Sunday, 1 March 2015

Working 9 to 5 – the way I want to work and still be living

I did not wake up one day, have an epiphany and decide to become a teacher. Nor, did God (or any other deity, including Zeus) visit me in a dream and tell me teaching was my thing. Nor, did I fail at something and so I thought, ‘What the heck – let’s teach!’. Nor, did I come from a long line of teachers; a bit like Russian dolls; each one getting progressively smaller. No, I stumbled into teaching. I fell into it. Ten years later I wrote this blog.

I felt I needed to say, before, I carry on with this blog, that I have done other things than teach. I have worked in the ‘real world’, as they like to say. I have worked with only thirty odd days of holiday a year and no long holidays to punctuate my life. But, I am growingly worried about the way teaching has changed over the last ten years. Some days, I’d like just thirty days where I don’t have to think about work. However, that isn’t the case for teachers these days. Before, in the ‘real world’, when I finished work, I actually did finish work. I locked my work brain away and safely stored it until eight o’clock Monday morning. When I left work, I physically, socially, spiritually and mentally left it. Alone. Abandoned. Hidden. Yet, teaching, in part, all those years ago was a bit like that.

Firstly, I am now on-call all the time. I used to be your typical teacher and I’d be out shopping and then I would be occasionally hit in the face with some inspiration for a lesson. Then, until six o’clock on a Sunday I would not think of school. Yet, the beauty of email and the speed of communication and the ease of a sending a message have combined to mean that I can get emailed at any time in the day.  Oh, about anything. Instead of me being an unattainable figure, I am a teaching equivalent of the 24 hour help desk. Got a problem: email the teacher. We are only a few years away from having text messages or phone calls out of work hours. I don’t begrudge resolving problems and I have no issue with speaking to parents. But, I question the accessibility of teaching staff. I am entitled to my weekend, even if I do spend a part of it blogging about teacher stuff.

Occasionally, I have had some issues with my daughters’ school. Instead of emailing, I will usually wait to speak to the teacher on the playground or make an appointment. It has never instantaneously resolved the problem, but nonetheless it was usually resolved in time. Messages are instant, but solutions are not. And, some things are not easily resolved with an email. A phone call is needed. 

A colleague of mine has students email her homework so she can mark it at home over the weekend. I question when her relaxation time actually takes place. Sitting by a computer, waiting for the emails and responding to them isn’t really my fun idea of a weekend. She feels she must do it, or in some way she is letting her students down. She might say it is really easy and it really helps, but I question the long-term effectiveness of this approach if the teacher is constantly thinking about work and not recharging.

In a response to the email dilemma, I have done what most sane people do. Don’t go on my school email account after five o’clock, or at the weekends. The problem comes when you like to be prepared. I am a born scout. I always like to be prepared for the next day, so checking emails is always one of those processes. But, since banning the emails after five o’clock, it has meant that I don’t have to those eleventh hour surprises just before I am about to go to bed that leave my brain swirling with thoughts like a washing machine on the rinse mode. In fact, it leaves me more time for marking.

A person recently moaned to me that they had a hundred and eighty piece of work to mark. My response to the individual was a bemused look. I think there is unwritten rule in education that non-English teachers should never moan to English teachers about marking. Enough said. We won’t moan if you don’t moan. Anyway, the raised levels of accountability in teaching has left us with a tsunami of marking. I never count how much marking I have to do; I just look at it all forlorn in a corner and occasionally poke it with a stick. I teach just over one hundred and fifty students. That is one hundred and fifty books that need marking on a regular basis. Add assessments. Add GCSE Controlled Assessments. Then, add the fact that these students produce lots of work over several lessons.    

It always saddens me to hear people describing their Saturdays or Sundays on Twitter. One pile of marking down. Off for a walk and then on to attack another pile of marking. It is like the weekend is there purely to help teachers cope with the marking load. But we all know what is driving this: Ofsted. Because, they will look at books.  We were all led to believe that no-notice inspections would make things better. But now teachers have this perpetual state like ‘over sleeping after not hearing the alarm clock go off’. A perpetual state of worry. A perpetual state of insecurity. You know that no matter how quick you are, you are still behind by at least an hour. So, the weekend becomes a marathon for marking. Long bursts of marking whole sets of books unproductively, because you are tired. If you don’t do it, then you have an albatross around your neck for the whole weekend. The guilt of someone opening an exercise book and finding that, gosh shock horror, it has been over a fortnight since the book was last marked.

Of course, there is dedicated PPA time in schools to do all this marking and speaking to parents. But, for most of us, it is the equivalent of watching all the ‘Lord of the Ring’ films, including the ‘Hobbit’ films too, in a two hour stretch. You can’t possibly do it. You might watch the opening of a film, but you never get it all done. So, you do a bit after school, but then you want to beat the traffic. Finally, you do a bit a home, at night, and are too tired. So, where does it all go? The weekend.  

Then, there are the changes. New levels. New GCSEs. New KS3 curriculum. New texts. These things don’t suddenly appear in readymade systems and units. They have to be planned, organised and designed. The lovely Government provided us with tonnes of resources and a week off teaching to deal with this major overhaul of the English education system. No we got a PDF file instead. So, where does that planning go. Oh, yeah. The free time that isn’t used up by marking.

Ten years ago, I did not access my emails at home. Ten years ago, I did not endlessly worry about what I had and hadn’t done for an Ofsted visit. Ten years ago, I had a good idea how students would do in the exams. Ten years ago, the curriculum wasn’t always changing. Ten years ago, I felt that the students worked hard. Now, ten years after all that, the teachers work harder than the students. All this drive to raise the academic quality of teaching has left us with frazzled, tired and questioning everything.

I love teaching.  We all do it to help students and but mainly I do it for the perks, like copious amounts of red pens and… the treasury tags.

Thanks for reading,


1 comment:

  1. Eloquently said. And all exactly how it is. This weekend for me was a marking weekend - piles of A level coursework dominated the landscape like a brooding monster. Soon, I'll be looking up my husband's name in my diary to remind myself of who he is. (And I teach part-time! Ha ha ha! What a funny joke part-time is!)


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