The Secret Teacher
Two years ago, I was teaching English at an outstanding secondary school on a part-time contract. My husband worked full-time as head of English at another outstanding high school. If you’d asked where our careers were heading, we might have speculated about moving up the ladder – my husband may even have entertained the idea of joining a senior leadership team (SLT) at some point.
We both would have expressed some concerns about our work-life balance – pressure from those further up the pecking order, and whether we were spending enough time with our daughter – but these concerns are shared by all working people and parents.
On a typical day I’d get up at 6.30am, drop my daughter at breakfast club, which she hated, and be at work for 8am. Emails, photocopying and staff briefing would take up my time until the day really started at 8.30am. As a part-time member of staff, I shared most of my groups, so I would spend some time between break and lunch catching up with other staff about the pupils we taught.
I would also have to find time to manage other teachers, tweak schemes of work, plan new ones, deal with staff and parental problems, and respond to whatever my head of department (Hod) or the data manager needed. I’d be out of the door at 4pm to collect my daughter and cook dinner. Then by 8pm, I’d have an hour or two to mark books, plan tomorrow’s lessons and catch up with emails. It was hard work, but just about manageable.
Fast forward to today. I have voluntarily relinquished my teaching and learning role (TLR) and dropped my hours. My husband is in the process of resigning his Hod role and returning to being a main-scale teacher with further ambitions to drop his teaching hours to four days per week. Our income will drop by about £10,000 a year – no small sum – yet, we are immeasurably happier, healthier and less harassed now that we have stepped off the promotion treadmill.
But how did it come to this? And why are our careers heading the “wrong” way?
For me, the crunch point was when my school rearranged the structure of the day, creating four very long lessons rather than six shorter ones. At the same time, it was announced that all TLR holders would lose their extra management time, although we did retain our extra pay. Three TLR holders, myself included, resigned immediately. The school reacted with what I can only describe as indifference; a brief email from the head invited me to talk to them “if I felt like it”. I didn’t feel like it, I just felt a sense of relief that I would no longer have to crowbar an extra couple of hours into an overlong day.
For my husband, the final straw came this year, when staffing shortages at his school led to woefully inadequate agency staff being recruited to teach GCSE English classes. Pupil behaviour and motivation deteriorated, parental complaints mounted and he was left with no choice but to step in and teach extra lessons on top of his timetable. Despite this, he is still short staffed and classes are being merged – taught lecture-style in the hall and by non-specialists. Job advertisements for staff have been fruitless and he feels responsible even though his job is impossible in the current circumstances.
He has always worked longer hours than me, but this is different. His is out of the the door by 7.30am and I’m lucky to see him again before 6.30pm. Once we’ve eaten dinner and he’s read with our daughter, he’ll head back to the dining room table to carry on, usually until well past 10pm. Suffice to say that he isn’t always the best company; he doesn’t sleep well and he can’t relax. Now that he has handed in his resignation, he is waiting with baited breath to see if there is anyone who wants his job. His notice was first handed in at the start of October, but no one applied so he is hanging on for the summer.
To have a life outside work, we’ve both had to effectively commit career suicide and head down the ladder. We both want to pursue our hobbies and spend more time with our daughter, and we can’t save these things up for the few weeks in the summer when every waking minute isn’t consumed by school. And we certainly can’t wait until we retire.
But demotion shouldn’t be the price to pay for having a reasonable work-life balance. Teachers need time to do their jobs properly. Without time to plan, prepare, reflect and deal with the admin, parents, staff and pupils who need us, then we are simply being set up to fail.
I resigned my extra responsibilities because they took up so much time. I responded by taking back that time and I feel relieved to be able to pause and enjoy my new freedom. I can’t wait until my husband feels the same.