Do you take weekends off?
I was leading a group whose conversation had shifted to sustaining yourself as a teacher; I wanted to focus the discussion elsewhere, while simultaneously emphasising how important I believe this issue is – so in response to a teacher’s commitment to take Saturdays off, I strongly agreed and tried to move to a close: “Definitely take Saturdays off, it’s really important, I don’t work on the weekends at all.”There was a shocked silence, broken by Sam: “What, even Sundays?”
Tribe 1 will think the question ridiculously masochistic, because it is obviously fine, and I should stop this middle-class guilt.
Tribe 2 will be shocked at how self-centred I sound, given I’ve signed up to a movement to overcome massive social injustice .]
Can you sustain yourself as a teacher?
I believe the strong argument for looking after yourself and ensuring you have a good life is one of sustainability. Here are some points I’ve made or thought in the past:
– looking after myself makes me a nicer, more cheerful person, which helps me be positive and warm in the classroom – building relationships – a key element of teaching
– most of the things I do for pleasure make me a better teacher: I share ideas with friends about classes and individuals, I read, visit museums, learn new things
– I don’t expect my students – nor would I expect anyone I was leading – to lead an unbalanced life – I should model this
– the opposite of sustainability – what Narayani Menon calls ‘kamikaze teaching’ – is no solution to national education problems; how will we find 438,000 teachers willing to do this their whole careers?All of these arguments have helped me to justify looking after myself and have assuaged much of the guilt I feel about it. But I’d like to go beyond this here, because all these reasons are predicated on looking after myself in order to be a better teacher and I’d like to consider whether they are the right thing to do in and of themselves.
A fantastic teacher I met in Delhi offered this simple and profound insight about herself and her teaching three weeks ago:
I’ve realised – one of my values is comfort.
Sapna Shah, Teach for India
…a teacher asks Mr Verrilli [the principal] about work-life balance, and how teachers are expected to put in 12-hour days on top of weekends and holidays – and give their numbers for parents and pupils to contact them out of hours. There is no need for work-life balance, he says. “This is a civil rights movement, as if to say Martin Luther King didn’t need work-life balance, why should they?”
– Kevin, on being asked, many years ago, what we should do as individuals to make the world a better place, said he was most concerned to get married and bring up kids well with the person who he loved. I don’t know whether or not this happened.
– Anna, on being asked about this last night – I think her argument was that comfort and living well are aspects of self-actualisation – becoming better humans, making them the right thing to do. (If this seems a little vague, appropriately for this post, we were out in a loud table-tennis bar and I couldn’t hear all she said – but if that wasn’t it, it’s still a good argument).
Lives to envy or lives to admire?
Paradoxically, then, the best life to live will be one that is constantly struggling to become a different sort of life.