Love on the timetable

15th February 2008 at 00:00
Is it better to have a relationship with another teacher or does work then become all-consuming? Stephen Manning gets personal with those in the know.

Do you devote enough spare time to your love life? For many teachers the answer is: "What spare time? What love life?" For others, the work-love balance is tricky to maintain. Bringing work home, talking about work, thinking about it when you are on honeymoon ... all hazards of the job.

Of course, a great many teachers have partners who are teachers, that's inevitable in a job that can be intense and demanding, and where schools are little communities unto themselves. The emotional investment of a normal day, dealing with so many aspects of children's development, can be markedly different to other professions.

But the danger is in taking the work home with you, something that Gena Marsh, a Sheffield secondary teacher in her 20s, is careful about.

She and her teacher partner share advice and support but it's easy to end up talking about work all night.

"When we realised that this was happening we put a limit on how long we could rant about a class before changing the subject," she says. "We made a commitment to going out regularly. We even swim on Friday nights as a way of unwinding after a long week at work."

Gena's previous partner wasn't a teacher and couldn't empathise with her about work, perhaps because he had not enjoyed school. She has found that living with another teacher suits her best.

"You can come home exhausted and be allowed to eat dinner and head for bed, and not have to explain why," she says.

Wendy, a 35-year-old special needs teacher in Bristol, disagrees - she thinks that teacher plus teacher equals disaster. Her 10-year marriage to an ICT teacher ended in divorce and she feels that the job tore them apart. The couple met when they were 15, trained together and began teaching after getting married, aged 22. Four years later they were both promoted to heads of department.

"In a sense, we were at different ends of the education spectrum," says Wendy. "I worked in a special school, dealing with a lot of difficult pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties, whereas he was more interested in high-achieving pupils.

Pressure of work increased when her husband moved to a more challenging school. This led to arguments and she says her husband began to spend more time at work, trying to keep up with the job.

Wendy got to the point where she felt it was her life or her career, so she stepped down from being head of department and returned to classroom teaching to make time to save the marriage. Sadly, it didn't work.

"I would try to get home early and do things non-teachers do like cooking a proper meal, rather than just a microwaved dinner. But he was unable to do the same because of the work pressure."

In the end the rift was irresolvable and they split up. Wendy's present partner works for British Telecom and she thinks it helps that he has little concept of what she does.

Zoe Wood, on the other hand, sacrificed her teaching career for love. The 25-year-old taught in Bournemouth secondary schools, including a year in a special school, but quit last July.

One of the chief factors was the stress that was having a major impact on her relationship with her stockbroker boyfriend. "We wouldn't see each other that much in the week and I would try to keep my weekends clear of work, but it was hard," she says.

Every day in the special school she would witness or have to deal with all kinds of outbursts - fights, broken windows - and there was a lot of physical restraint. "I found I was thinking about school constantly, talking about a difficult pupil or some drama that happened that day. My boyfriend was supportive, but I can see that it could have gone too far," says Zoe.

The decision to leave wasn't taken lightly, but it was right for her. She now works in a children's centre in north Dorset and things are a lot more relaxed.

In a good relationship the partner can sometimes know you better than you know yourself, including where your vocation really lies. Claire Meynell-Silvester, 27, was always going to be a teacher but her husband Chris, whom she met at university, took a more varied path before she finally drew him into teaching.

Now they are in the same school, Bettws High School, a comprehensive in Newport, Gwent. She teaches English and media studies and he is a supply teacher.

Chris had various office jobs and briefly ran his own business before a brief stint as a PE teacher. After being made redundant, he decided to retrain as a maths teacher.

"I could see, perhaps more clearly than he could, that he would do well as a teacher," says Claire. "He was already a qualified PE coach and enjoyed imparting knowledge."

It's quite natural for teachers to feel that outsiders simply don't understand the emotional investment required that differs from other jobs. Claire feels now that a relationship with a non-teacher probably wouldn't work because of this.

"I've had situations where pupils have disclosed awful things and I would get quite distraught, but it's part of the job," she says. "Chris was never unsupportive but being in the school has shown him what I have to go through, and I think this has made our marriage stronger."

Emotional rescue

So who can teach the teachers about crucial matters of the heart? Well, you could turn to relationship coaches like Tony and Nicki Vee, a married couple in their late 40s who run events on how to improve or rescue your relationship, including courses at their retreat in the Austrian mountains.

Their current campaign is called Help Save A Million Relationships as this, they say, is the number of marriages in the western world that will end in divorce this year, with 3,000 in the UK. They are targeting stressful professions and top of the list is teaching.

They believe teachers have a great influence over children's emotional development and yet often are not adequately equipped themselves.

"Teachers must educate children on how to face up to what they have done wrong, and yet it can be very hard to do it yourself," says Nicki. "These are often highly educated people, but there's no education out there for intimate relationships."

The problem as they see it boils down to a lack of delineation between home and work roles - as teacher and as partner. "A lot of people in stressful jobs take their work home," says Nicki. "They relate in a certain way to other teachers and pupils, then go home and relate to their partner in the same way, and that's not so good."

Tony is particularly keen on examining the effects of stress on a relationship. "Stress causes adrenalin and adrenalin is for fight and flight, the elements of fear," he says. "The state of love is chemically opposite to the state of fear. So when you are adrenalised, you take on a different view and you can't experience love in your body."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today