March 27, 2024

Balancing Act: Why Teachers Should Decide Their Own Boundaries

Every profession has its own distinctive characteristics, and teaching is no exception. Yes, there are office hours or hours required to be on campus and yes, teachers must be present mentally and physically, just like all professionals. However, teachers don’t get access to: 

  • Paid overtime, 
  • Working from home options, 
  • Bonuses, and 
  • Flexibility with respect to holidays taken. 

One significant difference with teaching is that the work required to do the role does not end once the teachers leave campus. The in-class, face-to-face part of their position may be completed for the day, but not all the rest of the work, including: 

  • Preparation for the following lessons, 
  • Meetings, 
  • Marking, 
  • Providing feedback and 
  • Reporting. 

In addition to the myriad of administrative tasks, co-curricular responsibilities, and communication that need to be followed up on, this is the grey area of teaching as a profession. Graduate and early career teachers find it the most challenging, and it can also wear down even the most seasoned teacher-warrior. 

Managing your professional vs your personal time to achieve balance in one’s life has always been a challenge, but is legislating the right to disconnect the answer? It may be in some professions, but removing the flexibility to make that judgment call about how and when you work in that grey teaching area could make it harder for teachers, not easier. 

Boundaries are a good thing, especially when it comes to policies about Codes of Conduct for staff, students, and parents, together with Communication Protocols for emails, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings. Such policies clearly outline what is acceptable and what is not and are a necessary part of how schools convey their expectations to all stakeholders. 

To actually stipulate disconnect time will mean that a teacher, especially with family, may, in fact, find it harder; their grey area time may kick in when the family has all retired for the night, with dinner, homework and family time together all done and there is finally some headspace to attend to the myriad of school tasks yet to be done. When this is done, it may well depend on whether you prefer to complete tasks late at night or early in the morning; either way they need to be done to ensure that preparedness is present to start the day and stress levels are managed. 

Students can be a very tough crowd! Teachers need to be able to engage, excite/entertain and challenge the crowd; we could liken this to being somewhere between a stand-up comedian and a commando. And not just for a single performance! That same crowd will all be back again the next day and the next and potentially for five straight performances in just one week. So, walking into a class unprepared is simply not an option. 

Being able to prepare adequately may mean teachers must connect with one another, administration, students, parents or external stakeholders outside of school hours, to get the job done. Expectations placed on teachers are very high, especially from fee-paying parents. 

Not all expectations are reasonable or realistic and we would all agree that teachers do need to be protected from the vexatious emails that can come in late at night. However, school policies should be part of the school-based suite of strategies to manage this along with potentially setting the server to withhold emails until an agreed upon time by staff. This can be done. Ultimately though, teachers are the best judge of what constitutes fair and reasonable connectedness in their professional and personal domains. Legislation to remove this may, in fact, render the role more difficult. One thing the education sector cannot afford is to see another obstacle or impediment imposed on teachers. It’s imperative that we retain our dedicated and passionate teachers within the sector, whilst balancing the need for innovation. 

Let common sense prevail and avoid legislating common sense out of decision-making.