From the outside, anyone would think that teaching would be the ideal choice for someone looking to balance a career and family. The “9-3 hours”, the long school holidays and the benefits of understanding the learning jargon that fills your child’s homework and yearly report card sound like perfect family perks of the job when looking in from the outside. But what is the reality for teachers trying to balance a career with the challenges of bringing up a family?
The truth is that the majority, if not all, teachers need to work very long hours. Many choose to arrive early and (or) work late in their classrooms. Many haul bags of marking and preparation to and from work every day to continue working once they’ve put the kids to bed. Yes, there are plenty of jobs where people work long hours and often in very stressful environments.
Teaching is a tricky one, though, because the difficulty is knowing when to stop. We all want to give our pupils the best learning experience when they are in our classes and we try to do all we can to ensure this happens, but at some point, we need to let ourselves say that “enough is good enough” – the beautifully laminated display labels will have to wait.
Quick read: Most teachers 'working way beyond hours'
Family time: 4 life hacks for time-poor parent-teachers
School holidays: ‘As a teacher, it’s impossible to plan a family holiday’
The school holidays are a wonderful chance for busy teachers to spend time with their families. I see other parents with jobs that mean school holidays are an expensive childcare juggling act with parents combining childminders and holiday clubs with taking annual leave in shifts. This is not an issue for teachers but how much of teachers’ holidays are taken up with planning, creating resources, laminating and setting up a classroom in preparation for the year ahead? How much time is given to thinking of about pupils, lessons and what fantastic things can be bought for the classroom out of Ikea? We need to make sure that we allow ourselves the chance to switch off and to focus on ourselves and our families.
Every school year we encourage parental engagement in our schools – we set up workshops, showcase learning and monitor uptake. This means that, when our own children come home to tell us about their upcoming assembly, school show or open afternoon, or ask if we can be a parent helper on their latest school trip, it can be difficult not to be struck with a tinge of sadness, knowing that once again we won’t be able to attend.
At my children’s’ school, any time an event comes up in the evening I for one am there with bells on, whether it be parent council meeting, fundraising groups, discussion of homework policy or the changes to the sex education policy. I will be there, come what may, doing my bit to demonstrate that I am a committed and involved parent!
The thing is, teachers could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week for an entire year and still find things that to do. There is never an end – there is always more that could be done. That is why it is so important to know when to draw a line, to separate work from family, to not let the job becoming all-consuming to the detriment of the rest of our lives.
It is a wonderful job and it is a privilege to be doing it. But it is just that – a job. Make your families and relationships a priority.
Kirsty Crommie is a primary teacher, children's book blogger and a student at the University of Stirling, where she is doing a part-time master's degree in professional education and leadership. She tweets @KCrommie