Leave Me Alone!

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Should you answer school-related emails at home?

Teachers don’t have an off button because their factory settings are programmed to a 24/7 red alert ‘teacher’ mind-set. Ask any teacher just how hard it is to switch-off and they will tell you that it is actually impossible. You can fiddle with the wiring but teachers are in permanent teacher mode.

However, this doesn’t mean that teachers should be ‘on-call’ and open all hours to employers. We all have the right to a personal and private life even if we do end up marking and fretting over the next day’s lessons.

But what happens if you get an email from your Deputy at 8:30pm? Would you answer it? There are some lines that we just can’t allow others to cross. Don’t we need to preserve our sanctity and sanity?

Protective Measures

From the first day of 2017 workers in France have now had the legal right to disconnect and ignore work emails outside of standard work hours. This new law forces French companies to give their employees the right to switch off from all work-related activity.

The “right to disconnect” bill is the first of its kind in the world and means that all companies of more than 50 people have to negotiate when employees can ‘work’ outside of France’s standard 35 hour week. If a deal cannot be reached, the firm must publish a charter that would make explicit the demands on and rights of employees out-of-hours.

A Right To Disconnect

Teachers regularly work out-of-hours so would cutting emails make any difference to our sleepless nights? It would certainly help but I’m not sure how many teachers actually receive emails from the senior managers in the evenings and weekends. Responsible managers won’t be chasing staff at home if they value the health and well-being of their workforce.

The protective measure that is perhaps more pressing is encouraging parents not to contact teachers on their work emails ‘after-hours’. It’s a tough call. Parents cannot always get to see their child’s teacher so an email is a convenient way of sending a message. The problem is, some teachers will feel obliged to reply (others definitely won’t!) and if we aren’t careful it can turn into an email ping pong which at 9pm at night you just don’t want.

Many teachers will habitually check their work emails from home and can come to resent being contacted by parents and for one good reason: you have a private life! Emails are invasive, potentially stressful and can be harassing. However, it’s just not as simple as unplugging and waiting until school the next day. If you leave a reply until tomorrow then that’s another job to do so is it better just to reply and get the admin done sharpish?

Watershed Pipe-dream  

As teachers we need to disconnect from teaching once we get home but our workloads and info-obesity make that bordering on fantasy land.  Banning emails from parents and school staff is a great idea and we certainly need a teaching watershed when we can say that any school work done after a certain time is unsuitable for family viewing, personal life and our mental health.

Disconnecting from a job that is intense and so full-on is something teachers would love to do but that’s not likely to happen unless we reprogram the whole system.  Trying to address the work-life balance problem is going to need much more than implementing exclusion zones and stopping work-related emails after 5pm. Perhaps we should all up sticks and move to France.


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