Jim, head of PE in an East Yorkshire academy, walks into the staffroom. He has had a bad week. He was delighted when a local sports shop sponsored football tops for the under-16 team. But now the pathetic remains of 35 tabards lie cradled in his arms, burned pretty much to a crisp.
“Billy Jones,” he sighs, “didn’t get on the Year 8 team. Dad’s in prison for arson… Luckily I got there before the pavilion burned down.
“I’m going to be here until God knows when doing the incident report, then meeting Billy’s mum.” He shakes his head in despair. “It’s Friday. I was doing a full Thai for Anna. Got all the ingredients.”
“Good thing she’s a teacher,” says his second in command. “She’ll understand.”
Anna is a head of PE in another school and, yes, of course, she will understand. She won’t be happy, but she will understand.
Working in the same profession is a good thing for Anna and Jim. It saves having to explain things.
The benefits of having a partner who is a teacher, too
Mina, a secondary head in Birmingham, with a partner who is a primary head in the same city, agrees: “We have both had constantly changing distancing rules, and almost unmanageable staff gaps because of shielding. It’s been relentless. I honestly think I would have thrown in the towel if I hadn’t been able go home to James, slump on the sofa and moan non-stop every night.”
There is research evidence that backs up what both Mina and Jim say about the supportive effect of having a partner doing the same job.
Mike McNulty, a therapist and relationship expert at the Chicago Relationship Center, says that it may well be more workable to marry someone who shares the same kind of schedule, rather than having to constantly explain the demands of your position to a partner or spouse who works in a different profession.
The fact that your partner is in the same role may mean that you can relate to each other's experiences – particularly when it comes to the unprecedented challenges faced by teachers this year.
Sergio Escorial, a psychologist at Complutense University in Madrid, found that the strongest correlations for partnering were in the categories of openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. And research shows that teachers, as a group, have those traits in abundance.
Education academic Geert Kelchtermans, of the University of Leuven in Belgium, argues that – more so than any other profession apart from medicine – the behaviour of teachers reflects emotional involvement and moral judgement, and that their emotional reactions to their work are intimately connected to the view they have of themselves and others.
So teachers, as a group, share some very attractive personality traits. This makes them very marriageable.
However, teachers struggle to make time for their dating lives. Most of the time, they wake up around 6am, work all day, often stay late marking papers and drawing up lesson plans, and attend school functions in the evenings or sports events at the weekend. Normally they’re pretty exhausted and don’t want to think about dating – or even just socialising.
And, although teaching stops at the end of the day, preparation certainly doesn’t. Preparation expands into the evenings and, unlike marking, it can be neverending. You can spend as much time and energy on it as you like – or, as the Education Support charity warns us, as much time as it takes to make you ill.
The 2020 Teacher Wellbeing Index found that 31 per cent of school teachers and 70 per cent of senior leaders worked more than 51 hours a week on average.
Preparation even expands into the summer holidays. Geography teachers will be seen at Lyme Regis this summer making notes on rock formation, while their English teacher spouse takes moody shots of the very steps tripped down by the heroine of Persuasion, Miss Louisa Musgrove.
Differences of professional opinion
Sometimes it seems that all of a teacher’s waking time is spent teaching, or preparing to teach, or thinking about teaching. But, even if this is true, married teacher couples don’t always agree on teaching methods. They may think differently about how to do their job.
“Even when couples do have the same job, they still will have individual differences,” says McNulty. “Partners must learn to manage such problems over time, through understanding and compromise and putting their relationship first. If partners enter into marriage believing their shared way of life makes them exempt from conflict, they will be in for a big surprise.”
Ali and Chris met on a teachers’ dating app, which matched them up for personality and for ideals. This year, during online teaching, Ali struggled to do her job. The pupils’ cameras were off, so she had no idea whether or not they were actually in lessons.
Her partner Chris doesn’t see it this way. He was not upset by the way some of his pupils were using the loopholes in online teaching to avoid work. “I like online teaching,” he says. “There are no behaviour problems, and if some of them aren’t interested, that’s OK. I'll pick it up with them now we’re back in the classroom.”
Ali has become more and more annoyed by Chris’ laissez-faire attitude and feels it may have impacted brutally on their relationship. They may both be teachers, but she now feels they are very different teachers. She can’t let it drop.
However, having empathy and closeness can also bring problems. A problem shared is not always a problem halved. It could be a problem doubled.
Krishna, a senior team leader in Kent, knows this only too well. His wife also works in school SLT.
“You know,” he says, “it takes me half an hour to travel home, and on the way I go through all the godawful things that have happened in my day. Then, when I get home, my wife tells me about all the godawful things that have happened to her that day.” He pauses. “So, by 7pm, it’s like I have two godawful teaching jobs, not just one. That’s when I reach for the wine.”
Do they ever share really successful things that happen during the day? Krishna looks at me and shakes his head sadly. “No, we don’t. There aren’t any.”
Perhaps two teachers stirring up the dust of the chalkface experience isn’t a good thing? Could it be that marrying another teacher is a direct route to the divorce court?
In fact, data shows that teachers are far less likely to get divorced than many other professions. So, if teachers want a long and happy relationship, it looks like they should marry other teachers.
This has to a good thing – given their workload, when are they going to get the time to meet anyone else?
Fiona Birkbeck is a teacher of A-level psychology at a school in Derbyshire, and a researcher at the University of Nottingham