Do I miss my office?

Jemma Gardner mentioned in one of her great comments the joy of having a staffroom and how it actually motivated staff to stay at one school where the pay and working conditions were less than favourable. I too started off in EFL in awe of the staffroom and all the cool teachers in it as we’d sit, eat and chat at lunch time. I thought “wow, I can teach and have a good time”. That was until I started working on a FT contract and never had time to even have a cuppa, never mind a proper lunch. I can safely say that in 5 years those staffroom sofas only comforted my tired bones a handful of times.

I slowly worked my way up the EFL ladder and with it gained more access to staffrooms and even a canteen and kitchen. When in London I used to share an office about the same size as my toilet with at least 6 people, 9 at a push but having an office and my own desk was great, I thought “I’ve made it” and just to prove it I used to invite students to my office, even though they couldn’t fit in it. At that time there was a proper office for us contractees and a room with desks for freelancers who were supposed to use any available but who soon commandeered their own. Just one of the blatant contrasts between us FTers and the “part-timers” or “people with other jobs” as some bosses called them.

So, later on I moved and got a better contract and a smaller office with 3 people and we never ever went there in fear of the boss jumping out on us and dragging us into some extra work. In fact, meetings were the only time we saw other teachers.

Even later on, I thought I’d reached the top of the pile when I got a proper uni job and my own office, well, I shared it with another teacher. I imagined hours of manly jokes, male bonding, helpful support, book sharing, practical jokes, invites for drinks and possibly getting tattoos. How wrong I was. Everything was the opposite and the whole ethos of the department was ‘you must be here all day’ just to look like you’re working hard, we even had to leave after the boss to look hardworking ie paperwork not teaching. There was also a lot, a heck of a lot of office politics which seemed to be the center of the department.

The closer I have gotten to having a ‘proper job’ if that exists and my own office, the more difficult my job has become. It hasn’t been the teaching though, not at all. It’s been all the other admin and bureaucracy that seems to go with more serious jobs. I’m a basic teacher, I like to teach and work with people , I’m not into lots of red tape or endless meetings but that seems to be the way in some jobs or possibly countries. When your bosses are more concerned with you filling in forms or them looking good in meetings and nobody has observed you or interested in you developing, then something is amiss. Students aren’t just numbers on a list, teachers aren’t just photocopy handersouters. We are people and we all want to develop.

Now, I am on the other side of the fence. I freelance and don’t have an office anywhere so I don’t need to go to meetings or deal with office politics. I’m like the SAS, I go in, do the job and get out. Nobody knows I’ve been there sometimes. I’ve even bought quiet trainers and a rope so I can abseil into my classes. Yes,  miss the comfort of a contract and having a ‘realish job’ as some put it but I had enough of all the stuff that went with it. As I said before, I like, no I love to teach and that should be the focus of every teacher and department not filling in forms or arguing.

Well, that’s my confession for today. Do I think there should be more FT contract? Yes. Do I think freelancing is a real a job as contracting? No, it’s actually harder. But whether a contracter who spends 70% of his time in meetings and doing admin is supposed to be seen as better than a freelancer who teaches in 5 places is something I cannot decide. One thing I do know is that when I had a contract I could use it to get flats etc but as a freelancer I have no real title and am constantly asked “what is your main job?”.

I hope this post interests some of you and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Do I miss my office?

  1. Hi Phil,

    Nice to see I sparked some thoughts here.

    As you know, I am currently job-hunting. Amongst other more personal reasons, one motivation for this is that I HATE being freelance in sooo many ways. I would happily give up the freedom I have for a contract. Paid holiday? Paid sick leave? Health insurance contributions? YES PLEASE!!

    The staffroom I spoke of has no sofas, it’s a working staffroom. Only place for about 5 people to sit down around one table in the middle. Yes, there’s a computer. And shelves of books and a coat stand, but that’s it. I hardly ever sit down when I am there, but still – there are people there. And those people are my colleagues. Colleagues who I only ever see when I pop in there on my way to or from a lesson. But it is still something great – somewhere to chat (be it about school-related stuff or not).

    Actually, now I am a teacher trainer, I work mostly in a different building when the Celta is on, and the three of us Celta trainers have a lovely big office in a lovely big building. But there are hardly any teachers there most of the time. When there are, I find myself migrating to the “resource room” if I have time (so never during a Celta!) just to say hi and chat a bit.

    I miss my old staffroom at my first school. It was cramped and small, but it was full of people, inane and also educated chatter, banter, moaning, stuff. I loved it. That’s what I want again.

    I too love teaching. To my very core. But one reason for this is that I love people, so having a place to be around those people who are my colleagues but who I don’t actually work with is really important to me. The students I work with are amazing, but I need to have contact with others too.

    Jem

    • Best contract I had was teaching 12 hours a week for 2 17 week terms + paid marking, free housing, flights and medical. Sadly it only paid about £300 a month.

      I used to love contracts til I was called in to work at the weekend, worked 8 til 8 and just couldn’t take doing grammar translation teaching anymore. This is a big ‘EFL age gap’ I think. I’m sorry, but English classes are for English and not translation, tests too. The main argument I hear is “they’re not good enough to …”. Well, who’s fault is that then? Students are capable of many things and we shouldn’t hold them back. Also 2/3 hour meetings, tidying resource rooms, reclassifying tapes and endless admin and office gossip. Most places I’ve worked couldn’t give their contracts away, nobody wanted them.

      My friend is on a contract in France and is making about 26,OOO Euros after tax + lots of paid overtime. Only problem is his contract can only be renewed so many times so without a French qualification he’ll be fired. Ridiculous.

      The X Factor. Some places have it, or rather the teachers working there do. You love going, working and being there.

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