Can you achieve work-life balance as a dad and a teacher?
For anyone who’s a teacher, referring to your students as “my kids”, particularly for a younger cohort, is fairly typical. Just as a parent does with their own children, as a teacher, you build a rapport with your students and become emotionally invested in them. That’s not only in their academic attainment and progress but their well-being and emotional welfare. Even seeing your students mature evokes a feeling akin to observing the development of your own children.
The same goes for the students who often see their teachers in a maternal or paternal role. I’ve been accidentally referred to as “Daddy” or “Dad” on countless occasions. It’s unsurprising as given the duration of the school day, and the contact you’ll have with your students, as a teacher you spend more waking hours with them than their parents do.
As every parent would probably attest, nothing really prepares you for parenthood. Nevertheless, becoming a parent when you’re a teacher is probably the closest preparation you can get from a job. Where I had 30 children in my class, becoming a parent meant I now had an extra child to consider and this time I really was “Daddy”. But working in a profession that includes some features of parenting, albeit not to the same extent, would that mean teaching would be compatible with my new job as a dad?
Some might assume that teaching is a profession that gets the challenges of parenting and having a family. Your holidays usually coincide with your children’s (headteachers do now have flexibility on scheduling holiday dates which makes it less common than it used to be) and schools finish at roughly the same time. Though the school day for students bears little resemblance to the working day for teachers. You’ll be at work long before and after students and working in the evenings and at the weekend is typically required. The myth of teachers working from 9 to 3:30 is one that teachers everywhere frustratingly, annoyingly and consistently dispel.
The holidays certainly help and compared to other dads, I get more blocks of time to spend with my son. Although it’s not as clear cut as it would seem and most teachers spend at least a portion of their holiday working. Not to mention, while those who don’t work in schools might not be able to empathise, it takes time at the beginning of every holiday to emotionally and mentally decompress from the relentless pressures of term time; not dissimilar to any other stressful profession.
That does erode your quality time with your family but it can’t be denied that having a generous holiday allowance is a hugely family-friendly advantage of teaching. It also reduces the need for childcare outside of term time to an extent that most professions just don’t afford.
Within term time, it’s another story; one that sees many teachers experiencing a dichotomy between being a teacher and a parent. You unquestionably want to do the very best for your own child and the children in your classroom. Nonetheless, managing the task of the personal and professional competing pressures isn’t easy.
Being a working parent, regardless of your job, is always going to present challenges. Being knackered from the working day, while wanting to spend time with your child in the evenings, is a fixture of most parents’ lives. Though with many jobs, at least there’s the weekend. Yet for teachers, evenings and weekends are often consumed by work. There’s also an emotional and mental drain in teaching that compounds any post work fatigue and an experience that only teachers and those in similar roles will really understand.
Teaching is a job with no respite – not dissimilar to being a parent – so your mind is constantly in overdrive with the endless tasks you have in addition to actually teaching and being responsible for your students. Think of the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, and the unrivaled reward, of being a parent. Then imagine also experiencing that during the working day, but with 30 children.
Consequently, the balancing act of teacher vs parent can sometimes seem near impossible.
Excessive and unmanageable workload in teaching is generally acknowledged and well documented, and it can be overwhelming regardless, let alone once you become a parent. So what gives? No teacher wants to let down their students by doing a half baked job and no parent wants to feel they’ve neglected their children because they’ve been a slave to their job. It’s a professional vs personal dilemma that no one should be faced with but one that is a reality for most teachers who are parents.
I understand the value of my time but acutely so now that I’m a dad. That means recognising the importance of spending time with my son. I allocate a finite amount of time for working in the evening and at weekends and ensure I leave work on time so that I’m home for bath time and putting my son to bed during the week. I recognise that failing to do so means reneging on my duty to play a meaningful role in my son’s day and his routine. While my wife is on maternity leave, it’s also a small redress in the balance of the respective contribution we currently play in raising our son.
While at work, I work smarter but with a stubborn attitude in refusing to renege on any responsibilities as a teacher, arguably to the detriment of my well-being. Furthermore, at the back of my mind ever since my son was born, I’ve had the concern that I didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to suggest I wasn’t doing a good job now that I was a parent. Whereas had I been struggling, and in a profession where the key stakeholders are children and parents themselves, shouldn’t I have envisaged that scenario being met with support and empathy, within reason, as I got to grips with being a dad?
Teaching isn’t void of that empathy for parents and experiences will differ between schools. It can also be different for mums and dads. On a recent keeping in touch day, my wife (who’s also a teacher) was asked by her headteacher how she felt about her return to work in the context of her new role as a mother. Whereas there’s been no similar discussion at my school now that I’m a dad. And it’s been a near consistent experience for most dads I know who are also teachers. Is it because it’s believed dads won’t be doing much on the parenting front and it’s therefore deemed an unnecessary conversation? Or is it an indication of the extent to which schools are attuned to modern parenting?
There’s much progress to be made in teaching with regard to the well-being of staff in what is a highly pressured job. As a result, many teachers have been institutionalised to feel that needing support is a sign of weakness or not performing appropriately. Add a dose of toxic masculinity into the mix and I fear that this underlying attitude has also contributed to the instances where the challenge of being a dad and a teacher is ignored by schools and teacher dads themselves.
Unlike teaching of yesteryear, where senior teachers had simply paid their dues with lengthy service, school senior leadership teams now increasingly include fiercely career driven teachers. Many throw themselves wholeheartedly into their careers and eschew having a family or even a partner, a choice that should be respected as their own. But if senior leadership teams are becoming less reflective, and potentially less empathetic, of the experience of family life, how will this will pan out for teachers who do decide to become parents?
The lack of flexible working arrangements in teaching is indicative of this. It’s certainly not unheard of but particularly in primary schools, where routine and consistency for the students is so important, some headteachers will be opposed to it. Although these are some of the necessary approaches if teaching is to truly become a family-friendly profession. I know of teachers that have been granted flexible working arrangements upon their return from maternity leave, which sets a great precedent for the direction teaching needs to go in. Conversely, I know of many teachers who have had their request for flexible working, to support being a parent, denied.
Teaching and becoming a dad are undoubtedly the most worthwhile roles I’ve ever had. So why should they at times seem mutually exclusive? They don’t need to be, nor do parents who are teachers want an easy ride on account of being a parent. However, in roles that are generally considered as altruistic and relentless, the challenge of assuming both needs to be one that we’re more aware of.
Written by ALaw