Holidays for high school teachers?

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the personal views of the authors and do not reflect the views of any organisation we are associated with. Before you begin reading this, it is worth noting that this article was written about workload, and was delayed due to teacher workload demands.

Have you ever organised your own holiday? Then you have some insight to the life of a secondary teacher in Australia in 2019. You’ve researched your destinations; priced hotels, flights and transfers; and identified the attractions to visit and scheduled the activities you will undertake on this trip. Perhaps you’ve generated a spreadsheet to manage costs and an itinerary for your family so you’re all on the same page and can enjoy an awesome trip. A rewarding and enjoyable experience for the organiser and the participants. So what has this got to do with teaching?

Over our collective 20 plus years as secondary teachers, we’ve been the recipients of the usual barbs and banter about the hours we work and the holidays we have and how easy our job is. We’ve been asked several times by our non teacher friends what it’s like to be a high school teacher and we’ve always struggled to paint a proper picture of life as a secondary teacher.

The holiday experience we described earlier is a great analogy for life as a high school teacher in 2019: teaching a secondary class in any subject is a bit like organising a holiday, but imagine, instead of organising the trip for a few family members, you are organising it for 30 passengers (teenagers), many you may have never met or laid eyes on before, some of whom have already been to the destinations you are planning to go, some that don’t want to go at all, and some who for any number and variety of reasons will find it extremely challenging to attempt the trip.

So in addition to researching the destinations, transport options and organising activities for the trip, you have to also research the 30 passengers that you will be travelling with to ensure you understand all of their needs for the trip so that they all get the most out of it. In addition to producing the spreadsheet for costings and the detailed itinerary for the trip, you must also document all of the adjustments for the trip for every individual passenger who needs an adjustment for the said trip. This can range from catering for various dietary needs through to physical or mental capabilities.

As well as planning for each trip, you also have to go on each trip as the tour guide, gaining the trust of the thirty participants on the trip, helping throughout the trip when they are feeling down or overwhelmed, celebrating on the good days and encouraging on the days when they feel tired, ‘over it’ or simply bored. You have to keep notes on each individual in case you need to call for backup or specialist help during the trip, or in case the trip is not up to someone’s standard and they decide to sue the travel company.

Each teenager on the trip also needs to produce a holiday book of their time on the trip, so the tour guide needs to assist them with this, giving them feedback if they missed an important part of the trip, perhaps even revisiting attractions or activities, while at the same time, others on the trip may need additional stops or more in depth activities to make the trip worthwhile for them, so the tour guide puts these in place too. Sounds a busy job right?

Well let’s throw in the need for the tour guides to provide the parents with a written report and a face-to-face meeting twice during the trip on each individual passenger’s performance, and the trip doesn’t stop for these reports or meetings to come to reality. Are you exhausted reading this yet?

Here is the kicker though: high school teachers don’t have one trip to plan each year, they plan six or seven trips simultaneously each year, often with thirty different passengers on each trip, very different destinations to visit, and passengers joining and leaving the trip throughout the year. Then there is the government that adds well meaning requirements for trips that say your trip through Italy and France must have a stopover in Antarctica, or passengers must take a second or third trip to London, even though they’ve been to all the attractions already!

Now imagine that the same government(s) decide to test the passengers, but instead of testing how much the travellers learnt about the places they visited, they instead spend big dollars on testing to produce data on how efficiently they boarded the plane or how well they packed their bags.

Further to this, the Tour Guides’ Association of Australia requires you to complete and log 100 hours of professional development or training over five years to show that you are competent in planning and executing a trip, regardless of how many you’ve already completed.

Perhaps a way of improving the quality of future trips would be to increase funding to train and develop more tour guides, thus reducing the amount of trips any one tour guide needs to plan and execute at any one time. Less trips for any one tour guide means that tour guides can focus more thoroughly on the participants on the smaller number of trips they are responsible for.

We think we need a ‘holiday’ now, along with our fellow hardworking and passionate ‘tour guides’.

IEU members Peter Collins and Marco Cimino