Secret Teacher: social media makes it impossible to switch off from work

‘A colleague asked me about planning even though they knew I was out of the country.’

It’s silly o’clock on a Sunday morning and I’m still in bed when I hear my phone ping with a WhatsApp notification. I take a look and groan. A colleague is asking if I know how we teach subtraction according to our mental calculations policy.

This is a regular occurrence – even at the weekend. Social media and messaging apps are a blessing and a curse for teachers. While it has broadened our horizons and inspired new ideas (thank you, Pinterest), it has also increased the intrusion of work into our personal lives. We are always contactable, and in many different ways.

What starts off as a message containing a funny aside or lighthearted remark can quickly become a virtual planning meeting. I’ll end up discussing the needs of individual students or even moderating assessments. Sometimes this involves amending work that I have already prepared for the following day.

When I began teaching 10 years ago, social media and messaging were used for socialising with friends. But the proliferation of websites offering new takes on an idea or lesson means there’s always something to send about the job, and plenty of apps through which to share your thoughts. This results in a never-ending stream of notifications eating up our time outside work.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been with friends or family and an over-zealous (but well-meaning) colleague has tagged me in something as innocuous as “how to make your own mud kitchen”. While this is the sort of idea I’d usually like, I am furious that my mind is being forced into work mode. I don’t even seem to be safe when I’m on holiday – one colleague felt it was OK to ask me about planning even though they knew I was out of the country.

Teaching matters to me, but I want to work to live – not the other way around. In my opinion, the best teachers have this philosophy. I love hearing what the children in my class have done in their spare time and am happy to tell them about my life outside school. A work-life balance makes us more relatable, human practitioners and the abuse of social media by colleagues threatens to take this away from us. I also need to switch off from work at the weekend. Without this time to myself, I don’t feel able to give my all in the classroom on Monday morning.

What’s the solution? I’ve tried deleting or uninstalling apps during my holidays to ensure I get a break. But on my return to work, I’ve found decisions made without my input. Some are significant and have an impact on how we do things. Others have meant an increased workload for me. It’s also been suggested that my social media silence means I’m not a committed member of the team.

Schools have extensive social media policies, outlining what educators may or may not post. But there are no guidelines for appropriate practice in terms of private messaging between staff. Perhaps the time has come for this to happen – so that teachers can at least attempt to have a life beyond the school gates.