When I tell people that I’m a teacher, it often provokes sympathetic reactions. People don’t envy teachers, and secondary school teachers least of all. When they learn that my husband is also a teacher and that we teach in the same department, in the same school, the sympathy either intensifies or changes to other emotions entirely.
It’s not unusual for love to blossom over the glue sticks, but, equally, there’s no doubt that sharing both a bedroom and a staffroom with someone brings unique challenges. So why choose to settle with a Sir or Miss?
Students love a gossip – arrive together in the same car in the morning, and by lunchtime they’ll be asking you if Mr Brown from history is your boyfriend. But actually, this interest is often pretty fleeting (they’re more interested in their peers’ relationships). Dig a little below the surface of any school and you’ll find teacher-teacher relationships – most of the time, they’re seen as normal by pupils. And, actually, at our 1,600-strong comprehensive, it adds to the warm family atmosphere.
No one really understands the job like a fellow teacher. It is hard to battle the stereotypes about teacher workload (or lack thereof) that are entrenched in society, and harder when such views are being expressed by the love of your life. Whatever Sisyphean tasks term time brings, the existence of “all those holidays” will always prove that your life is cushy to those who have never taught.
Huge resentment can set in when non-teachers see their partner marking at all hours, or attending yet another parents’ evening or after-school event. Teachers understand that during term time personal lives and households are often fairly chaotic and life laundry is tackled during breaks – non-teachers may not. Given the huge pressure that all public servants are under, a relationship with a doctor or a police officer could easily turn into a competition for who is the most tired and overwhelmed.
The benefits of teacher relationships
And, of course, teachers often have, shall we say... dominant views about how things should be done. It’s all too easy to find yourself locking horns over the correct way to stack a dishwasher, with your teacher voice cancelling out your partner. It’s important to find a balance of power. This is infinitely preferable to being accused of treating your non-teacher partner as if they are one of your students (a sadly frequent occurrence, say my colleagues).
Clearly, firm boundaries in work and at home are essential. Public displays of affection are not appropriate at school, neither are public displays of animosity. Tiffs on the way to school about your husband switching off the radio when The Smiths come on because he “can’t bear them” need to stop at the entrance. It takes great emotional strength to hold back the snarkiness to avoid spoiling the conviviality of lunchbreak, but try you must. Reading out Cosmo in Year 8’s brilliant creative writing to your husband while he attempts to relax on the sofa and watch The Walking Dead is also verboten.
Teachers know how challenging it is to hold a range of details about 150 students in your head and try to do your best for each and every one of them. They know how exhausting those days are where every second is accounted for, a trip to the toilet is a luxury and still the never-ending questions keep pinging via email after you have finally managed to sit down at 9pm. They see the mountain of work. They, too, shudder at the words "twilight Inset".
They know how utterly hilarious your students and colleagues can be, how much of an extended family you all are. They surf the highs and help you to wave, not drown, during the lows. They share the carnival atmosphere of a Friday afternoon, the unadulterated joy of the last day of term and, yes, they share the holidays, too.
Emma Sola is a secondary school teacher at Dorothy Stringer School in Brighton