A Broken Seesaw? : The Work-Life Balance

“Mate, I’d love your job; you start at 9, finish at 3.” I rarely discuss my job with non-teaching friends,the roll of the eyes, the elongated sigh and disguised yawn are enough to deflate any man’s ego. After several years, they have yet to see the implications and demands the role of a teacher have on the individual (and the family), outside the designated teaching hours. “And we pay your wages…”

Before I truly begin, a nod to @JamesTheo blog post on the same subject – it is much more salient than this attempt. See here: http://wp.me/p4osBC-7q

Daylight saving time, the formal introduction to 5 months of perpetual darkness; endless nights which sew seemlessly together. Alas, the jingle bells will be chiming in next-to-no time. Aside from the extra hour in bed, the rolling back of the clocks bring the inevitable encroachment of night into day. And so, what impact on my job as teacher? Well, put simply, exposure to sunlight is saved for PE, break time and weekends. 

Sitting at home last Sunday, attempting to manufacture an engaging way to teach Prime numbers and wading through Y6 writing levels criteria, I decided I’d take a break for an hour and trot off with my 10 month old daughter for a spin on the seesaw and swings. Seesaws, what a wonderful analogy: one side may weigh heavy, but ultimately it seeks equilibrium.

Anyway, off we trotted through our leafy Mancunian suburbia – via a shady brew at the local Cafe Nero (welcome to Tory Britain). As we neared the seldom used seesaw, thoughts emerged:

‘Should I have brought a bottle?’ 

‘I’m pretty sure I should have put a coat on her.’

‘Look at her, not a care in the world.’

‘This is ace, I should do this more often.’

‘At least once a week.’

‘Every other week at least.’

‘Definitely during the holidays.’

‘Do I really need to teach Prime Factorisation?’

‘What is Prime Factorisation?’

‘I should crack on with that block planning this week.’

‘We will just have a quick go on the swings.’

‘Probably should have brought that marking home.’

‘How do all these people find time at the weekends?’

‘I’ll sort maths, then guided reading.’

‘Another 5 then we will leave.’

‘It’s definitely my assembly this week.’

‘She loves this seesaw, God help her if I sit on the other end.’

‘Will I get time to sort stuff out for Parents’ Evening?’

And then the killer, the thought that has resonated since:

‘I really don’t have time for this.’

I may well (by some) be seen as a decent teacher, but it was time for some self-assessment as a Dad. James Theo’s recent blog post motioned to eradicate the unnecessary ‘small tasks’. I couldn’t agree more, but in an age of PRP, ever-growing scrutiny, changes to assessment, evidencing the evidently endless evidence and bureaucratic business, we are well and truly up against it. 

I sat and contemplated (something I don’t have time for either) about ways in which to resolve the issue. What is the answer to guilt-free Daddy:Daughter time? Honestly, I don’t have a clue. The DfE and NUT can issue any number of surveys and logs as they wish, but we know the problem, we just don’t know how to solve it (but please, by all means complete the survey). At one point I contemplated time-tabling when I wouldn’t touch work, not think about it. This in itself is scandalous. I’d love to avoid cliché and poignancy, but ultimately my daughter deserved an outstanding Dad as much as my class deserve an outstanding teacher. 

Time management will never be my forte; if it’s not due imminently, it’s probably going to have to wait. However, the general consensus around at the amount of work, is that teachers need to produce an infinite amount of work in order to complete an average week at school, and it is relentless. Young teachers are stretched ever further and yet, amid a growing bank of evidence that teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate, we seem slow to resolve the growing issues. 

5 minute plans are well and good, but they require the same thinking time and power to complete as any normal lesson plan. If all we had to do was: plan (in a reasonable and personal manner) – teach (the verb from which the noun grew) – feedback (to a point), then surely we would all be more effective practitioners in the role for which we were designed. This quote from James Theo, delivers it more eloquently that I could: “In reality, it is a series of isolated and seemingly proportionate tasks which, when looked at individually, seem innocuous enough.”
Oh so very true, as a profession we are under constant pressure to invent and reinvent / complete; refine; deliver / assess, report and evidence.

Reform is a long process, but it is one teachers must drive if workload is to be truly reduced. Without reform, we will exist in a time where night and day cannot be differentiated. Arriving at school before 7:30? Probably dark. Leaving after 5:30? Dark. Teaching: the direct route to vitamin D deficiency.

In order for a seesaw to be effective, and work as intended, it must offer balance: both of work, and life.

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