After having my first daughter, I went back to teaching at a traditional public school and placed her in full time daycare. It ended up being a harsh reality check for me. While there were many lovable aspects of teaching, it was very difficult to juggle with an infant.
I do want to place a caveat on my reasons for education being lacking in a healthy work-life balance. I know there are some public schools that have more flexibility for their teachers, and at one time I did work for a private company that was fantastic to their employees. That being said though, these are the realities for the vast majority of teaching jobs available.
1. The salary is laughably low.
This one shouldn’t be a shocker to anyone. After a bachelor’s degree in Special Education, my 2013 starting salary in Utah was just about $29,000 a year. Woof! Obviously this changes by school district and state, but making just enough money to place your family above the poverty line is not supportive for a family. This wage also does not provide the option of a care giver staying home full time.
2. Most schools require teachers to be involved in after school events and meetings.
In order for schools to cultivate an environment that welcomes the community, teachers have to be involved beyond the classroom. However when you’re making slightly higher than the starting hourly worker at many grocery stores, a 60 hour work weeks do not seem worth it. Especially when you are missing valuable time with your own family.
I ended up choosing to temporarily leave the traditional school setting because the money/time ratio was not worth the time I was missing with my daughter.
3. Teachers do not actually get the summer “off.”
I still hear a lot of people tout how awesome it must be for teachers to have the summer off. Sadly it’s mostly just July off. And even that gets taken up with summer camps or administrative work that has to be finished (for example, special education meetings that get backed up until summer time). This can be stressful if you do not have help watching your children while they are out of school, and/or if you were hoping summer break would be the saving grace for the teaching profession.
4. Teachers who view their work as a calling, rather than a traditional “9 – 5 career” are venerated.
This part of teacher is particularly unfair. Teachers are constantly pressured to put more time in, spend more money on amazing classroom supplies, write grants, visit student’s homes, teach in creative new ways, feed the hungry, lift up the poor, raise an amazing next generation of thinkers, etc. etc. It never stops.
And the outcome of these expectations are that teachers who choose to spend more time with their own families are viewed as “less than.”
5. Typically there are not enough negotiated sick days for yourself and if your own children get sick.
Once I worked for a public charter school who only allowed 3 sick days. While I didn’t have kids then, my sister who worked there did. It was a nightmare! Her children used up the 3 sick days within 2 months, and then she was panicked the rest of the school year. Most schools offer slightly more days than that one, but later I was also frustrated with how hard it was to take care of myself and my child within the teaching environment.
6. Speaking of sick days, creating a plan for substitute is ridiculously hard.
Beyond just not having the days to take care of my family, creating a plan for a substitute (or whatever staff member they could just pull because there weren’t enough subs to go around) was a nightmare. It would take a few hours to create a plan, get the materials ready, and leave detailed notes about the class.
This is stressful as a parent because calling in sick could be a nightmare, but also it adds extra hours that you could be with your family.
7. Teaching has slowly increased the amount of paperwork.
There seems to be no end to the amount of meaningless tasks that teachers have to put down on paper. When these requirements are stacked onto hours of teaching, prepping, and out reach that teachers are already required to complete, it feels crippling to a healthy work-life balance.
8. There are many days that your children have off, but you will still be expected to come in and work.
This one is probably explanatory. If you’re all supposed to be at school together, and then kids are at home suddenly, who is supposed to watch them?
9. No realistic room or time to pump breast milk while working.
Even though there is a law protecting breast feeding mothers, schools really cannot accommodate a teacher who needs to pump breast milk every 3 hours. Teachers who want to pump often have to give up their limited preparation time or their lunch time. Additionally, the chances of a room or even a spare coat closet being available is unlikely.
10. Maternity leave is often short, and sometimes not paid unless you have PTO saved up. Personally, I’ve never heard of Paternity leave in a public school.
This is not just a problem in the education field. Women going back to work around the country face this problem. While there are laws that protect your job for 12 weeks, there are very few companies who will actually pay for that leave.
Just for some perspective, I remember that 6 weeks after I delivered, I was barely able to wear real clothes again. Since I was breast feeding, I was still leaking constantly, and getting up one or two times during the night. I was definitely not ready to fully give myself to a classroom of students… I was barely able to give myself to my own daughter!
The bottom line is this: For a profession that is dominated by women and widely held as a family friendly career, there are a lot things working against teacher’s work-life balances.
Do you agree that teachers often do not have good work-life balances? Comment below!