A colleague recently posted this article by “Someone’s Mum,” Teaching: a ‘family unfriendly profession.’ I am not sure if she was posting it as evidence as to why she may not be planning parenthood for herself, or if that’s why she may consider leaving the profession if or when she starts a family. It doesn’t matter. These choices are hers and hers alone. But boy oh boy did it resonate.
Colleagues who are young mothers of infants, toddlers, and elementary school aged children post about time spent away from sick toddlers, or working late into the evening getting ‘caught up.’ (I know the dad-teachers are feeling it, too, but their posts tend not to state being home sick with a baby, or how guilty they feel when they go to work and not stay home. In fact, I don’t see a lot of guilt being flung around dad-work posts at all. Hmmm. Interesting. I’ll check my confirmation bias and do some further research.)
Colleagues who are more in my demographic, of high school or college-aged children, tend to post a wistful longing for more time. And I guarantee I am not projecting on this sentiment. It’s real and raw.
The ‘time conversation’ isn’t cute or funny anymore. There is this undercurrent of veteran teachers and administrators whom, I sense, give off the vibe of “yes yes dear, it’s hard, I know…” in that patronizing way. It’s a dog whistle. Time management and leadership must take into account time, and guard by teachers’ time. It has very real financial costs (if that gets your attention) versus the invisible costs of depression, anxiety, and resentment, all leading to burning out.
I have seen my planning time taken away, my contact time increase, my pension reduced, and my school’s budget cut. But I keep giving. We all keep giving, in the face of our time, our resources, our rights, even our sanity being taken away. I have been treated for stress and anxiety and witnessed colleagues suffer similarly.
For every district planner, or curriculum concept, or new adoption committee, every test maker or assessment giver, there demand criteria of time management, too. Most educators do not have a background in project management or traffic management. I do, and I know. For each person’s role in the implementation and execution of current and new ideas/innovation, it requires multiplied time. It’s very easy to disconnect from the actual work that’s involved. And work is time. This disconnection may be one significant shift in my attitude during my ten years: I am very diligent about how I spend my time and am guarded and wary of how others want me to use it. It’s a pure cost/benefits analysis.
Teachers do not have many opportunities for upward salary growth. Paying for test scores is not the answer. It never has been, and never will be. Paying someone for arbitrary factors that are out of their control is wrong: benefits that come from things within their control is feasible and equitable. The only answer is to allow administrators to recognize when something is important and fundamental. Fortunately, our administration team this year understands and respects the staff thoroughly. Its vision and knowledge of what it takes to get stuff down make all the difference in leadership styles, and for that I’m grateful. But this should be standard practice to hire, and keep, highly qualified teachers.
It’s important to recognize when folks get it right: when district leadership listens, demonstrates with agility and responds. Perhaps a starting place for the dialogue about how teachers spend their time should include protocols/norms:
“It” is whatever curriculum, change, adaptation, adoption, workflow, time constraints, etc.
- Is it necessary?
- Is it someone’s personal agenda/vision?
- Does this agenda align with the district, state, and Federal mandates/goals?
- Does this agenda/vision build a sustainable infrastructure?
- Is it change for change’s sake?
- How much time will it take? (then multiply it by 3)
- How does it meet learners’ needs of the climate and culture of that particular school? (This may be especially applicable to large districts.)
- Does it meet the current life goal needs of the teachers, be it personal or professional?
- What stage of life are they in? Is there a family issue to be considered–birth, death, divorce, marriage, travel/exploration, professional goals (such as the PSWP class I take almost every summer out of my own time/money)
- Are they involved with other professional development, such as National Boards or other organizations that support their pedagogy and practice? Are they given a forum (voice) for sharing this knowledge in a collegial way?
Folks ask me if my mind ever quits, and no, not really. But that’s a good thing. If I am creating and supporting, I’m in the zone. I’m happy. Contrast to last year when I was fighting for my professional life. I have other things to think about than my job, however; we teachers just need more damn time. That’s it. Perhaps a formula for those of us who work in high-impact schools, our workshop days need to happen with more frequency and less outside demands. Teachers speak of differentiating professional development all the time, but that change can’t happen fast enough for me. I want to advocate for my colleagues with small children: I want them never to give it a second thought if they need to stay home with a sick child, or for that matter, not give it a second thought if they need to stay home and play with a well one. Also: if we want to put in a few hours, get caught up, create something new, etc., we should do that guilt and judgment free. It’s okay to be happy in a job and as a
mother parent. And it’s okay if you are not a parent and have outside interests besides teaching. We only get one time around this wheel, and it goes by fast.
Postscript: Here is how I spent some of my time yesterday.