February 28, 2024

Sam Wollaston: ‘I’m knackered – physically, mentally, emotionally

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The Guardian, a British news outlet, decided to have three reporters try a day in their partner’s job, so Sam Wollaston ended up in a primary classroom. It’s the UK, not the USA, but much of his day will seem familiar to teachers.

So I think I win in this game. My girlfriend is a primary school teacher and teachers famously have it pretty easy, as well as being paid way too much, obviously. Yet still they moan, and strike … Hey, maybe I’ll get to go on strike, too, instead of going to work. But even if it isn’t a strike day, I’m still seeing this as a day off. I mean, how hard can it be, teaching year 2? And the day ends at 3.15pm, right? Perhaps I’ll get an evening job as well …

Bang! Ouch! Flying board rubber hits me on the jaw.

To be fair, my missus – Miss Honour – does put in the hours. Sometimes she’s out of the house before the rest of us are up, and not back until 12 hours later, exhausted. Of course she talks about it, but, like many people, I still don’t really know exactly what my partner does all day.


Monday 7.30am
Now I understand those early starts. There’s so much to do: preparation and sorting – books, materials, whiteboards, pencils. It feels strange being in a classroom again; I often dream about it, but I’m always sitting on the children’s side, not standing up at the front.

We’ve spent a lot of the weekend going through the plan for the day, but suddenly it’s all a bit fuzzy. A late change of schedule (there wasn’t going to be an assembly, but now there is) has thrown me. I can hear them, 30 excited seven-year-olds, lining up outside. Well, probably not lining up. Miss Honour says I need to sort them out. Help!

They pour through the door, an irresistible tsunami of hope for the future. My fear disappears (for now) and my plan not to smile until lunch goes out of the window. So many questions for me: am I Miss Honour’s husband? Am I a teacher? Do I have any brothers and sisters? (Answers: Kinda. Just for the day. One of each.) Now go and put your things away, and come and sit on the carpet.

By the end of the day, he has reached some conclusions.

To the profession: what you do is incredible, probably the most important job of all. Of course everyone knows that already (apart from the government – a 6.5% rise is still below inflation; you don’t need a number line to work that out). My tiny glimpse into your working world has only left me more in awe of you. Including you, Miss Honour.

She’s not going home now, at 3.15pm. She has a meeting with a parent, then a school one. There’s marking to be done, including the marking I should be doing, and more preparation, those loose ends to be tied up (including the literal ones). I haven’t really done her job for a day, more like half a day, because I didn’t do any of that, or planning, or report-writing. I’m knackered, though – physically, mentally, emotionally – and I’m going on strike. Well, home for a lie-down, then maybe a little light journalism. Miss Honour used to be a journalist, as it happens. There is some crossover, I guess – talking to people, finding things out, trying to get things across. My day job comes with less responsibility, though, is less performative and less full-on exhausting. Plus I get to go toilet when I want and need to.

Read the full day’s account here. 

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