They don’t. That’s the simple answer. But no matter how many times you tell people, no matter how you phrase your answer, no matter what the actual cold, hard facts are, there will still always be an idiot who comes out with this line about teacher working hours. And it drives me crazy.
Often, it’s said at parties, when people have had a few drinks and feel emboldened by the alcohol to make some comment about how privileged we teachers are. Because we all know nothing helps a convivial atmosphere like telling someone how easy their job is – and by extension, how lazy they are. Why does this happen? How have we reached a stage where it is OK for people to openly sneer at teachers? It makes my blood boil.
But of course, because I am a teacher and one of the things we have is a steely ability not to rise to taunts or rudeness or plain bloody-mindedness, I smile and shrug off the comment and change the subject.
But here is what I want to say. Here is what revolves round my head as I watch you swig your wine and guffaw and look down your nose at me. Here is the truth about teacher holidays and teacher working hours:
Every weekday during term time, I work a minimum of twelve hours a day. I get in at eight, work straight through to six, without a lunch break, and then, when I’ve cooked a meal for my family and tidied and done homework with my son and ironed uniform and prepped his book bag and tucked him up and read him a bedtime story, I go downstairs and mark books for two hours. Every. Single. Weeknight.
At weekends, things are slightly easier. I have a rule that I don’t work on Saturdays, so I only spend about five hours on Sundays prepping the following week’s lessons and marking. So generally, I clock in a 65 hour week. How’s that for teacher working hours?
What’s that, you say? Doctors and lawyers and architects and project managers all work similar hours? Well yes, I am sure they do. But they don’t get paid a wage that is less than the highly skilled worker threshold proposed by the government. I guess my five years of education, followed by a year of on-the-job probation doesn’t make me highly skilled. Skilled enough to be entrusted with teaching and nurturing this country’s future generations, yes. But not skilled enough to be able to afford a cleaner or a dishwasher or any of the other things that might make my life slightly easier. My salary won’t even get me a mortgage where I live.
We teachers don’t make a lot of money for those 65 hours a week.
So maybe, if we even out those 65 hours over the year, things become a little fairer. Maybe those thirteen weeks of holiday go some way to recompensing us for the unbelievable slog that is term time. And it is a slog, believe me. You’ve just made a joke about how difficult your teen is being at the moment. How they shrug and scowl and mutter obscenities under their breath at you. Well, imagine 32 of those teens sitting in a classroom for six hours a day. Not all of them are like that – in fact, to be honest, the majority are far more delightful to deal with than the average adult at a party – but there are challenges. I expect you’ve never had to wrestle a compass off an employee who was about to stab it into their hand, have you? And if one of your colleagues doesn’t turn in an urgent piece of work, you simply refer it to your line manager – us teachers have to give up our lunchtime to stand over them while they do it.
And I bet you get to go to the toilet when you want to.
What’s that you say? Surely the job satisfaction makes it worth it? Well, of course it does, up to a point. I can’t think of many other reasons why I would work a 65 hour week for terrible pay in largely uncomfortable conditions. The joy of teaching is pretty incredible. Knowing that you have changed a life; watching someone fall in love with a poem or a book or a play; helping someone to communicate effectively: that is amazing. But I don’t understand why it means we shouldn’t be allowed the same working conditions as everyone else. Don’t other people love their jobs, too?
You’re still grumbling about the six week holiday. Well, OK, yes – I admit that over the six weeks, I do allow myself three weeks straight of relaxation. No marking, no planning, no emails: it is bliss. But the other three weeks are sorting my classroom (you know your teenager’s bedroom? Well, they take the same sort of care with their environment at school), prepping books for the new year, planning, inputting data, preparing specialist lessons for students with SEN or other needs. Because no-one wants their child to be the one who falls through the gaps. And my job is to make sure they don’t.
You still don’t look happy. Could it be – dare I suggest it – a touch of jealousy? Because if so, you’re far better being the green-eyed monster about that bloke over there in the corner who gets a 15% bonus every year, regardless of his performance. Or that woman who has just returned from a company trip to the Seychelles. Or that man who has just had his bunions treated privately, thanks to his employer’s excellent private healthcare scheme. Why be envious of me and my ludicrous teacher working hours?
You’re looking a bit embarrassed now. No, thanks, I won’t have another glass of wine. I have to be getting home – there’s a stack of marking waiting for me tomorrow morning, and it won’t be any easier with a sore head. What have you got planned tomorrow? A lazy day? Oh, how lovely.
It’s been great meeting you. Just great.
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