Every teacher knows that, given half a chance, the job can dominate our lives completely from dusk ’til dawn; the vampires of planning, marking and data devour our every moment until we collapse, bloodless and pale, into the next half-term holiday, like survivors from a gory Tarantino movie.
When you also have your own mini-vampires – sorry, children – at home, you can run the risk of feeling even more drained. From “Miss” to “Mum”, you are always on call, often feeling in a no-win situation, as if your parenting suffers from the impact of your teaching life while your teaching simultaneously suffers owing to the demands of home.
That narrative can have some truth in it, but, in reality, it is not all doom and gloom. We must do more to consider the numerous benefits to be gained from the delicate parent-teacher balancing act.
From a teaching point of view, these advantages can include:
1. Ruthless prioritisation
Every parent suffers from sleep deprivation and family-management overload. This can go one of two ways as a teacher: you will either become super-organised and even more efficient (you know that “if you want something doing, ask a busy person” maxim?) or more scatty and unreliable (I tend towards the latter).
The first is clearly a benefit, but the second? What that second option actually manifests as, usually, is a ruthless skill of prioritisation. At work, you don’t have to be the first to get the data in, as long as you make the deadline. Some emails can go unanswered. You don’t have to be at every single event. And at home? Forget a few birthdays, don’t bother with cakes for fundraisers and send your children in school uniform when it’s mufti day. The world won’t end.
Of course, teachers who aren’t parents can also be excellent at prioritising. But having a family gives you the perfect excuse to let the things that aren’t essential slide. That may seem scatty to others, but let yourself off the hook: you’re doing this properly.
2. ‘I understand – because I’m a parent, too’
Tricky, this one. You’d think parents might have more empathy, but arguably non-parents may have more emotional energy, not having been drained by their own children before they even hit the classroom.
Don’t forget, either, that the parent-teacher can be hugely judgemental of other parents, based on their own parenting style and choices as a working parent. “If I can do it…”
But parent-teachers can definitely use empathy as a tactic at parents’ evening and during phone calls home to create an instant connection. We know what it takes to get children out of the house in the morning, let alone them also having had breakfast, with their uniform and teeth clean and homework done. We’ve had the “concerned” phone calls from school about attendance, having spent three days cleaning up piles of vomit on our hands and knees.
That doesn’t make us better teachers, but it is a useful tool for teaching.
3. Being a martyr
Being a “Teach Second” teacher, I have often thought that if I’d come to teaching as a graduate, I would have burned out. But I did my PGCE while on maternity with my second son, so the boundaries were already set for me.
I think this saved me. I had to have a cut-off point. My family was waiting for me. This meant that by leaving work at a certain time, or postponing a pile of marking, I was not protecting my time for me – and letting doubts creep in that I was letting pupils down for selfish reasons. Crazy, I know, but without that feeling, I could have worked 24 hours, seven days a week.
On the flip side, the main advantages of being a teacher for my role as a parent are:
* Having firm boundaries and giving direct instructions to my children: I see the result of over-indulged children in the classroom – and it’s not pretty;
* Limiting screen time in favour of “real-life” time; again having seen the effects on the children I teach;
* Having knowledge of the education system and insight into the different “ages and stages”, current fads or challenges facing children;
* Despite the lack of flexibility in term-time, having the holidays to spend with my children: it’s a gift I would never have had in my previous career.
While there are many negatives impacting on family life, whether it’s the endless stream of marking or irritating your family by talking to them in your teacher voice, overall, I have found coming to teaching as a parent mutually beneficial and illuminating for both roles in my life. But, to my family and friends: I’m really sorry if I forgot your birthday…
Stephanie Keenan is curriculum leader for English and literacy at Ruislip High School in London. She blogs at mskeenanlearns.wordpress.com and tweets @stephanootis