Saturday, 22 September 2012

I have two jobs

I have two jobs.  First, I am a parent.  A very important job.  I am the parent of two beautiful daughters, currently aged 9 and 5.  I spend all the time I can with them, playing, chatting, baking, cycling, drawing, singing, dancing, reading, all the while instilling in them values, manners, the difference between right and wrong, and encouraging them to be the best people they can be.  I am confident that when they go to school, or to ballet, swimming or Brownies, they are polite, respectful, attentive, trustworthy, hard-working and good friends.  I am immensely proud of them.  I have invested a lot of time in this job.  I have every intention of investing a great deal more.

Both my daughters attended a private nursery full time from the age of 6 months.  They were there for about 8.5 hours a day until they started school.  That's a long time.  I often felt guilty about missing their milestones, about other people effectively bringing them up during the week.  The 2.5 hours between picking them up and their going to bed were precious, precious time.

Why did they go to nursery all the time?  Why did I see them so little?  Because I was a full time secondary languages teacher.  My second job.  From 1995, when I was newly-qualified, to 2003, when my eldest daughter was born, I would arrive at school at 7.45am and leave at 5.30pm, trying not to take any work home but not usually succeeding.  When I returned from my first maternity leave I started to arrive at 8am and leave at 4pm.  I chose to leave at 4pm so that I could pick my daughter up at 4.30.  I couldn't have left later than 5pm as the nursery closed at 5.30.  And then I would hardly have seen her.  All the work that I used to do at school was simply taken home.  And after she was in bed at 7pm I would start working, usually until at least 10pm.

These days both my daughters attend wraparound care at their school.  It opens at 8am, so that's when I drop them off.  I then get to school at about 8.25.  They finish 15 minutes before me, so I get to pick them up between 4pm and 4.30.  I can't pick them up after that as I would have to pay for another hour for each of them.  And it's not cheap.  And anyway I want to see them.  My rule is that I don't do school work when they are up, so if I have work to do I start at 7.30pm.

You may be wondering what all this is about.  Why am I boring you with the minutiae of my childcare arrangements and when I do my school work?

Stay on after school if you want pay rise, teachers told was the headline on the front of The Times today.  The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has been making more pronouncements about teachers and the job that they do.  Except that this time he has started to talk about their pay.

So what exactly has he said?  I have The Times here by my side.  Allow me to quote:

"As a head I would make it clear that if you teach well or try to teach well, if you work hard and go the extra mile, you are going to get paid well.  You are going to be promoted.  Somebody who is out the gate at 3 o'clock in the afternoon is not.  Isn't that fair?  Am I being unfair?"

"If you are going to go and work in these [poor] areas, there has to be a commitment to working beyond the end of the school day.  That's why I asked those questions about performance management.  It's about recognising those people who do go the extra mile.  They've got to be the role models.  Not the person who says: 'I'm sorry, I've reached the end of my hours, I'm off.'"

"Any important job comes with stress.  Teaching is higher status than ever before.  It's one of the best jobs in our society.  It we've got a leadership group that is moaning all the time and saying how stressful it is...  We've got to set an example, to say, 'Yeah, it's difficult, but, actually, it's a wonderful job.'"

Understandably these comments have enraged the teaching community today.  Why is it that all the most contentious issues are raised at the weekend or during the school holidays?  Do they really think we aren't going to notice?

His inference is that only good teachers stay at school after lessons are finished.  "Working hard" and "going the extra mile" are things that you can only do in the school building.  The teachers who don't make the effort to do a good job leave with the children, and, I expect he thinks, go home, eat chocolate biscuits and watch Countdown.  Two things.  First, if I were to leave at 3pm I would leave halfway through a lesson, as I expect would many teachers.  Second, I have explained why I have to leave when I do, and the fact that I have to leave to collect my children does not mean that I have finished work for the day.  Quite the opposite, most days.  

I do a good job in the classroom (it has been said) so why should it matter where I prepare for it?  If I am stuck at school after lessons being a surrogate parent to the children there, then someone else will have to act as a surrogate parent to my own children somewhere else.  Sir Michael, surely you can see that there is something wrong there?  I think that caring for and making time for my own children makes me a better role model to tell the truth.

I do not agree that teaching is "higher status than ever before".  I think it's a great job, and I wouldn't have stuck it out for 17-and-a-bit years if I didn't.  But many parents still don't hold education and educators in high esteem, and you only have to look at the comments on the BBC's report of this story to get some idea of what the general public think of teachers.  

I think I'd better stop there.  I'm just one teacher and this is my personal response.

Teachers are caught between a rock and a hard place.  You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't.  To be perfectly honest, I would much rather be damned by Gove, Wilshaw and their cronies than by my family.


  1. Here here!
    That last sentence says it all.
    Couldn't agree more!
    Lisa xx

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. This is just the kind of teacher-bashing day that makes me weep for our profession. I literally know NO ONE in my school, or at any of the schools I've ever taught in who goes home at 3.00. And if they've gone home before 5.00 it's with a large crate or bag of marking and other paperwork. A sad day for teaching and education.

  3. Don't worry Clare, it's the same story everywhere in the world. I now teach in an international school in Germany and we (teachers at the school) have to deal with exactly the same issues! The management thinks that if we leave at 3.15 (when school ends), we then "go home, eat chocolate biscuits and watch Countdown". When I rather work and prepare my lessons at home using my own computer which works! I am for more productive at home than at school and I do the same as you, I first look after my children and I start working when they are asleep.Unfortunately people don't see that!

  4. Catherine Elliott24 September, 2012 12:07

    I nearly spat my tea out when reading the sentence "Teaching is higher status than ever before. It's one of the best jobs in our society." What a numpty. I just hope your school values the good work you do.