Teaching creeps up on you and lifts time from your back pocket without you noticing
Our latest survey of the nation’s relationships The Way We Are Now 2015 reveals 22% of people work longer hours than they choose and it’s damaging their health. It also reveals that 94% of relationship practitioners agree that being unhappy or under pressure at work has a damaging impact on relationships at home.
In this guest blog, teacher and blogger Tom Starkey (Stack of Marking) talks about how the pressures of his job have affected his home life.
Teaching is an odd job. It’s a combination of performance and administration, toughness and empathy. There are highs and lows which are often to be found in extremely quick succession (depending on which classes appear on your timetable on that particular day).
There’s an inherent nobility in teaching, but you’re often derided by politicians and the media for not doing it well enough, or fast enough, or too well, or too slowly or with too much glitter and glue or whatever the latest set of exam results do or do not indicate. These exterior pressures are matched and often exceeded by the pressure we put ourselves under to try and do the best we possibly can for those in our charge.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some great benefits too. The holidays are an epic thing of beauty, we get the chance to try and improve the lives of young people on a daily basis and when things are going well there are few professions as fulfilling. It’s a job that has given me great joy over the years, but without a doubt, it has also taken much out of me.
And the ones I love.
Because teaching is also a sneaky bugger. It creeps up on you and lifts time from your back pocket without you noticing. It relentlessly demands your attention and efforts and doesn’t give you much in the way of praise, affirmation or even a measly pat on the back – all the while whispering to you that it’s alright, the sacrifice is worth it – it’s for the kids after all.
It takes. And when a job does that, it has to take from somewhere.
“Teaching is a sneaky bugger. It creeps up on you and lifts time from your back pocket without you noticing.”
Every night spent marking to midnight and beyond, every weekend planning lessons, every moment going the extra mile just to make sure things run smoothly is a small withdrawal. Sometimes that withdrawal is in the form of time with partners and spouses. Sometimes it’s in the form of a lack of attention to the needs of those around you. Sometimes it’s in the form of your absence; either physically or emotionally.
There are arguments, caused by an unspoken resentment of the concentration of effort made seemingly everywhere but the home. There’s worry as partners see those that they care for slip away into fatigue and depression. Sunday nights become unbearable as the prospect of the working week dilutes the precious time you do have at home with a dose of anxiety about what lies ahead. These withdrawals may seem small, even meaningless in the moment, but they add up.
I’ve been guilty of this absence myself. The result is a distance from those who I should be closest to because they care.
I’m lucky. I’m lucky because I recognized this fairly early on in my career and because I’m married to someone who put up with me while I did. I took steps to try to make sure that teaching didn’t take away the things that were most important.
“Sunday nights become unbearable as the prospect of the working week dilutes the precious time you do have at home with a dose of anxiety about what lies ahead.”
I’ve turned down management roles as I knew it would only compound the problem of workload (and to be completely honest, I’d be absolutely awful at it). I’ve protected time designated for my wife like a bodyguard tasked with ensuring the safety of an important foreign dignitary. I try to combat issues such as behaviour, deadlines, targets with a detached irreverence where formerly they would have led to anxiety, even depression.
But it’s not easy. There’s always that whispering voice – and even now I often find myself ringing home to cancel something we had planned or looking up at the clock in a classroom and realising I’ve got approximately seven minutes to get across town to a restaurant that is at least half an hour away. I sometimes stare into space with my family around me, my mind firmly set on the horrors of Monday’s second lesson until my wife gently coaxes me back to the great things going on at the present moment.
The difference now is that I care. It registers. I feel bad and I want to make it up. Teaching is an important job, but ultimately -the same with any job – that is all it is. As is so often the case, the real work needs to be done at home because that’s where you end up when the bell goes.
That’s the lesson I’ve learned.
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