Teaching: is there such a thing as work-life balance?

For most of us, achieving a true work-life balance teeters somewhere between a tangible, attainable reality and the outer fringes of pure fantasy. Is it really possible to work full-time and still have the means to live a fulfilling life?

Looking around at our friends and family, it would seem so (especially if you’re judging it by their Facebook updates) but, in reality, finding that balance is an ongoing challenge. It’s also a challenge that constantly changes with our situation.

When it comes to a work-life balance for teachers, the profession itself has a bit of a PR problem. Ask anyone who has taught and they’ll be able to reel off stories of envy from strangers and friends alike that usually start somewhere along the lines of ‘Oh, you’re a teacher? It must be great to have all those holidays!’ and finishes with them fighting the urge to put the offender in time-out for good.

It’s not just false envy that drives these kinds of comments. More often than not, it’s the sense of dismissal that goes along with it, as if teachers have found a way to freeload professionally or perhaps aren’t as hardworking as ‘regular folk’.

In reality, nothing is further from the truth. With teacher stress levels at an all-time high, the rise in workload for teachers has had them abandoning the profession in droves.

A recent survey of 3,500 teachers in the UK conducted by the BBC showed that two-thirds of respondents considered quitting the profession in the previous year, with 89% citing workload as their main concern. In the USA, the ‘revolving door’ of teachers entering and quickly leaving the profession is costing upwards of $2.2 billion each year.

We’ve covered the high number of teachers quitting over workload in a previous post, along with the number of hours worked by teachers in Australia and around the world. We also looked at measures of other countries to tackle bureaucracy but, despite the best efforts of some, it seems teachers are still facing the same hardships they did a year ago.

New figures are showing that four out of ten new teachers quit within a year and, even for those who love the job, the lack of work-life balance is forcing them out.

Another survey conducted by the Canadian Teacher’s Federation showed that 93% of respondents felt torn between teaching and home responsibilities. A further breakdown of their findings can be found in the infograph below.

Teachers-Survey-infographic

Balancing the ever-growing workload of teaching with home life is one of the great struggles that all teachers face. Along with growing attrition rates, a new solution is being sought by many in the profession: reducing hours, reducing responsibility and, unfortunately, reducing pay.

One anonymous teacher, whose husband is also in the profession, recently told The Guardian about their voluntary pay cut of almost AUD20,000:

“To have a life outside work, we’ve both had to effectively commit career suicide and head down the ladder. We both want to pursue our hobbies and spend more time with our daughter, and we can’t save these things up for the few weeks in the summer when every waking minute isn’t consumed by school. And we certainly can’t wait until we retire.”

“But demotion shouldn’t be the price to pay for having a reasonable work-life balance. Teachers need time to do their jobs properly. Without time to plan, prepare, reflect and deal with the admin, parents, staff and pupils who need us, then we are simply being set up to fail.”

Indeed, teachers are being set up to fail. The more we are able to reduce workloads, reduce stress and give educators the working conditions they deserve the closer we’ll come to finding that elusive work-life balance.