It starts off innocently enough. A missed dinner date thanks to a toppling pile of unmarked papers, say. No big deal, just what needs to be done to get the the thing finished. A quick phone call to reschedule. No problem. Everything’s under control.

Then maybe you have to call Steve and tell him you can’t play Sunday. You’ll tell him you turned over on your ankle. It’s just the once, and that coursework isn’t going to mark itself now is it? Not a biggie. But then you do the same the week after.

And so it goes. Things are given up. Some of these things seem trivial at the time and might be cast off without a second thought. Hobbies, family time, sports, leisure are all discarded. Because the cause is all. The kids have to come first (damn it!). The feedback needs to be given and the data needs to be inputted. We need to guide these shining lights to reach their full potential. We must toil! How can a mere trifle such as singing in the choir or a drink with your mates or a couple of hours watching a movie ever compete with that? It’s their future! What right have we to mess with their future?!

Go on and get right over yourself.

No matter how noble, rewarding, satisfying, fun (yes, yes, I know this does nothing for my ice-cold cynical persona but I do actually enjoy it occasionally) and vitally important teaching is, it has edges that are deadly sharp and it’ll keep cutting away little pieces of you and your time if you let it. The blade’s so finely honed that you probably won’t even feel it until you look around and realise there’s nothing left except you and the job.  And here’s the kicker:

 The job doesn’t care about you.

It’ll take absolutely everything from you if you let it. It’ll eat your time and in some extreme cases your relationships and mental health. Then it’ll burp loudly, get up from the table and saunter off wiping its hands on its shirt without so much as a mumbled thank you. What a tool.

I don’t think ‘finding a balance’ is enough. Balance isn’t something you come across down the back of the sofa all covered in dust and the remains of a long-forgotten toffee. Balance doesn’t turn up in the pocket of a pair of jeans you haven’t worn for ages. You have to create it, you have to shape it. And then you have to protect the crap out of it.

You take those little joys and you make them sacred. You defend them like a great sodding bear would protect its cubs. I don’t care if it’s salsa night, an hour with a good book or taking your lad to the curry house mid-week; build an impenetrable wall around the things that make you happy that will thwart any invasion from thoughts such as ‘I’ll just get these done instead’ or ‘There’s always next week, the HOD will kill me if these aren’t in first thing’.  If it has to get done get it done at a time where it doesn’t stop you kicking a ball about or sitting down with your other half to watch some crappy murder mystery. Arrange your life so you don’t have to put off the things that give you joy.

And if someone asks you to give these things up without a damn, damn good reason, say no.

And if you can’t say no? Learn.

Care about the job.Care about it deeply – but care about yourself as well because the job won’t do that bit for you.

Right…now where’d that toffee go?



  1. Jill Berry

    A great post, Thomas. I really like the idea of ‘creating and shaping’ the balance, not just ‘finding’ it.

    And I think those who do create and shape balance in their personal and professional lives will be BETTER teachers and school leaders at all levels than those who feel ‘I will work harder’ is the solution to every issue.

    Thanks for articulating this so well.

    • tstarkey1212

      Thanks for the comment Jill. There’s a finite limit to the hours in the day and the amount of effort you can put into any task. You’re right, sometimes ‘more’ isn’t the answer. I’ve also often thought that teacher welfare is intrinsically linked to productivity and standard of work but it’s rarely taken into consideration.

  2. Dawn Walters

    The worst thing is, those teachers, who do not understand the concept of balance. If you try to have balance, you are not dedicated and you are a bad teacher.

    • tstarkey1212

      If wanting a life for yourself outside of school is showing a lack of dedication then they seem to have dedication mixed up with dependency.

      Thanks for the comment Dawn.

  3. Pingback: Well Being – The need for selfawareness | Wats-Education - from the inside looking out.
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