I’m writing this blog as ‘just a teacher.’ It’s a bit ironic really; a lot of the time I am quite opinionated, but there is always a little niggle at the back of my mind that I am worth ‘less’ or my opinion is of less value because I am ‘just’ a teacher. I wonder where this comes from? Does it stem from how I’m made to feel, or do I simply put this on myself? If I’m honest I think it is mostly the latter, but it’s there.
So anyway, this morning @ posted a blog entitled, ‘Saving time and ‘work-shy’ managers.’ The actual crux of the blog was examples of things that Chris has put in place within his department to ensure that they have a good work life balance and to ‘declutter their lives.’ It’s full of excellent ideas…but more of that later. I retweeted it with a comment about leaders leaving work before their staff, and received a barrage of comments back. I’ve since deleted it, simply because I didn’t want Chris to be tagged into all the comments, effectively disagreeing with what I said. But I wanted to make it clear exactly what I meant.
Now, in my defence, I am about to start a week ‘A’ in my timetable, or as I affectionately like to term it, ‘week hell.’ I have 2 PPAs in week A, 14 hours of GCSE lessons, a meeting after school and a revision session after school. This week I also need to mark 40 ish mock paper 1s (another 12 have been taken off me to ease my workload), mark for the 7 classes I teach, have year 9 parents’ evening, run a whole school CPD session on ‘academic vocabulary’, write year 7 reports and have some primary school teachers come and observe me to see how we teach literacy at secondary. It’s a busy week, but we all have busy weeks. I’ll be working hard. So I probably jumped too quickly at the mention in Chris’s blog that, ‘if you have a position of responsibility, you must work harder than those without a position of responsibility.’ Yes! I thought, exactly that. And do you know what, I do agree. If you want to be paid more, if you want to have responsibility, then surely, you have to accept that this comes with an expectation to work more?
Now, I’m in no way criticising the people I work for. At the moment, I have 2 HODs who are sharing the role for a maternity cover. They are utterly amazing, not only in their support, but in the fact that they are always there if you need them. They are also completely aware that the people that they lead have ideas and strategies that are useful and should be listened to and implemented if appropriate. They also, importantly know that a full-time teacher doesn’t get a chance to sit down, talk to others or reflect on the events of that day until they have finished that day and that therefore, there needs to be time at the end of the day to discuss any issues before the next day of teaching. This doesn’t mean staying until 8 o’clock at night, this means allowing a bit of time at the end of the day. Of course, there are days where they might go earlier, but they will also give a heads up that they are and suggest you drop them an email that they can reply to later.
I don’t expect everyone to work like me. I tend to stay late at school. I am not an early bird, so don’t go in early, but I have colleagues that are in at 6. I walk to school, so for me it is important that as much as possible, I am not having to carry a lot home. Therefore, I stay until about 6-7 o’clock so I only have planning at home. I tend to be the last, or one of the last ones at work, but that’s how I do it. The important thing is not that my leaders leave after me, but that they are there for a bit if I need them, and that they check before they go that I’m ok. Which they do.
As teachers, we tend to know other teachers that work in different settings, or we hear of things that happen in other schools. One of the best ideas that I personally have heard of, was that the SLT lead for each department, had to go round and speak to all the members of staff in the departments they lead at the end of the day and check that they are ok, or if there was anything they needed to support them. I liked that idea, and the teachers felt cared about and listened to. The worst examples were teachers where their leaders went home by 4’o clock, leaving teachers to support each other with mini crisis, field angry phone calls from parents wanting to speak to the HOD and generally feeling that it was ‘us’ against ‘them’.
Some of the comments this morning asked, but what about leaders with children? You could equally say, but what about teachers with children? Although this is perhaps slightly off the point, I think we have to be careful not to suggest that workers with children are any more valued than those without and it’s a very fine balance. I have children, yes they’re older but believe it or not, once they were young. I chose to have children, so to a certain extent, it was always my responsibility to try to balance both, as I has made the decision to do both. I had the added ‘bonus’ of being a single parent, and to constantly have to consider what was best at that point in time. It is hard, but that was my choice to be in that situation, and therefore my responsibility to arrange childcare, whilst ensuring that I could do my job. When my children were 2 and 4, I used to work in a department store from 9-5.30 and picked my children up at 6. Every penny I earned went on nursery fees and I lived off tax credits. I’m not a martyr, or claiming to be, for me it was just important for me to be doing something to give myself some value other than being a mother. I didn’t have to, so it was important for me to remember that I owed the job that paid me, the same as I did my children and it was my responsibility to balance the two. I work with people with young children, and I marvel at how they manage everything, without letting go of the other. As a teacher, I also have, what many people with children don’t have, and that is long holidays where I could spend time with them. As a child of a Headteacher and a Senco, I can assure you that it in no way damaged me, and in fact I considered myself rather lucky in comparison to my friends. But perhaps this is off topic…
There seems to be a movement, particularly on Twitter, of leaders suggesting that they encourage their staff to have a good work-life balance by going home early. I personally, have a bit of an issue with this. For example, if you have 2 non-contact lessons in a day, you might be able to get the majority of your work done then and not take much home. If you teach all day, then the first moment that you have to do anything is at the end of the day. This seems to get forgotten by *some* leaders who forget what it is like to have a full timetable. The teacher might feel that they have to leave early as that is what the leader wants, but then end up doing just as much work at home. Are the leaders therefore, sure that they have everything in place that their workforce are able to go home early? Surely, therefore, the mark of a good leader is that they introduce strategies, or remove things from the workload of a teacher to encourage work/life balance, but whilst doing so, ensure that they are there when the teacher needs support, and never ever insinuate that you deserve to have a work/life balance, more than considering how to consistently make sure that your staff do, and then wonder where the resentment comes from.
And that is where Chris’ blog is brilliant. He has looked at ways of reducing workload for his staff, and giving them the most important support that he can – extra time, and that is what it should be read for. Look at the amount of time Chris is saving his department – it’s phenomenal. Take that from the blog. I’m lucky that my HODs too have started to look at ways to save time, or to make things more manageable. This year, all our assessments have been staggered to ensure that we are not inundated at any one time. Teachers have been given the autonomy to assess their classes where and when they see fit across a 9 week unit, as long a they do somewhere. In particular, we have introduced code marking and code targets for mock exams, an idea that I had read about and which my HODs listened to and introduced. I have the autonomy this year to mark exercise books how I see fit, whether it be code marking, whole class feedback, more intensive comment marking, verbal feedback, as long as the marking is useful and effective, it’s all fine. If I need to talk about anything, seek advice or support with classes or students then they are there, and they know and acknowledge, that the work pressures of a full-time teacher are no less important than their own. Perhaps the most important thing is that I feel as if I am part of a team, yes my team has leaders at the helm, but we only work well because we are a team.
So perhaps instead of simply shouting that ‘if I want to go home early, then I should be able to’, consider ‘have I done enough to make sure that my team can go home early too, if they want to?’ Instead of saying ‘I’ve never worked this hard in my life’, consider ‘are my team working too hard and what can I do?’ Surely that’s what good leadership is about, and as the saying goes, ‘you are only as good as the team that you lead.’
But what would I know; I’m ‘just’ a teacher.