In Praise of Part-Time Teachers

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Do you work part-time in education? Does your school grant flexible working hours?

Happy, organised and loyal: just how we want our teachers to be. But last year almost half those surveyed thought they wouldn’t be in the profession in five years’ time. How could they both stay and attain that elusive work-life balance? In a rare paean of praise for part-timers, I will try to convince you that whether you are a leader or a colleague, you need more of these people in your school.

Fail to come back!

Since I started teaching ten years ago, I have seen many talented and caring professionals leave and not come back. Their destinations are myriad: parenthood, writing, stand-up comedy, mumpreneur. Their reasons are the same: not enough flexibility. Why can’t a working mum start her timetable at 09:30 instead of 08:30, so she can do the school-run for her own kids first? Why can’t a writer have two days off a week to invest in their magnum opus? Why can’t an SLT post be job-shared?

Why?!

The answer is the ‘the business needs of the school’. Yes, timetabling is increasingly a fine art, but it has begun to take precedence over anything else that a teacher might bring to benefit the school on a part-time basis.

Firstly, there are the organisational skills required to hold down a significant life commitment alongside teaching. You learn to plan your time to the nearest second, to maximise every moment of the school day, to schedule marking into the rare free slots you have and get things done now because there is no ‘later’. You learn how to evidence your impact in a shorter time than most. You learn that the pub might be a distant dream, but you are amazed how much you can accomplish before breakfast! These skills should be celebrated and shared.

Work-Life?

Then there’s work-life balance. This isn’t a synonym for laziness or low productivity; instead, it’s a recipe for better mental health. Less stress outside of teaching seems like a good way to avoid passing it on to students, and an even better way to protect against burnout and absenteeism.

This leads to loyalty: ACAS cite a 2012 survey where 72% of employers agreed ‘implementing flexible working practices had a positive impact on staff engagement’. Happier employees are surely more likely to be loyal, meaning that the school retains their expertise and maximises its investment into them. By contrast, high teacher turnover means that a school is constantly investing in training people up, only to lose their investment then pay a hefty bill when advertising for replacements.

A Hoo-Ha Crisis!

Last but not least, remember the teacher recruitment crisis? There’s regularly a bit of a press hoo-ha about it, then it’s quickly edged out of the headlines and everyone moves on. Last year the figures were that ‘almost a third of teachers who began their career in 2010 quit the classroom within five years of qualifying’. The Education Support Partnerships 2016 survey found that 36% of respondents wanted ‘greater job flexibility, including options to work part-time, job shares, and flexible hours’.

So when the mum-of-two or the part-time writer decides something’s gotta give, the loss of their expertise doesn’t just weaken their school, taking from them anyone with strong ties to the real world beyond the school bubble. It forces the government to keep spending money training teachers who will not give back to the state sector for very long.

Solutions?

So how could more part-timers be accommodated in practice? Job-shares are more common in primary schools, but could work just as well with two senior leaders and one SLT post. Flexitime is usually reserved for offices, but why not for parents who want to take their own children to school? A Head of Department who takes the same day off every week for another job such as writing music, caring for a parent or practising stand-up comedy, will bring those skills back to school the rest of the time.

So if part-timers are likely to be well-organised, happy with their work-life balance, loyal and delivering value for the investment of both the state and their individual school, let’s hear it for them and from them. And let’s have more of them.

Written by Rebecca Wildish

Wildish has taught English in London comprehensives for ten years. She lives with two noisy children and an even noisier musician. She is currently employed on a 0.8 contract which is renewed on an annual basis thanks to the good faith of her school.

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of being most influential in the field of education. He remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing resources and ideas online as @TeacherToolkit, he has built this website (c2008) which has been described as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the UK Blog Awards (2018). Read more...

7 thoughts on “In Praise of Part-Time Teachers

  • 26th March 2017 at 8:03 am
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    As a primary school teacher who has been part time for the vast majority of my twenty odd years in the classroom, I totally agree. A part timer is excellent value for a school as very often they work far and away more hours than the proportion of the week that they are contracted to work and do all the parents evenings, plays etc. However it is great for the teacher too as one avoids burn out and is able to put an all consuming job into perspective in their life and sit it more manageably into a family context and have personal hobbies and friends – vital for mental wellbeing.

    Reply
  • 26th March 2017 at 9:58 am
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    I’m a secondary school teacher who went part time a couple of years ago. I was working six days a week and I was exhausted. I now don’t work at weekends or after 7pm. I save up marking etc and do it on my day off (after a lie-in!)

    The financial hit wasn’t very significant, I just went back to where I’d been in the scale a couple of years previously – I could survive on it then so knew I would be fine.

    I’ve been criticised for working for ‘free’ on my day off… But no one was paying me to work every Sunday when I was full time, either. I’ve got a healthy work-life balance and I enjoy my job.

    My one regret is how I handled it initially. When I asked my HoD, I told her I was going to work for my partner’s business one day a week, because I was too embarrassed to say that I couldn’t cope with the workload. Perhaps if I had been honest, SLT would have understood the extent if our workloads.

    Reply
  • 26th March 2017 at 4:30 pm
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    I am a part time assiant principal in a secondary school and feel immensely well supported by SLT and governors. There is recognition that I have a young family, but that our students and staff are important to me.

    I rarely need to take time off sick as I I can take the time to self care and I therefore have the capacity to coach and support others. I am also able to take part in educational research which benefits the staff and pupils, not just in my school but the other schools we work with.

    It would be an enlightened school who took the bigger view to support more staff to work this model. Short term positive impact on individual staff and long term benefits to the recruitment issue.

    Reply
  • 31st March 2017 at 7:28 am
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    I am a part time teacher of Cookery called this week Food and Nutrition, last week Food tech and the week before Dt Food.
    I enjoy teaching kids to cook as it’s the most important life skill and as a precursor to eating is a vital survival skill too.
    My days vary and if I am lucky I miss the weekly nonsense called variously inset,cpd and departmental planning.We slavishly flow the need it not for inset days foisted on us back in the day by Kenneth Baker one of the most incompetent ministers of Education who ever free breath.
    Why do successive governments always give the Education gig to the most stupid , inept and downright useless member of the government.
    A lot of press has been given to reclaiming our streets.It’s time to reclaim our school encourage part timers and abolish all meetings ,which are usually a sounding board for neophilliacs, peddling the latest nonsense from the Education journals.

    Reply
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