“Look after your pupils and the school will look after you”.
This was the advice given to me as I started my career by someone who was coming to the end of theirs at about the same time. It may have been true once, but I fear not widely any more. The education sector is one that will take until you drop – and then demand more.
But the benefits of being rested are not imaginary – and rested includes mental as well as physical recharging; it need not mean that one is idle.
Conversations had or overheard in the last few days have brought this to the fore all over again. One concerned the difficulty of spending time (in this case enforced) away from work and the sense of emptiness that it can create. I can attest for this: despite the fact that I never have the slightest difficulty filling my wider life, after periods of particularly intense work, it is easy to get out of the habit of doing other things, and one is left feeling oddly lost once a little spare time does reappear.
Another conversation concerned the need for a period of readjustment once one retires. Again, this is not an unusual phenomenon, and it would be foolish to dismiss the change of perspective that retirement brings. But I would put a large sum on the fact that I am never going to be lost for things to do once that time arrives.
My current timetable involves lots of repeat lessons. I’m reaping the benefits of having prepared good resources in the past, and this combined with judicious use means that my preparation time has been cut noticeably this year. On the other hand the marking load has increased – but given that the frequency stipulated by the school is practically impossible since I do need to sleep, then squaring this circle is always going to be a matter of compromise. I can put my hand on my heart and say that I am doing as much as I can.
But I have also brought my evening cut-off time forward to 9.00. In recent years it was not unusual to be working to 10pm or later. Likewise, my Sundays used to consist of going to our local farm shop and then sitting down to work pretty much until bedtime. I used to do as many hours on a Sunday as during the regular working day. I can say with certainty that this had the effect of my arriving in school on the Monday already feeling jaded.
So I have set a limit to the amount of time spent working on a Sunday, which, I should add is done in addition to blogging time. But we also have some household tasks that need doing, and this evening I will be out playing music at my monthly pub session, of which I have now become Anchor. These things will no longer be made to wait until I can squeeze them in. And the effects of creating more time when I am not thinking about school are becoming very clear in both my mental and physical states.
I’m not for one moment advocating neglect of our pupils – but I still think that we can sometimes be our own worst enemies. That emotional blackmail of ‘always needing to be better’ is a blank cheque to get people to work unendingly. I wouldn’t wish to prevent those who want to from spending their entire lives on their work – though even then, I would question whether it is wise: a heart-attack or divorce waiting to happen? And what does it say about lives lived in such a monoculture? Many teachers genuinely love their work (I might not go that far, but it is still important to me) but as I said, taking a break does, if nothing else, have tangible benefits once back in school.
Another piece of advice I was given is shown below. The important thing to remember is that you can only ever have two of the three options. In other words, if you want something good and fast, it is unlikely to come cheap.
I think education in the past understood this – see that advice I was given. Today’s education scene, as with most of the rest of the modern world, seems to think it can have all three, but that only comes at a cost externalised to someone else. To me, this is not acceptable. In the world of retail, you get what you pay for; you won’t acquire a new Roller for the price of an old banger – point. If I walked in to my boss’s office and asked for my salary to be doubled, I would very quickly be leaving to the sound of laugher – or worse. And yet the system thinks nothing of demanding this when it comes to my workload.
If we really are to have a market society, then teachers will have their price too – and the country should stop expecting them to come in the bargain-basement. It’s not easy, given that we have little leverage in other ways, but the one thing that is still variable is discretionary time.
I will end by re-stating: this is not a call for professional neglect, nor for those who wish to work all hours to be stopped from doing so. But it may be that we do need to be a little more hard-headed when it comes to giving unconditionally of our personal time. Our work is important – but not so much so as to justify the high and counter-productive cost it imposes on many teachers’ lives. That isn’t clever nor, in my opinion, even a sign of extraordinary dedication.
I don’t expect the establishment will like this message – but in the long run, as I have said many times, just why can’t it see that fresher teachers are better teachers? That’s not imaginary.