I have been a teacher for 26 years, a Headteacher for 11 years and, at the age of 50, this much I know about the workload debate.
I’ve just completed a 63 hour week; by the time I get to Sunday bed time that figure will be 70 hours plus. I write that as a fact, not a complaint. From doing my bus duty to leading an eight hour strategy meeting with Headteacher colleagues to teaching Economics A level, I love my job.
None of us working in schools goes underground to dig coal. In relative terms, our working conditions are pretty good. We have long holidays. As Shakespeare said, working with young people, Physics the subject, makes old hearts fresh. Our teaching always has the potential to be joyous.
It’s a year this weekend since I wrote about how my job has impacted upon my relationship with my eldest son. That single post has had over 100,000 views. The comments it engendered were remarkable and some of the private email responses were both sad and humbling. It is no exaggeration to claim that the post changed some people’s lives. And things are still good between me and Joe. At 9.30 pm on Monday evening this week he asked me if I wanted to go play pool; I had more work to do than I’d care to admit, but I went, of course I went…
Headteachers don’t get paid more for the weight of work, but for the responsibility. I tried to explain my job to my youngest son this week and I told him it was like being a parent to 1,500 children for eight hours a day. Parents entrust me with their most precious thing in the whole world and my first priority is to return their children to them at the end of the day safe and happy. It’s not worth thinking too hard about the responsibility the job entails.
Classroom teaching is exhausting. Tom Bennett says that when you teach you should present the very best version of yourself all the time. A full teaching day will leave you exhausted; I compare it to being on stage for five hours a day. And after all that there’s the evening performance too.
I am still thinking about Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal. Chapter two is called Things Fall Apart; the following passage resonates more strongly than I would wish…
Here’s a health up-date: my left thumb’s joints have seized up; my two biggest toes on my right foot have permanent pins and needles; I’ve had a proper bad back and an aching hip for over a month; I’ve had a phlegmy chesty cough since August; my pacemaker needs a new lead; I’ll need a new knee when I’m sixty; and there are a couple of other ailments you don’t need to know about!
The 2010 spending cuts are beginning to bite. One of the funniest things to happen this week was my first physiotherapy appointment for my creaking back…by telephone! We were mid-lesson, with us discussing how both major parties were going to balance the budget after the next election, when I had to take a diagnostic call from a physiotherapist. My students were highly amused.
Where are you in your teaching staff’s age rank order? Over the Christmas break I calculated that out of 114 teachers at Huntington, only six are older than me. How the hell did that happen?! I still feel about 24 years old, max. Like everyone who has ever lived, I never thought I would age. In 2004 I ran the London Marathon in 3 hours 50 minutes and 33 seconds for goodness’ sake!
Teachers who retire at sixty-five have a life expectancy of 18 months. I have cited that line many a time, but it’s not true. As we all live longer, the evidence shows that teachers should live for decades once they retire. And yet…as evidenced in our school, few teachers make it into their late 50s before retiring, let alone to 62, the age at which I can access my Teachers’ Pension, or 67 when I’ll receive my state pension.
At home we have a principle of having high quality bath towels for our everyday use. I know that sounds odd, but for years we used to save our best towels for guests whilst we made do with old, threadbare beach towels. Somehow we realised the folly of our ways. Kate Gross’ parting advice, in her book Late Fragments, is essentially the same principle: always always eat from your very best crockery, because where can we live but days? Gross’ book is not mawkish. Late Fragments is a sunlit celebration of what it is to be alive and how to manage your world when your body falters fatally; it’s well worth a peek.