Here is the kitchen table at work, ready for a new round of our Friday favourite – messy play. Cornflour gloop with added cocoa – our colour this half term is brown – and the topic is minibeasts so we had some bugs to play and make marks with. Just add four very special children and you’re ready to go. Yes, it does take as long to clear up as it does to actually run the session! And yes, while I am running this session, there are usually two or three others that I’ve planned for running at the same time …
I don’t write that much about work here, because of confidentiality and all that gubbins, but let me just explain my usual working hours, in case Mr Gove is at all interested.
I’m up at 6 every morning, and I leave by 6.45 on a good day, meaning I’m at work by 7.15am. I do actually start work then, printing out the lesson plans that I’ve prepared the night before, responding to any emails, and getting resources ready for the day ahead. I lead a team of fantastic TAs who start arriving at 8ish – lots of them arrive early to help me prepare for the day, because we all care about the way the day in class goes.
The children are in between 9-3.15, and those hours are non-stop. Perhaps more full on than in a mainstream school, I don’t know, since in a special school we’re dealing with personal care as well as lessons etc.? And at dinnertime we generally have to help quite a lot with the eating. Most of our children don’t play at playtime, either – we have to teach them how to do that, too! Anyway, we all work non-stop during that time (with a 45 minute lunch break), delivering the best care, teaching and supporting the children’s learning the best way we can, providing opportunities, putting strategies in place, assessing, recording, organising, encouraging, prompting, helping, listening, tidying, cleaning, feeding, toileting, waiting, watching. Not necessarily in that order
After school we have a quick debrief and the TAs leave – then I start clearing up the mess of the day, sometimes phoning parents about things that need communication, or talking to other teachers to share ideas/resources or ask for help. Tidying up and sorting out can take some time, as can general classroom admin, things like organising trips and phoning other agencies, etc. I have meetings on one or two days a week after school, this sort of thing goes on until 4.30-5pm.
I tend to leave school then, and go home to my own family, who usually need ferrying around, feeding, and encouraging to get on with their homework etc. There will be cooking and washing to do – general Mum stuff. When the family is all settled, I usually work for a couple of hours in the evening, looking through all the notes from the day (since TAs run more sessions than I do I rely on them to annotate lesson plans so that I know how things have gone), tracking the children’s progress based on those notes, and then planning the next sessions.
If I have anything on in the evening (eg my own children’s parents’ evenings, church stuff, or God forbid, spending time with my husband, or a social event that I might want to go to) then I somehow have to fit all this in around it. So if there’s nothing else on then maybe I’ll work 8-10pm, if there is then sometimes I can’t even start until 10pm. Perhaps I’m working too hard? It is no wonder I’m exhausted during term time!
Then at weekends I work on average 5-6 hours inbetween being a mum and a wife and trying to run a household – finishing any extra bits of planning, and doing what I assume is my equivalent of marking: collating photographic evidence and writing it up. I sometimes have shopping to do for school, and visits to places that I want to take the children to, for risk assessments etc. – these get done in my own time. I really care about the children that I teach, and I am passionate about being the best that I can be, supporting their families as well as I possibly can, and teaching (and all that that includes) to the best of my abilities. However, I am stretched to the limit as it is, I can’t possibly do any more.
Adding it up, I make it a 9 hour day, plus 2 hours most evenings, plus 5 hours at weekends – that’s a 60 hour week. I get paid for 37, I think, if I’m not very much mistaken. So I kind of think that the longer holidays make up for it slightly – if it were spread evenly it would be about right.
I have never really been bothered about striking for pay or pensions or any of that type of thing. I don’t care about the money (as long as I get enough to pay the bills I’m happy), I love the children and the job. I don’t care about the pension, because I came to working as a teacher late anyway so I’m not really expecting it to pay anything in my old age – I’ll just go and work behind the till in Sainsbury’s if I need extra money then. Or move in with my children, God knows they’ve lived with me for long enough, it’ll be my turn by then
But this latest suggestion about extending the school day and school term times? Ridiculous – and I would strike over it. Teachers need the ‘after hours’ to complete their assessment, preparation, and general sorting out. They need the ‘before hours’ to get resources ready for the lessons ahead. And they need the holiday hours to recover from the crazy schedule that they work during term time, never mind to work on reports, planning, etc. They need time to reflect on their practice, time to *think* about the children they teach, and time for their minds to have space to dream up new and exciting things to do in class!
I already feel guilty that my own family suffer as a result of me working full time, if I had to work fuller time I don’t know how I’d do it. Well, I wouldn’t, I would have to leave. The till at Sainsbury’s would seem like a good option, I think.
Quite apart from all that teacher-style ranting, (I suppose I could see it working if teachers worked shifts and job-shared throughout the week) my own children do not need to be in school for any more hours than they already are. They need time to chill out, relax, just BE, and learn on their own terms about the world around them. They need time to make go-carts, time to bake, time to make cards, take photos, or whatever else they decide they want to do. They need time to ‘bed in’ all the learning that they do in their organised hours, time to practise their instruments, time to maintain friendships outside of an institution – there is no way I agree with extending school hours as a parent, never mind as a teacher. Yes, I know I’m about to send my daughter off to boarding school but that’s her choice (at age 16) not mine! Small children are exhausted after 6 hours in school, never mind piling on any more – they need to go home and relax.
Gove’s suggestions aren’t for the good of the children, or even for the good of the working parents, in my opinion. If parents want to work extended hours at the moment, they can – there are breakfast clubs, after school clubs, or other ways to arrange childcare if you need to. No, these proposals are simply to benefit the country financially.
But, Mr Gove, there is more to life than money.