as my previous class?  Will I like them?  Will they like me?  How long will it take us to establish a rapport with each other?  Will they think I am a good-enough teacher?  Although September is still many weeks away, I can feel it’s breath breathing down my neck.  It looms like a dark cloud on the horizon.  My rational self is looking forward to meeting my new classes, all that fizzing potential and positivity.  But this other part of myself is anxious about the beginning.  Perhaps my anxieties help explain the idealisation and deflated feelings I am having about my lack of productivity in my gain time.  This quest should never have been about the perfect use of gain time, instead a bit of self care and recovery should have been in order.

Perhaps we should not call it gained time.  Perhaps it is better called emotional recovery time.