The Staffroom: As the holidays approach, beware of The Slump

It's an all-too-common experience for teachers as a break begins - but here are some ways to manage it healthily

It's an all-too-common experience for teachers as a break begins - but here are some ways to manage it healthily

8 Jul 2024, 5:00

There are certain experiences so universal among a group that their naming is simple.

In teaching, there’s The Dream. This dream usually goes along the lines of apprehension, fear and the unmasking of incompetence.

For me, the Dream tends to involve something like being brought into a year 9 class halfway through a lesson and halfway through the year. (I haven’t taught Year 9 for over 25 years.) I know none of the students’ names. They are running riot, and without their names I can’t control them. I am supposed to be teaching them Physics. Except I don’t know a thing about it.

It is, quite literally, a nightmare. But that is just the universal teacher experience of The Dream.

There is also The Slump, which is no doubt equally familiar to everyone in education.

You are running on full throttle, working 50- to 60-hour weeks and putting things off until summer comes. You pass the point of normal tiredness. You’re using up reserves. Then you’re running on empty.

Thankfully the holidays arrive. At first, it’s a weekend like any other. You don’t even notice. You spend some time with the kids, you do some work. Like any other weekend. Then, on Monday morning, you get up later than normal (after waking bang-on as normal), and something happens.

Maybe you carry on with your work, trying to get it done at the start of the break so you can relax later. And you make the fateful decision to take today off. A reward. You clean the house. You go into town for lunch.

And then out jumps The Slump to club you about the back of the head. 

The Slump is that moment in a break when you feel yourself jolt as you come off the escalator. Your mood drops. Your energy is gone. You ponder the meaning of existence. You wonder how much longer you can go on in life like this. You crash.

The technical term for it is leisure sickness

That’s The Slump. Then all those things you so looked forward to doing don’t really gleam like you thought they would. You don’t relax over that coffee as much as you thought you would. Because you’re living in the shadow of the Slump.

The thing is, the Slump doesn’t last. It’s fleeting and it’s normal. So let yourself slump. But then get yourself back up again. There’s a break there waiting, a well-earned pause in proceedings that is not to be wasted. 

The technical term for The Slump is leisure sickness. It is common and seems to hinge around the movement from work to non-work. It may be a reaction to a drop in the stress hormones which have kept us going and, ironically, kept us healthy. The safe moment to slump comes and our bodies make the most of it. 

The presence of The Slump in your life should come as no surprise if you are a teacher, but it should come as a warning.

I have learned a thing or two over my years of teaching others. I have found that taking work home was a false economy, since that work took longer to do at home than it did at work.

When my kids were younger, I had no choice about timings: I had to drop them at school or pick them up afterwards. However, as they have grown I have tried to keep my work at work, even if that means going in earlier or coming home later.

When I have managed this, The Slump has not reared its head but slumbered on, undisturbed. 

So my advice is simple. Trace the shape of your slump. Mark out its boundaries. Notice when it appears, time how long it lasts, see when it has passed. And try to ease yourself into the break.

Really, approaching a holiday as a race to the line is always going to be a disaster. That is like driving into a corner at full speed; you will only career off the road. Slow into the break. Keep the work at work as far as you can.

And when you are home, work can then stay in its place. 

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