It really feels like I barely see my husband. As a full-time classroom science teacher in one of the ‘tougher’ comprehensives of East London, and a dad of three children, he has his work cut out.
Every weekday morning, he rises at 4.30am to prepare his classes and is off to work by 6.30am.
He returns at 5.30pm to pick up our three children from their various locations, takes them home and prepares the tea before I stumble through the door from my office job in town.
He’s back to work with marking and more prep from 8pm to 9pm, and he usually flops to sleep in his clothes without saying goodnight.
After five days of this relentless cycle, he takes a ‘break’ on Saturday morning – alone – then works solidly from 12 noon to 6pm. When he joins us for dinner after this unpaid graft, he is often pale, distinctly unhealthy-looking and lacking all spark. Sunday is largely rest day, which he devotes to chores, spending time with the kids and – just for good measure – a nice dose of last-minute marking.
These Sundays surrounded by our lovely but demanding children can drive him to his limit sometimes. He is by far the calmest and most patient person I have ever met, but a toddler crying about their incorrectly distributed baked beans can send a tired-out teacher-dad into meltdown, too. He doesn’t take it out on us, but I know my husband’s ‘fury eyebrows’ reflect deep inner-turmoil.
The cycle goes on and on and on until the holidays arrive, when he frets and panics about whether he will have enough days away from childcare to do all the extra work he needs to do to cope. Everything is tainted by the pressures of work. Any fun and pleasure in teaching or parenting has been taken away.
We only planned one family weekend away this term and that was trashed by the announcement that he would be enduring a Monday morning pre-Ofsted lesson observation. He almost didn’t make it to his son’s birthday tea because of a last-minute demand to log a bunch of data on some system, somewhere. He had already logged the data somewhere else, but that was apparently not enough. I’d fly into a rage and resign if my employer gave me a data-entry task for no apparent reason.
As a devoted wife, I try to be supportive and to step in with most of the chores. But, I’m sorry to say, I am not one of those wives without ego, drive, ambitions of my own, and it is hard not to resent this regime. It can be lonely when you spend more time washing someone’s dirty work shirts than you do with the person themselves. I spend a lot of my time worrying about him, but when I see him, I’m sort of angry at him for his constant absence. This unending programme is punishing my husband and his family.
Any politician questioning why teachers adopt these work regimens (and I know my husband’s is not a patch on many other teachers’ and managers’) hasn’t got a clue what is going on. Sometimes it is not possible to work any ‘smarter’.
The key issues leading to this marathon of prep are thus, in our case: behaviour is such an issue that each class must be meticulously planned; winging it is simply not an option.
Resources and pre-prepared materials are scant in the school. And although the classes are setted, the level of differentiation required in each class is such that he is effectively a private tutor for each of the 20 students, in some cases.
Until recently, my husband was a supply teacher – in an attempt to bring his workload down – and he saw classes that had seen four or five changes of science teacher in the space of a year. Recruitment of permanent and reliable staff in some subjects is proving impossible.
And it is desperately unfair on pupils who feel increasingly unloved and disillusioned by school. How would you feel about learning, and your capacity to learn, if literally no one wanted to teach you?
But is it any wonder the teachers leave? There are few who have the constitution to sustain this.
The author is a writer and mother of three children, two of whom are at primary school