There has been yet another round in the media of negativity directed at teachers, thanks to politician Andrew Laming’s comments about our working hours and super long holidays. I sometimes like to read the comments beneath the articles to see where the general public falls on the issue. It’s really heartening to know so many understand that as a group, teachers are valued for the work they do put in.
When the opportunity unexpectedly arose I took part-time hours this year due to feeling that the pressure of a full English teaching timetable was currently unsustainable for me. Last year I regularly ended up with 90 essays to mark in a week. 45,000 words to check and mark within a seven day turn-around is quite the challenge.
So sheepishly, as I’ve been reading the comments of other teachers justifying how many hours they martyr on the altar of the profession, I’ve been thinking I’d better pull my socks up! But having experienced burnout and subsequent depression and anxiety before, I’m always hyper-aware and alert to the red flags of over-doing it. Despite this, working in a high stress, multi-faceted, rigidly structured environment complete with varying levels of appropriate behaviours has actually turned out to be very good for my soul. As a part-timer I know I have it pretty good.
However, as a parent, yes, one of the reasons I took up the role was for the holidays. I didn’t want to have to do the mad scramble for childcare and also wanted to have the privilege of spending extended quality time with my kids while being also being able to afford some adventures for our family.
It feels oppressive to try and live up to the halo-bearing model of virtue sometimes expected of teachers. I'm sure members of other helping professions experience like-wise. I often do leave when the bell goes, because I can. This allows me to participate in the other important area of my life that begins where I pick my own kids up from school. Then home we go so I can spend generally two more hours planning for the next day of work while the kids unwind. Otherwise, I do try to switch off as often as I can and focus on my other creative pursuits, and more reluctantly the chores. Doing these things equips me with the stamina and focus I need to be effective in the classroom.
When you are bustling around with 1000 people every work day, having pastoral conversations, being well prepared to inspire and motivate – oh, to motivate! – it feels essential to carve out some ‘me-time’ as well. Yes teaching is a job, but each school is also a microcosm community filled with strong relationships that feel remarkably like extended family at times – complete with a few black sheep, of course. Time out is important!
Imagine my surprise after all this reflection when I did a quick calculation and found that this week even I’ve clocked up 36 hours of work. This time comprised of face-to-face teaching, lunch duties, parent-teacher interviews, lesson planning, a couple of afterschool meetings, and writing incident reports. I didn’t get around to the four hours of online professional development. 36 hours also doesn’t account for the optional excursion last night – taking students to a drama performance in the city – because that fantastic opportunity didn’t feel like work at all. The joy of watching thirty 17 year olds laughing their heads off at a Shakespearean comedy was payment enough. Sure I wasn’t able to have Friday drinks with my clientele but I had a fantastic time regardless.
So, 36 hours on a four-day-a-week salary. Incidentally, I only get paid for 20 of them because, you know, we actually officially work five hours each day.
Perhaps I’m doing a reasonable enough job after all and I don’t have to group myself with this hypothetical set of teachers Pauline Hanson said ‘aren’t cutting it’ for our students. Funny, but I haven’t actually met any of those slackers yet. My colleagues work ethically, update their knowledge regularly, and pour in a whole lot of love and expertise in their subject areas.
One thing I know for sure contributes to higher levels of student accomplishment is high attendance. If they’re not coming to school it’s hard to catch up, even if we teachers have all created online classrooms now. This week I’ve had 99% attendance in my classes every day for three days straight. Usually it’s more like 80%. You bloody bet I’ve been making sure to congratulate my students for their professional work attitude. When one doesn’t turn up I tell them the next day how much I missed them – because I do. It matters that they be there.
So there we have it. I like contributing to the workforce. I really like working with teenagers. I'm prepared to cop criticism on the chin to do so.
But please don’t take away my holidays Mr Laming ... I really do appreciate paid time-in-lieu.