October 16, 2013 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
This September was the start of my seventh year of teaching. We are only a month in to the new academic year, but, despite being physically exhausted, I feel like my passion for teaching has been rejuvenated. There are a number of reasons for the return of my teaching ‘mojo’ this year, however I believe the most important one has been dropping my working hours down to 4 days a week.
To put the change in to context, just over a year ago I moved from an ‘Outstanding’ school in suburban North London to a ‘Good’ comprehensive school in Camden. I was questioned by a few of my former colleagues as to why I would make such a move. Comments were made about the results of the school I was going to, and there was general disbelief as to why I would make life, ‘harder’, for myself.
One of the main reasons for making the move was that I felt like I was ‘falling out of love’ with teaching. I had days where I dreaded going in to work. I felt like I was beginning to sleepwalk through my career. I had also become a step-father. I was struggling to balance my desire to be as good a teacher as I could be, with being a good husband and dad. In short, I made the move so I could work in an environment where I could achieve a healthy balance between work and family life. I wanted to work somewhere that I could push myself to be the best teacher I can be, but at the same time be an active, present father for my three children as they grow up. Too much to ask for?
As it turns out, no, it hasn’t been too much to ask for. In the last year I have rediscovered my love of teaching, become more enthused about my future in education, and have enjoyed every minute of being a dad.
One of the primary reasons for this is that I am now only in school for 4 days a week. There is a belief amongst senior management in the school that staff welfare should be a high priority. One of the various ways this is demonstrated is that quite a few members of the teaching staff work 4 days a week. I approached the move to a 4 day working week with a little trepidation. I knew that I wanted to spend more time with my family. I wanted to be a bigger part of my son’s day-to-day life as he grows up. The impact of the move on my work was a concern however. Would I have enough time to get everything done in 4 days? Would I end up using my extra day off doing work, thereby defeating the whole purpose of that day? I knew I would have to change the way I work if this move was going to work for me.
After 7 weeks, I believe that moving to a 4 day week has helped me to achieve a better work-life balance. In many ways it is also forcing me to become a better teacher. My time in school is now more focused and productive. Every minute in school counts. This new-found efficiency (!) has forced me to rethink how I plan lessons and mark books. I have been working on adapting the #5MinPlan by @TeacherToolkit (blog post to follow – see http://teachertoolkit.me/the-5-minute-lesson-plan/ ) and am searching the blogosphere constantly for ideas to improve my marking and feedback strategies. All the extra reading I have been doing has helped to refine my practice, but I know that there is still some way to go.
Most teachers I know are workaholics. They work hard and they work long hours because they want to be good at their jobs. They want to make sure that they make a difference, however small, to the young people who are sat in front of them every day. The long hours can take their toll. In a poll conducted by the NASUWT in 2012, 49% of the teachers interviewed said that they had considered leaving the profession (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/may/12/more-respect-demand-stressed-teachers).
It is obviously not possible for many teachers to reduce their working week to 4 days. It is important though that we regularly step back and enjoy life away from work. Taking that step back from work is helping me to become a better teacher, husband and father. My levels of stress are at an all time low. Ensuring I have more time at home with my family has helped me to feel more energised when I am at work.
I love being a teacher. I couldn’t think of anything else I would rather spend my working days doing. I don’t ever want to feel like I am failing in my job simply because I wasn’t the first person to arrive at work in the morning, and the last person to leave at night. It is a simple idea, but working smarter rather than longer is an idea that I intend to follow not just for this half term, but for the rest of my career. It is an idea that will hopefully help me to be a good teacher, father and husband.