Dear Mr Gove,
As a teacher I feel it is my duty to educate you as to what exactly it is that we teachers do all day, since you seem to be absolutely clueless.
As your latest proposal to lengthen school days and shorten school holidays once again reveals, you seem to believe that teachers only work 9am-3pm, then bugger off home without a second thought for children’s education.
You are very much mistaken, Mr Gove, so let’s take your preferred method of learning – by rote – to instil a hard truth: TEACHERS WORK HARD. TEACHERS WORK HARD. TEACHERS WORK HARD.
Do teachers and students roll into school at 9am? Absolutely not. My day officially starts at 8:15am, with a staff meeting every morning, before students arrive for form time and registration at 8:30am. Does this mean I simply pull into the driveway at 8:14am? No! I have a whole host of tasks to complete before the day commences – setting up the classroom, ensuring I have all of the resources needed for the day’s lessons, reading and responding to the endless string of daily emails. And that’s all before I’ve even taught a lesson.
Do I pack my bags and head straight out of the door at 3:00pm? No way! For a start, school doesn’t finish until 3:20pm. Then there are revision sessions, after-school clubs, detentions, staff meetings, interventions, phone calls home to make, CPD training, INSET and classroom tidying to do (and don’t forget that endless string of emails). Every day of the week, at least one hour after school, but usually more, is taken up with such obligations. It is rare that I leave school before 6pm, and more often than not I don’t arrive home until well after 7pm.
All of that, and I haven’t even mentioned planning and marking yet. When do you think that gets done? PPA time? Ha! What a joke! I only get three hours of that a week, and it’s usually swallowed by meetings, intervention, dealing with student behaviour incidents or supporting other colleagues. No, ALL of my lesson planning and marking takes place in my own time, after 7pm in the evening or at weekends. And of course, I’m expected to teach outstanding lessons, so I can’t just pick up something I’ve used before and churn it out. No, I have to be creative, I must personalise the learning, I must make each task more engaging, more entertaining, more fun, more creative. I must mark in ever increasing depth, leaving more and more constructive comments in books, sticking in assessment sheets, covering work in various target stickers. It’s exhausting just to read about it, let alone live it. Goodbye social life. Goodbye, evenings. Goodbye, weekends. Hello work.
Well, what about the holidays? Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful to have 13 weeks holiday a year. But do you actually realise how much of it is spent doing work? In an average half term, I spend around four full days working – catching up on marking (because, I’m sure you’ve worked out, it’s near impossible to keep on top of it during term time), completing long-term planning, sorting out classroom displays, running revision or catch-up sessions (yes, with actual students! All for free and completely voluntary, because surprise, surprise, I ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THEM!)
Among colleagues, we often speak of term time as ‘entering the tunnel’. We do not expect to see the light at the end – our friends and relatives – during term time. We do not expect to be able to engage in social activities. We do not expect to be able to spend quality time with our loved ones. Teaching is a demanding, challenging, draining, exhausting, all-consuming, self-sacrificing profession that we do because we whole-heartedly invest ourselves into improving the life chances of the students in our charge.
But there is a line that must be drawn. We are only HUMAN. We need rest, recuperation. We need time with our family. We deserve to live – and doing so for a couple of weeks at Christmas, Easter and summer is often the only opportunity we have to do this.
God only knows how colleagues with children manage. I barely manage, and I don’t have children of my own.
Which brings me to the heart of the issue: children.
Children – whatever their age, be they six or sixteen, are tired by 3:20pm. Learning is mentally challenging and therefore mentally draining. Have you ever tried teaching a classroom of boisterous 14-year-olds after lunch? It’s tough, trust me! Even the top set students will try every trick in their repertoire to deviate the lesson from its planned path by period 5. I can’t imagine trying to keep the momentum going for a further hour or more on top of it. Children need freedom. They need rest and recuperation, just like us. They deserve a few daylight hours in which to play outside, socialise, and let’s not forget, complete their homework – to learn independently, discover things for themselves.
Because, after all, children are just like us: human.
So I say to you, with impassioned tears streaming down my cheeks, at the end of yet another exhausting week, with a day of planning and marking looming ahead: stop bullying us. Stop trying to paint us all as work-shy, lazy good-for-nothings. Stop trying to insinuate that we are all incompetent. Stop attacking the teaching profession.
Please, just stop.
Give teachers and students the respect and reward they deserve.
© The Uphill Struggle, 2013.