Yesterday I replied to one of those standard “what piece of advice would you give a teacher starting their NQT year” tweets with this response:
“Get in early if you must, leave late if you have to and can, but never, never take work home.”
It was a silly, glib and potentially quite irresponsible comment. Many teachers, particularly those with children, have commitments that make this impossible. But, as I’d like to explain, I think there is method in my madness.
The idea that teachers should take work home is one rooted in an old assumption that we work from about 9.00 till about 3.30, and have free weekends and long, uninterrupted holidays. If this were true, which of course it is not, expecting teachers to work outside these hours would be entirely reasonable. Perhaps, although I doubt it, there was some halcyon era in which these hours were typical and teachers skipped into school at 8.55 and waltzed joyfully into the sunlight at 3.45 carrying a few exercise books and some planning to do in the evening. If there are any teachers fortunate enough to work in schools like this, by all means take work home and do it over a pleasant drink while you wait for your children and before EastEnders. While you are doing it, thank your lucky stars, count your blessings and don’t ever, ever move schools.
For most of us this is fantasy. Morning meetings typically begin at eight. Duties take up two or three break-times, lunch rarely last longer than forty minutes and compulsory meetings or ‘interventions’ mean that few teachers finish before 4.30pm. Most teachers are doing almost nine hours work a day before they even begin to look beyond basic delivery and other assigned, timetabled tasks. On top of these forty-five hours we then have to plan and mark. Expectations of different schools vary and, of course, people work at different speeds but as a minimum I think it would be safe to add another five hours, taking us to fifty a week. And, of course, we can’t stop there. Even unpromoted teachers are now expected to enter, use and track data, contact parents, attend open-evenings, gather evidence for appraisal and deal with their tutor groups, amongst so many other tasks that trying to list them all is exhausting in itself. For those in promoted posts the workload mountain is even more intimidating with, in a period of shrinking budgets, any time given back more nominal than meaningful. If we tried to do it all at school, it feels like we would never leave.
So, of course, we take work home where it becomes invisible. Nobody sees us at our desks as the clock rolls over the hours. Nobody sees the tensions that build up as those closest to us pick up the slack we are either too busy or exhausted to reel in ourselves. It is only us that see our hobbies and interests quietly die through neglect until we half-forget we ever played in a band or read novels in the evenings. All anyone in school sees is that the work is done and we seem to be coping, right up to the point where we either spectacularly melt down or shuffle away from our profession never to return. When we take work home it becomes invisible and unquantifiable, allowing the system the plausible deniability which allows it to say “we didn’t know they were working so hard, they should have said.”
There is no end. So long as we quietly squirrel the mountain home and uncomplainingly beaver away at it, desperate for everyone to think we are on top of it all, the system will add more, will add but never take away. This has been going on for years, which, in my view, is one of the reasons we have got ourselves into such a mess. No one individual is to blame. Head Teachers and SLTs beaver away at home too and often feel they have no choice but to hand more and more work down through the hierarchy. They are probably and understandably too busy themselves to stop and think about how busy those below them are.
So, if you can in the limits of your own context, do not take work home. Work at school where it is visible. Clock in and out. Keep a record of the hours you work and what you did with them. Do not cloud the issue by saying things like “if I’m making in front of the TV, it doesn’t feel like work so I don’t mind.” If you are working you are working. If it feels like you never leave school say so loudly and clearly. Do not hide the work. Make it so visible that nobody can pretend there isn’t a problem. And if you can’t work at school be just as vocal about what you are doing when you are at home and what you missed to get it done. Politely and with a disarming smile say, “yes, I did the analysis on Saturday morning while my partner took the kids swimming. I should have taken them but this meant I couldn’t, and that really upsets me.”
Make the work visible. If it means less of us leave teaching, doing less is in the interests of everyone.