The problem with work-life balance…
…is that it presumes that work is the opposite to life. That there’s work and than everything else. I know there are jobs that are just that – a job that you only do for money and you can’t wait to leave. But teaching isn’t one of those.
Teaching has everything to do with real life. Teachers don’t only learn from the past and educate for the present, but they are the social engineers of the future. Teaching is part of life, so believing in a work-life balance is detrimental to your teaching.
A much more helpful phrase is work-leisure balance. Some kinds of teachers, known as perfectionists, put so much into their work that they forget about he leisure. I’ve heard teaching compared with air traffic control in terms of the number of interactions you can ave per hour. But there’s no immediate life or death in teaching – only preparedness for the future – you can always teach a bit better, do a bit more, prepare that little bit extra… Perfectionists are great for their children 90% of the time, but they run the risk of burning out and becoming disconnected from their leisure time. It is this leisure time that will keep their teaching relevant and meaningful for their students.
I prefer ‘life-blend’ as my phrase to use instead of ‘work-life balance’. It reminds me that sometimes there are really intense times when I have to work every hour God sends, and at other times I need to spend time with my family, friends or just chilling.
I’ve also found that Doug Belshaw’s #Uppingyourgame has helped get this blend right. Google it.
I’m not the kind of teacher who always wanted to run a school. I’ve met them though. I met a PGCE student a few years ago on the ‘fast track’ program who told me that she wanted to be a deputy head within 2 years. Fair play to her I thought. And if the addage is true that good teachers make poor school leaders then she should be a really excellent headteacher by now
Mind you, I was a pretty shocking student teacher myself (so I’m hoping that’ll make me a good school leader ;-)). My tutor commented on the positive relationship I developed with my students, but aside from that my lessons were poorly planned and taught; differentiation was minimal. In fact I failed my first teaching practice. A year earlier I had had no idea of becoming a teacher, but my inability to sell anything as a salesman and the fact that no record contract was forthcoming for my band, conspired with other events (too long and tedious for the purposes of this post) to mean that teaching became not just an option but a preference. A few months later I started teacher training. Unlike the PGCE student I mentioned in the first paragraph I had no notion or ambition of school leadership.
Since then I’ve worked for a whole range of school leaders in different contexts, all of whom have played a part in making me think I could do the job. It wasn’t even a dream to begin with, but it did become a dream at some point. And last Thursday, at interview, the dream beame a reality when I was appointed as deputy head at Paganel Primary School, following two terms of ‘acting-up’ in that role. Apologies for any pride seeping through in that last sentence – it comes before a fall, I know.
Aside from inspiring me (in their various ways) to take up school leadership myself, the school leaders have a further thing in common. There have been eleven in all, and nine of them have had broken marriages of some kind. The two that remain are the two that I’d least like to emulate.
Now eleven is no number to base any kind of statistical sample on, and I really shouldn’t be fretting. But I am slightly. What if it really is impossible to maintain a balanced family life and be a successful school leader? I don’t have the personal experience to prove otherwise. Marriage breakdowns and unfortunate events happen in all walks of life, but in 15 years of my teaching I know a far greater proportion of teachers who have maintained marriages and careers than school leaders who have done so.
So my personal experiment is this: can I blend school leadership with the rest of my life so that I’m still a good dad and a good husband? It seems easy at the moment, sitting in the garden on a bank holiday with the sun shining down on the children playing with water guns and the climbing frame, drinking iced squash. But tomorrow I’m deputy head again and the ‘real work’ starts…