Most jobs are defined by clear timelines, goals, and role descriptions. On paper, teaching might look similar – with timetabled classes, meeting schedules and curriculum documentation – but off the books we are marking at night, communicating with parents on the weekend and going to webinars on the holidays just to keep up with new study designs. And don’t even get me started on the dreaded ‘extras’ we get, like some Office Space version of the Hunger Games Tribute. May the odds be ever in your favour. While other professions might occasionally ask you to step in and cover for someone who’s away sick, for teachers it is just part of our weekly load.
What a loaded term that is to describe a normal working week. Fully loaded, full-time teachers are in fact so overloaded with bureaucratic bloat that burnout is almost inevitable. All the talk about the shortage crisis says the same thing. We are overworked, underpaid and unappreciated.
Ironically, it’s only when we quit that many of us learn the real value of our expertise. And I don’t mean the patronising notion of how ‘essential’ we are to the workforce, but rather the true economic demand for the skills an experienced teacher has. We make excellent project managers, event coordinators, human resource directors, content writers, even sales representatives – all of which pay so much more than teaching that I can’t even type the numbers.
But why wait for burnout to branch out your options? Apparently, the world is on the cusp of a four-day work week, but we have always had the option to reduce our time fractions. It’s just that many of us find that when we do, our free time is taken up with all the things we used to do after hours. We might win back our weekends, but it isn’t worth the pay cut. And who wants a side-hustle in sales, anyway?
Luckily, one of the good things to come from COVID has been new working opportunities now that the world runs via Zoom and we’ve all upgraded our spare rooms to offices. Many colleagues I know moonlight as sessional lecturers or private tutors, while others write content or work as consultants for curriculum publishers.
Why wait for burnout to branch-out your options?
Others use their time to volunteer on committees for non-profits, and some have gone back to study or to finish that manuscript. There are even people I know who have dropped their time fraction just to earn the $700 a day you get doing curriculum relief teaching in regional towns. If you are going to cover someone’s class, you may as well be paid for it.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. Managing part-time time fractions can cause administrative headaches for schools. Not only is it hard to fill all the blocks in the timetable, but it means calculating fractional time in lieu, professional practice days and meetings. Even if you manage to get your time fraction reduced, you need to navigate the process of gaining permission from the higher authorities.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a public servant in need of anything must complete at least two forms of paperwork. For employees of the Department of Education, this is mostly to do with potential conflicts of interest – which makes sense, of course. No principal wants to find one of their staff on OnlyFans, but it’s hard not to feel like you’re in a Kafkaesque novel when the ‘COI Toolkit’ tells you: Part-time employees don’t have to seek permission to engage in other work, while the ‘Other Employment Application’ nevertheless requires you to complete section 3, titled: Application to Engage in other Employment for your principal to approve.
So, is it worth the trouble? Personally, I don’t think I could ever go back to full-time teaching, despite the cost-of-living pressures. Even though it only means one day off a week, 0.8 has allowed me to pursue so many other avenues and interests that, even if I wasn’t making back some of my lost wages, it would be worth it.
Every other part-timer I know feels the same way. You hear it in the way they speak about their work outside of school and the way they hold themselves in meetings. Once you know what your time is really worth, it’s easier to say no to those who want to waste it.