I jump into my car. It’s late and I’m cutting it fine, but I just have time to plug my phone into the tape adaptor in my car and put some music on before I drive off. I’ve built up a playlist of uplifting, sing-a-long hits that give me a pick me up. It’s only a short drive. I’ll get three songs in at most, but it’s ten minutes of “me” time. Something that is in short supply these days.
I arrive with about 5 minutes to spare before the official end of After School Club. I’m lucky I suppose, the kid really loves the club; the staff are fantastic and his peer group of modern latchkey kids are all really friendly and supportive of each other. It’s actually possible for me to arrive too early to pick him up; before he’s had a chance to play, or god-forbid, just as they are about to start a rare 30-minutes of PC time in the computer room. But today is a bad time for a different reason. He’s tired and he’s the last kid there. He’s been the last one there for ten minutes or so and he’s noticed he’s the last to be picked up, again. He looks up from the lego and shoots me a glance. Half happy to see me, half sad that I’ve arrived later than the other parents. The second half of that look skewers my heart like an ice-cold dagger. I feel so guilty.
The guilt is so real. Many parents have to work. Many teachers. I knew what I was getting into when I trained. In fact, retraining as a teacher was in part motivated by having a toddler at home. The prospect of having all school holidays off with him over the next 18 years was a considerable pull. I made some rules back there early in my training. I made weekends sacrosanct which drove my PGCE Mentor mad, but I kept to it then and now. The school holidays were everything they were cracked up to be; work stops entirely and the days on end spent with the lad are amazing.
But this evening I’m really late, and like many evenings I’m not late due to a staff meeting or a parents evening, nothing unavoidable. I’m late because I took a football team to an away match after school. I’m late because I ran a science club for lower school students before getting started on my planning for tomorrow. I’m late because I did a 2-hour revision session for my Year 11s. I’m late because I hosted an after school seminar speaker for 6th formers. I’m late because I gave up my lunchtime for football training, or Science Journal Club and had to run my detentions after school. I’m late because I chaired the staff teaching and learning committee. I don’t have to do any of these things. They aren’t part of my contract. I feel guilty because I did them instead of picking my son up at an earlier time and spending time with him.
I feel shit just writing this.
I keep asking myself, why? Why do I do it? Should I stop doing it. Should I say “no” more often? I’ve wrestled with these questions a lot recently, inevitably, as the unavoidable workload of preparing students for exams, writing reports and marking internal exams piles up at the end of term, on top of these extras. As the tiredness creeps earlier and earlier into the day for me and the kid, and what time we do spend together is largely spent crashed out in front of the TV together. What should I do next year? Should I stop doing these extracurricular activities for my students and spend more time with my own son?
At the start of this year I did actually cut back a bit. Though it doesn’t feel like it right now. I decided that I wouldn’t run science club during the main football season from Christmas to Easter; it was not a popular decision with the science club regulars, but it did just about mean that I stayed sane during that term, rich as it is in football matches and parents evenings. But apart from that I’ve decided to carry on with pretty much everything. And I’ve come to the conclusion I’m going to carry on doing this much again next year. Why? Because I’d want someone to carry on offering these opportunities for my son.
My son’s primary school already offer an incredible range of extra-curricular activities at lunchtimes and after school and he makes full use of the opportunities offered; taking part in dance, chess and football clubs. He’s looking forward to Ukelele club being open to his year group next year. I’d hate it if these were withdrawn from him. I’d hate to think that the incredible range of extra-curricular opportunities currently on offer at my school weren’t available when he goes to secondary school; the sports teams’ training and matches, the drama, the choirs, the art club, the science club, the computing and programming, the warhammer, debating and journalism clubs, the visiting lectures and the final push revision sessions. I want him to have all these opportunities and more. I want all kids to have these opportunities and more. So I’m going to keep doing the extra hours for other people’s kids, until someone offers to do them instead because I sincerely hope that someone will do it for my kid, and for all the kids.
But that doesn’t make the guilt go away.