Most teachers live and breathe teaching. We wake up thinking about our classes, go to bed thinking and dreaming about our classes and the children that we have worked with that day. We talk about teaching endlessly. So, with this in mind, just how do we look after and sustain our close relationships?
Schools can be all consuming places. The patterns of the school year are strongly held by teachers, the regular schedule of events across school terms and the emotional rise and fall of the teaching week all drum out a familiar and regular beat to those who work within a school. Late summer typically marks the beginning of the new school year and we start with good intentions and high hopes. By the time early winter arrives many of us, a little jaded from trying to teach during the high winds of a Thursday afternoons and the endless wet breaks, have had moments during which we’ve considered leaving our jobs. Exam pressure ramps up through the Spring and Summer terms and then the final moments of the school year bring a chance for reflection, celebration and letting go.
Against the intensity of that backdrop and the pull of the school tides I have needed to work very hard at sustaining healthy relationships. During my teacher training the course was demanding and my placement far away from my hometown. My partner at the time knew nothing about the teaching profession and to be honest neither did I. I had no idea how much work would be involved in training to be a secondary school teacher. More importantly I had no idea of my capacity for hard work and my enjoyment of intense periods of work was just rearing its head. My old self had gone and with it our fancy-free, time rich relationship.
It was during my first proper teaching job that I started a relationship with another teacher and in many ways this seemed to have the makings of a successful relationship. It was marginally difficult to manage the privacy element at first and to keep boundaries robust given that the children and parents knew we that we lived together but over time that subsided.
What seemed great was that there was a shorthand to communicating about work. Thus without preamble we knew the context of each other’s day or situation. Although our paths rarely crossed in school we both knew when something major had happened that day. We knew what it meant to have had a gutful of talking about a work situation but also knew when the other needed to talk through to the wee small hours and to dream on what it would take to make our school outstanding.
Of course what our relationship didn’t require of us was necessity to ever think about what we bought home with us. It didn’t push me to consider what ‘stuff’ was the schools and belonged squarely in the school and what baggage was mine and of our relationship. Stress frequently spilled over into the relationship and it was easy to assume that it was the relationship that was at fault and not the porous boundaries between our work and our personal life.
Encompassing a relationship within the realm of work enabled my workaholism. Indeed, the desire to ensure that my workaholic status remained unchallenged becomes evident when I look back on that period and examine my wider world. My best friends worked at the school, our drinking spots and eating out joints were local to the school. Because of the nature of our connection our topics of conversation revolved around school. Our vision was to change the world one pupil at a time and hours spent working on the vision were unhampered by anyone who wanted or needed me to show up as anyone other than a teacher.
I hope I learned that…
Relationships are all about the efforts you make to bridge the gaps. While a shorthand might feel comfortable and easy it can lead to laziness. If you want to talk about your work you should recognise that this is what you need and delineate the space to have the conversation.
Relationships should never be appendages to work. Relationships with friends, family and partners are everything. They help you sustain your ability to work and they deserve the lion’s share of your time, investment and effort.
The moral conviction you hold about your work should find its true expression in the microcosm of your close relationships. If you believe, as I do, that every child deserves the attention and engagement of caring adult, that every child’s voice deserves to be heard, that every child should be seen for who they really are then this belief must be manifest every day and show itself within your close relationships.
You can’t make it up to people during your school holidays. Being present does not serve at the pleasure of the school cycle. Being present is a daily task. Your partners, friends and family should not have to wait until the summer holidays to get the version of you they recognise. A moment of you every day will do very nicely!