Working in education is a lifelong passion for many teachers. Even when teachers are sick, they dose-up on vitamins, cold and flu medication, just to make it into school because they cannot bear the thought of another teacher, substitute or other, messing up their class.
As teachers we do have an illness when it comes to education, it is called “The kids need me” syndrome. If we do not make that extra effort, then who will? There are teachers who are up late at night working on new lesson ideas, preparing feedback for students, or responding to emails from parents. There is undoubtedly huge commitment in our profession to getting the job done and making our schools better for our students.
“Oh, but teachers get great holidays,” say some. To some extent yes, this can be a perk, when a teacher is able to have holidays that may be more than what the average person gets. Yet at the same time, more work keeps getting crammed into that 10 week term window. So much so, that when the time comes for that holiday, the first week is spent getting over some illness as our immune system comes crashing down.
Do teachers work harder than in other professions? Not necessarily, and it depends on who you are. There are teachers that do the bare minimum and then there are others that give their life and soul to the profession. So much time and effort do some teachers give that they may be staying late after school instead of seeing their own child’s swimming practice, or having dinner with their family.
Being involved in schools is a calling; an opportunity for us to make a significant difference to the lives of young people and through it, hopefully, to make a better world. Yet the downside of being involved in this wonderful profession is that if we are not seen to be doing enough, then we can feel guilty and push ourselves even harder to make that difference. Some teachers go to the point of pushing themselves so hard to the point of burnt out, where they become little use to anyone. We need to stop this from happening.
First and foremost, if we do not look after ourselves, we cannot help others to the very best of our ability. By others, this means students, parents, colleagues, friends and family. It is like the oxygen mask concept on an aeroplane. “Fit your own mask first before helping others.” Yet being involved in education, a service where we are expected to give of ourselves to others, it can feel a bit selfish. We then want to spend that extra time engaged in meaningful work to support others. We are torn between serving others and looking after ourselves and our families.
School leaders have a moral obligation to support their teachers and support staff get the balance right between working hard and staying healthy. Teachers cannot always make the right decision for themselves when the pressure becomes so much that they feel they have to get the job done right here and right now. Yet at the same time, teachers cannot always expect school leaders to make a daunting workload go away either.
We are all adults in this together, responsible for looking out for each other and ensuring we maintain a sense of balance. It is OK to take one or two days off to get back to full health, or have family time. In doing so, we have to make sure that we are as productive as we can possibly be in the time we have to commit to our students.
Richard is currently Secondary School Principal of Suzhou Singapore International School, one of China's leading international schools. He leads workshops across the Asia-Pacific region for the International Baccalaureate in the areas of pedagogical leadership and approaches to teaching and learning. Richard consults with schools on the topics of school improvement and effective implementation and use of technology.
With a background in public and independent school education in the UK and Australia, Richard is enjoying his international school adventure in China. He is passionate about developing and supporting educational leaders, as it is essential to improving all schools.
Richard is a proud family man and feels lucky to be married to Kim and father of their son Austin.
In his spare time Richard enjoys to swim, bike and run and is a now retired football player and coach (with occasional guest appearances)