“Taking care of your mental and physical health is just as important as any career move or responsibility.”
– Attributed to Mireille Guiliano
Work-life balance is an issue that we have been hearing more and more about over the last decade (see here and here), particularly with the now ubiquitous nature of smart phones and the resultant implications on the ability for you to check your work e-mail, do that report, respond to that request etc, anywhere. you can It is rather telling that there are now websites dedicated to providing tips about managing your work-life balance. It is a topic that often comes up amongst the education chats on Twitter (for example #teacherlife or #teacherwellbeing). Given the apparent teacher crisis, the media seems to change its mind every other day as to whether there is one or not, teacher work-life balance needs to be addressed as part of the larger discussion about the education sector.
The above drawing by Joel Alexander is very accurate and a now expected part of teaching. I arrive at school, most days, at around 7:15 each morning, and I am not the first one to arrive. I leave between 4:00 and 4:30 each afternoon, and am not the last to leave. During a conversation in the staff room today I heard someone relate that when they were a Teaching-Principal, they were only allotted two hours a day to run the school. As a consequence this person indicated they arrived at school at 6:00 am and left at 8:00 pm Monday to Friday and then went in and worked from 11:00 am until 6:00 pm on Sundays to get ready for the week. That was the most extreme, but far from the only story relating similar horrid hours. This is not healthy. This is not good for the mental, physical, social or family life of the teacher, and this kind of overwork would certainly have a deleterious impact on the students.
How do we address this? How do we change this culture where it is expected that you are at school for around nine hours each day, and then spend another two to three hours at home working in the evening, as well as work on the weekends? I know that now that the football (soccer) season is over, I spend the weekend working on marking, lesson preparation, recording FTPL videos for colleagues, researching and planning for next year while Mrs C21st is at work (her weekend is Monday and Tuesday).
This weekend just gone Mrs C21st and I had some family and social events planned. A cousins twenty-first birthday (nineties themed, it was fantastic!) in Sydney on Saturday night, and then catching up with some friends on Sunday for brunch and then lunch. I was really excited about the cousins birthday as his parents are my Godparents, and I have always been close to them, and it was a good chance to catch up with them and some family at the same time. It was a great night, and I was not the only Woody from Toy Story, but I was definitely the best Woody. It was also the first time that Mrs C21st and I have done a couples-costume, with her going as Jesse. We left home at around 5.30 pm to get there on time and it was well after midnight when we got home.
Sunday morning we had arranged to catch up with friend for brunch and spent a few hours there chatting with her and her husband and laughing at their daughters antics (she is right into magic at the moment). Now it was great catching up, but the friends is also a teacher and we all know what happens when two or more teachers get together. Lunch was with another couple and it was late afternoon before we left there, though it was fantastic to spend some time with them, especially as it was pouring rain all afternoon.
I enjoyed the weekend with friends and family, and felt tired but relaxed….and guilty. I spent Saturday before going to my cousin’s house working on a job application, before which I spent an hour involved in the #satchatoc Twitter chat, and so got nothing done for this week. When we got home on Sunday evening, I jumped straight back into working on the application. I failed to get an FTPL video done for this week, to get the next chapter of Invent to Learn read and a review article written, and I have a Stage Meeting tomorrow and I have not done the assigned reading for that.
I have noticed in the last few weeks with the bad weather that I have not been exercising as much as normal, and I know that has had a negative impact on my general health and motivation levels. I decided today, that even though I had things I needed to do, that it was more important for me to go and exercise, so I did. I feel better for it, I know I will sleep better tonight, but I still feel guilty for not getting things done for school.
I have essentially been told by many that it is the norm to put in the hours that I am, especially given that I am in the early stage of my career. This is not sustainable. Something will give. I cannot maintain sixty hours a week for another forty years…I do not think I can maintain it for another five years. I miss spending time with my friends and family. I miss just sitting on the couch with Mrs C21st and chatting about our day. I do not enjoy being folded up in my office chair for so long, but feel that I must in order to keep up with everything that needs doing.
All of that said, I will wake up tomorrow, and will be excited to be in the classroom, will be giving my classes the best learning that I am able to do, and will be happy to be doing it. I would very much love to hear from other teachers about how they deal with this issue. I am not sure if I am just too busy, if my time management skills are not up to par, if I am focusing on the wrong things or where my problem lies. But I need help paring things back to a manageable level.