Opportunity cost

It’s sometimes difficult to maintain a balance between my working life and my ‘other’ life. I’m not ashamed to admit that – I suspect that most teachers would say the same, and I still maintain that my employer and my pupils get a good deal, if you want to put it that crudely. I think that deal would be better still if the parameters and benchmarks by which we define good education were more realistic.  It tends to be the administrative and statistical tasks that take a back seat when time is short; the one thing I absolutely will not compromise on is lesson preparation and resourcing.

The fact that I probably already sound vaguely apologetic about this is conditioning – the cumulative effect of many years spent in a profession almost permanently on the defensive. But this is not meant to be a defensive post.

Last weekend (the closest to St. Patrick’s Day) was the most hectic of the year for an Irish music band such as mine, and we played on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. The Sunday gig was awesome – a huge barn of a bar (under railway arches) full of people clapping, cheering and generally heaping on the plaudits. As the Irish say, It Was Mighty.

I had of course arranged my work so that this could happen – but I got thinking about the opportunity costs of the workplace, and this is not only an issue for teachers. I wondered what the balance actually was, that afternoon, between the amount I added to the sum total of human happiness by performing music for three hours, versus the same time spent (as it usually would have been) doing school work.

One can extend this concept: given the general length of the British working week, how many pro-social activities are withering so that we can keep our noses to the grindstone? We may be adding to the specific riches of our employers – but are we subtracting more from the collective richness of our communities and nation? If so, that is quite an externallity they’re getting away with, and it can only offset any good we’re doing.

It goes beyond the relative trivialities of playing music. For example, I ruled out standing as a parish councillor on the grounds that I could not do it properly and still hold down a full-time teaching job – but local democracy needs volunteers. Then there are my duties as chair of our communal property management company that often get scant attention, when they really deserve more. That’s without the intermittent neglect of my friends and family simply because my time and attention is on the job. And I haven’t even mentioned the number of weeknight music sessions I automatically turn down, let alone my vague desire to take another degree…

Teachers are, almost by definition both energetic and socially-motivated. They are the kind of people who are inclined to get stuck in and make things happen. They have the intelligence, organisational and communication skills to make things work – and if they weren’t perpetually exhausted, they’d have the energy too.  It’s reasonable that our paid work and professional responsibilities have a signifcant call on us – but with the increased demands placed upon all of us in society by our voracious workplaces, just how big a price, in the form of wider personal and societal wellbeing is being paid in the process?


3 thoughts on “Opportunity cost

  1. Very true! I think employers are expecting and taking too much. We apparently live to work, not work to live. I would love a return to the genuine 9 to 5 culture of my youth — as it is, I believe we lose out on possible contributions to wider culture. A few years back, I enjoyed amdram. I don’t anymore, partly because of work pressure. There is most definitely a loss of the “common wealth” of communities here

    • And sadly, even in what is allegedly a pubic service, the signs of those at the top reaping disproportionate benefits for themselves are all too clear. Hypocrisy is a most unattractive characteristic, particularly when it is practised in the name of supposed vocation…

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