The narrative around teacher workload, of escalating hours leading to mental and physical exhaustion, is only partly correct.
That teachers are overworked is undeniable; workload is a pernicious veil that cloaks just about every teacher in the land. It obscures the clear view they should have of their job.
However, less attention is paid to the nature of this work. The argument that teachers work too hard is a false one. Teachers have to work hard, because their job is both a physically exhausting one and an emotionally challenging one. This is a fact of life and the majority of teachers accept this. You cannot go into teaching and expect not to work hard. It’s tough.
When talking to family and friends who are in different jobs/professions, there appears to be a lot of crossover. They are all sucked into this management culture of ‘targets’, ‘productivity’, ‘actions’ and ‘performance’. The key difference is that, in teaching, we have to do ours whilst thirty children are pulling at our cuffs.
I am not being flippant here. Reading job descriptions and person specifications prepared for teaching posts, there is little that talks of the human interactions between teacher and pupil. Instead, it is heavily weighted towards competencies and tasks.
The DfE Workload Challenge Research (February 2015) identified key areas of concern within the profession.
‘The most frequently mentioned tasks contributing to unnecessary and unproductive workload fitted within the category of lesson planning and policies, assessment and reporting administration (82% of respondents mentioned tasks which fitted into this category).’
This has been made far, far worse by the Government’s cumbersome reforms, which have led to an obsession on statistics which dwarfs the 2015 version. Ofsted rightly bang on about reducing marking and bureaucratic tasks, but their well-meaning advice is falling on deaf ears. It’s too late – many schools are now run by market-obsessed, power-hungry managers, and they are the ones who set the parameters.
Teachers (as do all human beings for that matter) require plenty of emotional payback for their endeavours. Here are some examples.
Take satisfied parents, who after a good performance of the football team chirp, ‘thanks for organising that, Miss’. Or a child who comes in the following day with a drawing, inspired by the story you read to the class the previous day. Or a colleague who compliments you on the behaviour of your class when they performed in assembly.
In all these examples, teachers have committed themselves to their pupils with some success, which has been recognised. This gives them sustenance to maintain high energy levels. It is the right type of hard work.
Teachers have no problem with working hard and putting in long hours. They just have a problem with working hard on the wrong things.