'We must end the stigma around part-time teachers'

Not everyone can or wants to work 'normal' hours. Part-time teachers are no less committed, says Tom Starkey

Tom Starkey

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I’m a part-time teacher.

Now, when you read that, what was the first thing that popped into your head? What was your image of me given that statement?

Do you imagine me as less committed than my full-time colleagues? Am I an aberration to be suspicious of? Am I just playing at this teaching lark? 

I hope not. I hope you’re better than that. I hope you can see that lives don’t necessarily fit into neat little boxes. I hope that you understand that it’s sometimes not the case that everyone can work "normal hours". Or, indeed, wants to.

'Part-time teachers not exactly uncommon'

I hope, given the vocational nature of FE and the fact that in the world of work (that we try so hard to prepare our students for) part-time is not exactly uncommon, that you might consider some of the factors that mean that a teacher chooses this perfectly acceptable route.

Factors such as care responsibilities (of children or other dependents). Or an attempt at securing a better financial position by working a variety of jobs. Or an effort at clawing back a better work-life balance.

Or an improvement in mental or physical health. Or keeping a hand in the vocation that they are training others for. I would also hope that you’d understand that sometimes the reason is absolutely none of your business and has no bearing on anything anyway.

Appreciation of part-time teaching

Alas, there is still a certain stigma attached to going part-time which I find difficult not to get defensive about. In conversations about my hours (which, strangely, are pretty frequent), I am constantly tempted to emphasise my childcare responsibilities and my other work by way of justification of the choice that I have made. And then I check myself. Because if I do I’m just perpetuating the notion that part-time staff need to explain away this imagined deficit.

I haven’t got time for that.

The attitude needs to shift from deficit to one of just boring, everyday acceptance. One where commonality and plain common sense dictates that there’s nothing really to see in regards to part-time teaching work. Where the poor attitudes that I’ve often had the misfortune to encounter regarding those who "don’t work a full timetable" are the aberration and there is appreciation for all, whether you’re in five, four, three, two, one or half a day per week.

A better work-life balance

The wider working world isn’t always ‘9 to 5’, and in a sector that can struggle to recruit, an attitude that welcomes varied working patterns may be one of the ways that you can get good people into your college or keep the ones you’ve got when their circumstances change.

So perhaps I should start this again. Maybe push things on a little bit. Highlight the reality of the situation. I work fewer hours in college than many of my colleagues but understand this, with no caveat or hesitation: I am a teacher. And I’m not playing at anything.

Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England

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