Monday, 26 May 2014

The Tuesday TED talk - work/life balance

(And the link if your browser will not show the video is  here)

It had been on my mind for a while. In fact for the last couple of years I was questioning the long term viability of my lifestyle as a teacher. I am not the only one, it seems.  Surveys show primary school teachers (in the UK) working an average of 59.3 hours a week! My own estimates seemed about the same. The premise is this: if you want to be more than just an average teacher, if you truly want to add value to your lessons and facilitate good quality learning at (almost) every lesson, then you need to work at it! 

Again, for a few years I relished it. I love my job, and working with kids, though tough, can be intensely rewarding. I want to be good at it, not because it makes me feel better, but because it can make a difference to someone else's life. Good teachers do matter (to an extent). So I rationalised the long hours, thinking of the long holiday payback. "Yes, I might work 60 hour weeks, but I do get 12 weeks of holiday in the year." That was the thinking. 

Only then, when actually calculating my holiday I realised that for at least 6 of those I was working. Not in the classroom, granted. And the work was much easier than 7 periods of teaching each day. But it was still work. And, here's the crux, it often kept me awake at night. Plus, did I really want to live for only 1/5 of the year? Did I want to always wait for the holiday, in order to see my husband, enjoy long walks, have time to read and write?

I watched this TED talk a while after I had decided to take a sabattical. I watched it after I had asked for it and it had been approved, and after I had started my search for a more viable career. The problem is: I love teaching. I think it is worthwhile, interesting, varied, meaningful. To me that is what a career should be. So where does one find balance?

A quick personal survey and scan of several teacher online-fora indicated that a huge amount of teachers in the UK have found a way to balance work and life. And that way has been working part time. It has been increasingly the trend in schools across the country for teachers to job-share and it sounds like a brilliant idea to me too - all the pleasures of the job, less burn out! 

Yet, we live in Greece. And Greece of the crisis is a very different place to the UK. In a country where youth unemployment rates are above 50% (56 to be exact) and that jobs are hard to come by and when they are there, they are highly competitive and badly paid, I dared to utter the words: "I want a work/life balance!" 

Chaos and attack ensued from various sources, including my family. It was blasphemy: I had such a good job, why would I leave it? Why would I give up part of my salary to have more time? What is work/life balance anyway? 

To be continued... (have to go to work, you see)


  1. This is a fascinating topic that I think about all the time. I have made choices to work from home for the most part (as a translator and copy editor). I teach French as a second language in a private school 10 hours a week, just enough to get out of the house, but I still am there for my kids after school. It works well but I do wonder sometimes, if another life wouldn't be better. The usual answer is that it wouldn't be better, just different.

  2. Thank you for your comment! You are so completely right: "it wouldn't be better, just different." Your life, however, to me, sounds a lot more balanced than a lot of other lives I know of. In fact, it sounds very very similar to my "ideal" balance and probably how I will be next year: 10-12 hours at a University setting, with a few private lessons sprinkled around for extra money.
    I know the grass is always greener (though not always aware of it in my own life - the irony!) but I also know that I cannot keep up 60 hour weeks any more!



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