It’s just a job?

Last week’s twitter #SLTChat on wellbeing seems to have resonated with many – especially this tweet by John Tomsett.


Stephen Tierney has written about it in his post Teaching and Leadership Costs. I think John’s point is an excellent one. We spend far too much time working for it not to be a part of our life and surely it should be a part we enjoy rather than try to separate out? These thoughts have been bubbling around my head all week, but yet I still found myself nodding along to these tweets from Mike Stuchbery.

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I am left asking myself “is teaching just a job?”

It is certainly possible to treat it as such. I did so myself for many years. If you are competent at your job you can go in, do what you need to do as efficiently as possible and go home. You don’t have to volunteer to do anything extra, you can work to rule and practice saying no. It can be done. And yet…

To what end? Teaching is a fascinating and rewarding job. For many teachers it isn’t just a job. You can see that from the number of teachers whiling away their time on Twitter; passionately debating which methods of teaching have most value. You can see it at TeachMeets which always take place out of school hours, often at weekends, and always well attended. You can see it when a new exciting project is introduced in schools and there is a clamour to be involved. You can see it from the number of books being published on teaching and their enthusiastic reception.

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This CPD library sits in my classroom

In the corner of my classroom sits my CPD library. Some of them are borrowed from the school but most I have bought myself. Several are signed by the author and are now treasured possessions. I look forward to SLTchat on a Sunday evening and will spend time on a Saturday morning devouring and sharing blogs. I’ll write about education and talk about it at every opportunity. And yet…

I also find time to go running and walking. I love cooking and reading other books. I have the time to go to the cinema and up for a meal (even on a school night). I have a life outside of teaching as well. This may be where the confusion comes in. The Danes work the lowest number of hours in Europe and yet report seeing their work as important and fulfilling.

I don’t think that teaching is just a job. It is the word “just” I object to. If we see our work as somehow lesser than the rest of our life we are missing out. A job is something we do to get paid and I have no interest in prostituting myself out for 30 years. I demand something more. Our work should be fulfilling and engaging. It should be a passion not because that benefits anyone else but because it benefits us. If we are not enjoying teaching I would suggest that it is because, as Michael Tidd points out, accountability and measuring progress has taken over from teaching and learning. We are forced to focus on extrinsic motivation – the fear of failure – rather than the intrinsic pleasure of a job well done.

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If we can let go of this fear and focus instead on the real job of the teacher then we find something that is more than a job. We find something that is a rewarding and fulfilling part of our life.

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6 thoughts on “It’s just a job?

  1. It’s great that you have time for all those things. I know many who struggle with the ‘demands’ of a job they love and family that need them. I squeeze in my running where I can but even I have found that there is less and less time for the things I love, including school.and education. Thank goodness for Twitter. And no, I don’t tend to jump at the chance to be involved in new initiatives. Not sure how those with young families and elderly parents to care for find time to read books, never mind write them. Hats off to them.

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    • To be honest this probably needed to be two different posts.
      I don’t think time needs to come in to it – I don’t think that if we see it as more than “just” a job we have to devote more time. it is more about demanding job satisfaction as well as the money. if we just do it for the money it soon becomes pretty soul destroying.

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  2. Thought provoking as always. I see lots of similarities in how you and I experience teaching. I find it isn’t really helpful, or fair, for me to distinguish ‘work’ from ‘life’. I enjoy reading education blogs. I enjoy writing them. I enjoy attending CPD events. I don’t enjoy doing the washing up, or hanging out wet clothes! So I see my life, rather than a distinction between work and play, as finding a balance between the things I enjoy and the things I don’t.

    But I am aware that it isn’t fair or realistic for me to expect all teachers to see things the way I do and think it really important that the profession finds a way for those who do see their work as ‘just’ a job to be content and successful. Not doing this, and expecting everyone to spend their own money and emotional energy on CPD, leads to the feeling that the only way to be a teacher is to sacrifice themselves to The Cause, which I feel is a factor driving the recent recruitment and retention crisis. I’m also aware that the amount of time and energy that can be devoted to teaching will inevitably vary over a career and think the system needs to be understanding and accepting of this.

    This is why I find comments like the one at the top of your blog (the one Mike re-tweeted) tremendously damaging. There may be a few people who are inspired by it, but to most it’s intimidating and off-putting.

    Thanks again for the blog.

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    • I can see that and perhaps I phrased it somewhat clumsily. I didn’t mean to suggest that to see your work as more than JUST a job should need more time spent on it – merely that seeing any job as JUST a job is actually detrimental to our wellbeing. We should demand more from our working life. Not for anyone else, but for ourself.

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  3. Hi again, Mark. Sorry, my comment wasn’t at all a criticism of your post and apologies if it came across that way. What I mean is that in all professions there exist multiple levels of motivation and these vary over time and with unique life experiences. As you point out, we should be aiming for everyone to engage and see the beauty of work (hard with extensive and pointless admin). but we should also be supportive of those unable to make such a commitment. For example, at the moment my daughter is newborn, healthy and sleeping well, so reading and writing blogs on top of teaching is manageable. I’m well aware things might change and want a system understanding of this. If we don’t do this we create the ‘hero’ culture which leads to burnout and the sense that teaching simply isn’t something that can be done by a normal person with normal, human commitments.

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    • I didn’t see it as a criticism at all – it was a very good point. I don’t think my examples of blogging etc were helpful – they couldn’t probably have gone in a different blog.
      I am currently reading A Year of Living Danishly and one point made there is that people work on average only 34 hours a week but report very high instrinsic motivation in their work. They see their work as important and fulfilling – they just don’t feel the need to dedicate long hours to it. It isn’t just a job but nor does it dominate all else.
      I absolutely agree that a hero culture is unhelpful and I don’t think that seeing teaching as more than a job (but a fulfilling part of life) should involve doing anything extra. It should just involve being able to enjoy out work.

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