Apologies for my use of slang – blame frustration and/or the several glasses of wine I’ve drunk. And – before we get going – this isn’t a post that targets teachers that do; or those that don’t. As an ex-teacher no longer planning or marking on an evening, my ‘social’ life pretty much revolves around social media. Sad – I know – but while many of you might be off to the boozer on a Friday night, I’m most likely squeezed between two snoring kids; trying to eat a Pot-Noodle without waking them or accidentally ‘Liking’ inappropriate Facebook posts. Yet it’s in these hours of boredom that we get to see the true extent of what’s going on in the teaching-world.
Social media – particularly Facebook – has slowly become both the most supportive and hostile staff room on the planet. Take every teacher characature you’ve ever seen or heard of, and whack them in a private group together with booze, piles of marking or no marking, and a million reasons to be proud and/or pissed off. Like going to the pub to celebrate your engagement with your mate whose divorce just came through; or complaining about the dog-hairs on the sofa, to your neighbour whose dog got hit by a car and had to have it put down last week – it’s a banana-skin riddled path through that staffroom. And we’ve massively slipped up.
We’ve – somehow – managed to normalise getting shafted. Maybe we’ve read too many posts from crying NQTs; got used to the comical ‘Marking at the weekend with a glass of wine…’ photos; and have subconsciously programmed our brains to reply to desperate, over-worked colleagues with the instant pick-me-up of: ‘Hugs x.’ What have we done? We’ve become so used to not having a work:life balance, that we refuse to acknowledge they exist. In our lovelyness, we’ve instead taken to applauding the very things we moan about; replying to ‘Managed to get ALL my marking and planning done on Saturday so got Sunday with the kids!’ with ‘GO YOU!’ Honestly. Who celebrates losing 50% of their weekend? We do. Because we see no other way; so we’ve normalised getting shafted.
It gets worse. I recall one thread in a group I’m a member of; a post written to alert us to the possibly there might just be another way. I always enjoyed a work:life balance; never at the expense of children’s progress; to the point where I was once handed a flier for a training course called ‘Lazy Outstanding Teaching’ – I took it as a compliment although I did notice the flier handed to my year-group partner introduced her to ‘Moving Into Management!’ Like me, this post – from a parallel universe – was written by someone who didn’t mark every evening; who wasn’t prepared to give up their weekends; and who pleaded with the group to – basically – grab the job by the balls (even though it’s genderless), give them a twist and challenge those things now branded expected. Bravo. Finally, a post to show there’s light at the end of the tunnel; that there is hope; and that the Holy Grail of a work:life balance truly exists. So we get behind the person; we ask how; we listen; we learn; we admire; we aspire. No we don’t. Instead we accuse; we suggest something’s wrong; we list all the extra responsibilities we’ve had forced on us and instantly calculate that he/she cannot possibly fit them into that model; we use words like impossible; we get defensive and – before you know it – that glimmer of hope that there might be another way, disappears again. And we go back to our pile of books and misery.
I see examples of unrivalled support for each other. I see strangers become colleagues and then colleagues become friends. And I see many strange colleagues. But if the teaching profession wants to halt – or at least slow down – the fleeing of NQTs; the rising cases of long-term sick for mental health issues; the crying; and the normalisation of being shafted; then something has to change. We need to start turning to the mavericks; to the people we’re secretly jealous of; to the lazy outstanding teachers and we need to start asking them for help. We need to stop judging those ‘Out the door by half-past four’ (there you go, Mr Mc) and start celebrating them. I spent ten years darting between parked cars to leave school at 4:00 to get home to my family – I shouldn’t have been hiding. We need to find those schools with the happiest staffrooms; seek advice from their leaders and find out what makes them tick. We need to flag them up; to champion them and learn from them. For years, our love for teaching and passion for the progress of the kids in our care, has been used against us to cement this notion that a school’s pupils are its most important people; when – all along – the most important person in your classroom was you.
I’ll do what it takes to help teachers improve their work:life balance. Through my gorgeous wife’s illness and since her passing last year, I’ve seen how fragile life can be. Granted, your Maths books won’t mark themselves. But if we can start to move together towards a shift in our mind-set; to a more positive; more selfish; more kick-ass vision of our worth; then we’re up and running. And I won’t have to write the word ‘shafted’ again.