I have been a teacher for 25 years, a dad for 17 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about why putting your family first matters.

To publish this has been a tough call. After a week of talking it through with him, my son Joe agreed to me posting this article. The tipping point came when one of my closest colleagues read it and said, It MUST be published at some point soon because too many of us are working ourselves into the ground. Joe remarked that what happened to him and me probably happens to lots of people…

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An Arthur Miller Life Lesson
“People are much more similar than you think. As I go around the world and ask those I meet what matters most to them, they all say their family comes first.” So said the CEO of Barclays, Antony Jenkins, to his sixth form student audience on a recent edition of the Today programme. But I’m not sure everyone who says his or her family comes first really means it; I now know that I didn’t.

When I began blogging back in June 2012 I used the This Much I Know format, plagiarised from the Observer magazine. That first blog post resonated with many readers and had over 1,800 views in the first twelve hours. This final bullet point seemed to touch people most:

To some extent, I missed my eldest son growing up. Joe is 15 years old now and a young man. When I cuddle him I can’t believe the width of his shoulders and he squirms away as quick as he can. He thinks I’m an idiot! Read Death of a Salesman if you want to know why you should spend more time with the people you love. I taught it last year and now, whenever my sons ask me to do something, I do it, irrespective of my work.

Between 1998, when I was appointed Deputy Headteacher at Huntington School in York, and a February day in 2011 when Miller’s play awoke me, Joe morphed from a two year old toddler into a young man; metaphorically I had slept through the whole process.

We always wanted our house to be an open house. We planned for it to ring with youthful laughter. We hoped it would be a second home to all our sons’ friends. We imagined it alive with bright, young faces. But I put my work first and our dream died.

I didn’t mean to be a misery, but I know I was. I would take Joe to football on a Sunday morning when he played for the Under 9s knowing I had a Technology College bid to write. I would be moody when the kick off was delayed. I would be mad with him when he didn’t try. I felt like he was wasting my time, time when I could have been working.

When his mates turned up, I would snap at them when they were rowdy, growl at them when they had a popcorn fight in the front room, bark at them to be quiet in the early days during the rare sleepovers at ours, because I had to get up early to work. They soon grew afeard and Joe went to their houses to watch the footie, to hang out, to lark around because their folks were much more fun.

Despite the obvious signs of failure to connect with Joe, I ploughed on with my career. I secured one headship then another. Headships are all consuming things; you’re a Headteacher every minute of every day. And my designation became Joe’s vehicle for abuse. “Stop being a Headteacher” he would mutter with no attempt to conceal his contempt for me.

I justified my work obsession through the middle-class lifestyle it afforded us as a family, even though I knew that was nonsense. I ended up working even longer hours; coming home late meant I didn’t get to eat tea with my wife and the boys. In so many ways I was an absent father, though present every day. And the gulf between me and Joe grew wider.

So it was, teaching A level English on that day in February 2011, that Miller’s insight changed my life. Near the end of Death of a Salesman Willy Loman clashes with his son Biff; as they fight Biff suddenly kisses him. Willy is astounded. He says, (after a long pause, astonished, elevated): Isn’t that — isn’t that remarkable? Biff — he likes me!

We were watching the Dustin Hoffman film version of the play before we got to read the text. I’d never seen the play and so, with the students, was watching it for the first time. Biff’s kiss and Willy’s response destroyed me. I had to leave the room, weeping uncontrollably. The students were bemused whilst my colleague Jane provided me tissues in wordless confusion as I fled to an office across the corridor.

A myriad of different issues surfaced in that classroom: my own Postman dad’s sense of futility having spent 42 years delivering letters and dying three years before he could retire to tend his roses; my sense of failure at being unable to forge a healthy relationship with my son; the hope that Joe still loved me.

The next lesson I took my father’s alarm clock into class – the same despised alarm clock that had rung him out of bed at 4 am every working day – and talked about it as an objective correlative for my relationships with both my father and my son; the whole sense that we can waste time without choosing and once it has passed, it’s passed. How I wanted for my son something wonderful and I felt I’d mucked the whole thing up.

As I said in that original blog, I decided that day that if either son ever asked me to do something I would do it, no matter how much work I had and I’ve stuck to that principle fiercely. It’s meant me going to bed later, getting up earlier and doing some work stuff just well enough, but that’s OK – the school’s doing fine. Consequently, since that moment in my English class nearly three years ago, my relationship with Joe has, to a great extent, healed.

And last night the 17 year old Joe had his mates round. They commandeered the front room, played cards to awful music and laughed like we’d wanted them to laugh all those lost years ago when, before Arthur Miller taught me a life lesson, I’d have claimed to have been one of those Antony Jenkins types who always put their family first.

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This post has 238 Comments

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      1. Hi John, just to say that you have been an inspiration to me whilst battling with my first substantive Headship. I am trying to bring your principles into my school and learn as I go. I wish you well with your retirement and hope to become the amazing leader you are.

  1. I admire you greatly for having the guts, as a head teacher to publish this. This is a perfect description of the canker that afflicts our profession. It’s normally justified by the emotional blackmail/self-guilt of letting the pupils down – and those who only want to wring the last drop from socially-motivated individuals are content to let it happen. I’m so glad you have realised this – but bear in mind that it is far from being only head teachers who suffer from this syndrome. In fact, it’s the workaholics who rise to the top – and then demand the same from the rest of us who only want a more modest, balanced life.

    1. Completely agree. For those of us who take a break in high flying careers so we can be there for them (not that I’m suggesting working parents aren’t) and support partners in demanding jobs the careers skills and knowledge gained from parenting, educating and other strengths we have to offer have less value and are less heard in a system designed by those who have felt forced to let someone else take the strain or not been fortunate enough to have children. I was also a teacher’s child so have seen it from both sides. I have always put my kids first, some say too much so, but it is something I know I won’t regret. Last year I was pressured to fit in to these systems and suffered mentally and physically as a result but as someone new to the profession my concerns can be and are disparaged. Watching them grow and succeed is the and will be the most important thing in my life, I hope teaching other people’s children will become the next biggest thing so I will tolerate this treatment and try to do it their way. My husband has realised the importance of it all too and gets a huge amount from running a local football club and team, which also gives him more time with our youngest. Win win all round!

  2. As a mother of three, returning to work FT (albeit temporarily), this blog has me in tears. I am ‘only’ a class teacher but my daily wrestle to both do both my roles (mother and teacher) has me feeling a failure. My children are my world but I love my job and want to be the best teacher I can, so I often push their needs aside in favour of something school related. I vow today to stop that. I owe them that much. Thank you for your honesty in sharing this.

  3. I was only talking about this after school today. This is such a timely reminder to us all about what is really important in life. Thank you for being so candid and sharing. Good luck to you and your family.

  4. Wonderful. Hands up who isn’t guilty of one or some of these? I recall Bill Bryson writing something similar and realising that his child would only be the age he was at that moment, and if he missed that moment it would be a moment missed forever. And he stopped what he was doing and went and played ball with his son.

  5. Very brave and thank you as a father of 2 wee girls and a nouveau assistant HT.. .you have crystallised a phrase that has been dogging all through the holidays …its all about the journey and not the destination..This is my mantra..good luck

  6. Fantastic post that really applies to everyone who is passionate about their work (paid or not) and is a parent. A reality check is great at reminding us that no-one can have it all and unless we want to feel the inevitable guilt that comes with being a parent. Funnily enough I think kids need us more at this age (Emily is the same age as Joe) and facing the uncertain world of choosing a university and course when she is still not certain of what she wants to be take’s up so much research time and she almost smiles when I say shall we look together! I still remember fondly the shouts of “mum, mum” usually when I was busy. Now I find myself turning into my mum and having to look for the times I am needed so she doesn’t realise that I know she still needs me! You are a great dad to your boys, an inspiration to many and a fantastic headteacher. As we both have younger children we know they need us too. For me that means lots of hugs from my Alice who is nearly 16 and more reluctant ones from my ever hungry 11yr old Dave!

  7. Thanks so much for this post. As a former secondary teacher, I know how pressurising the job can be. Unfortunately, I observed that many of my colleagues who were most successful (the workaholics?) didn’t have partners or kids, or their families had fallen apart through the years of work-related neglect. It seems so difficult to get a balance, and yet this article proves that it’s possible, although you clearly have to be pretty determined to get it!
    Nowadays I’m a stay-at-home mum to a 4-year-old and 2-year-old – the stay-at-home decision was made mainly because I knew I couldn’t effectively do both jobs. When it’s challenging and demanding (read: every minute), I try to remember how precious these days and years are. But I’m also trying to see how difficult it is for my husband, working in a similarly demanding job with unsociable hours, but also trying to build and develop his own relationship with our kids. Thanks very much for your post, its encouragement, and its sobering reminder.

    1. I think it is different for dads – I don’t think we have the space to make the work/family choice quite so easily. It’s just a matter of balance, I think. Thanks for replying.

  8. This blog really reasonated with me. I have two daughters- 6 and 8. I have just been appointed deputy Principal at my school and this has been a timely reminder to keep it all in perspective. I find the honesty, humanity and pedagogical insights you offer in your blogs an inspiration.

  9. Family ALWAYS comes first. A great post and I am sure you are a fantastic HT and passionate about your work. Work will always be there but the family won’t be forever. Have a look / read at one of George Carlin’s message The Paradox of Our Time when you are not busy being a HT!

  10. My son is now 37 & a father himself. I found myself alongside you in this post. There is so much I don’t remember when I’m asked what he did at certain ages. I’m often feeling quite guilty with these memories as they are brought to the forefront now that I have a grand daughter. So wish I had the chance to make it better. Well done for taking advantage of the opportunity.

  11. I am the daughter of a headteacher. My Dad was on his own with us for four years before meeting his second wife. He brought work home every night and worked at the weekends. We went to school with him in the holidays. We take the mickey out of him now for leaving us waiting outside our school until 5pm when he picked us up! When my mum was ill, we were farmed out to various family members and friends so my Dad could spend time with her.
    I am incredibly close to my Dad. What mattered to me was that he was there when I needed him, I was loved and I knew my world was stable. When I look back I have no resentment about him working at home or working long hours.
    I had a crisis of confidence when I returned to work after having my son. I have worked part-time (3days) in the past. I didn’t enjoy this but I didn’t feel I wanted to work full time either. The first person I rang whilst sobbing at the thought of this was my Dad. He asked me whether I felt any less close to him because of his working patterns (I don’t). He also pointed out that children are very resilient and quite simple in their needs in the main.
    Much as I feel guilty most of the time because I’m not a good mum/good teacher but somewhere below par with both, I have a good balance now. I work 0.86 and finish early twice a week to pick my girl up from school and read with her and spend extra time with my boy.
    I found your post touching and honest. I think what I am trying to say is don’t beat yourselves up. I followed my Dad into education after my upbringing and he’s my hero!

    1. Janet I just recovered from Johns post and now I am blubbing again! I can relate to this so much as a wife, mum and a teacher; I spent all my time as a young mother wrestling with the ” I’m not good enough” at any of it whilst working so hard at all of it. Keeping house that never seemed clean or tidy enough, working part or full time, loving my young children and worrying about how hard my, now head teacher husband works.
      It’s all around, for so many of us it seems it’s the same. Whilst a little comforting to know, this blogging offers a moment to reflect and remember we will never regret that we didn’t spend that extra time at work but we clearly do regret the time not spent with our families. Thank you both for sharing.

  12. I read this to the accompaniment of my, just ,16 year old son and his friends upstairs playing X-box, my eldest daughter giggling on the phone with friends and my youngest dancing and daydreaming to One Direction. There are pizzas in the oven, the house is filled with love laughter and the aroma of cooking… what’s missing I hear you ask? My husband, who will as usual come home to find the house in silence and everyone in bed or about to go and no one willing at that late hour to engage in meaningful conversation. Some day I suppose he will realise what he has missed but with the eldest off to uni in September, I fear it will be too late. Really pleased for you and your son that the realisation came in time for you to do something about it, make the most of what is left of his childhood/ teen years. 🙂

  13. This really moved me and resonated. I gave up my role on SLT last year so that I could be a better mum. I feel all the better for it as it had started to take over my ‘real’ life and my daughters really needed me. We all need to remember that teaching is not our whole life but part of it, and it is the part that is least important.

  14. My first thought was….
    Oh crap. I need to do this before I screw up all that’s precious about me…..them.
    My second thought was……
    How?

  15. One of the best educational blogs I’ve read….ever! Very brave and very true. It always baffles me how I can have so much time, energy and patience for other people’s children and yet when I get home my ‘goodness tokens’ have often ran out and my own children seem to get the short straw! My children are10 and 12 and already I mourn the loss of the years gone by, many missed by selfish work behaviour. I’ve tried to change my tune at home, I have to bring ‘goodness tokens’ home and as a minimum share them equally between work and home. If I don’t my wife and children let me know…I’m getting better but it’s not easy.
    It’s so refreshing to hear John share his experiences, families must come first. As my girls are at the dawn of thier teenage years my mantra is ‘ I can’t let my pupils down but I must never let my family down’ you don’t get the moment again.
    Thank you John for publishing this.

  16. John, I told many parents that I ‘had a lot of respect for the Head of Huntington’, this piece sums up why. Thank you

  17. this can also work the other way..
    .some of us have adult children who are too busy to be in touch, despite the fact that many of us have helped them to get where they are, loved and encouraged helped and nurtured then “let go” lovingly and willingly.
    So often they do not want to speak on the phone or even text us or reply to hesitant infrequent calls. They are not wishing us to visit them or to come to our homes even for a quick visit which would be so welcomed. They can be totally uninterested in our lives, keep us at a distance from their own,and gradually get to become strangers, meeting up at best for short times on birthdays mothers/fathers days and maybe christmas .
    These days could be special but so often they are squandered by disinterest and neglect of relationship. This throw away world ever more creeps towards the people within it…
    I have observed that it is increasingly common for the younger folk now to dishonour the older generation who so often are made to feel boring or irritating . Some try to fit we oldies into narrow moulds of behaviour that we, their parents never inflicted onto which can feel harsh and so lacking in respect and can serve to lose the great depth of relationship one generation can mutually give to the other.
    Deeply saddened and not wishing to impose on their busy lives, we so often withdraw quietly numbed by the lack of love, concerned at the possibility of being a nuscience with the ever present secret fear of dementia sapping the confidence, struggling with the ever increasing sadnesses of friends and companions leaving this world and problems of decreasing health and mobility and loneliness.
    Whilst I know that so many folk do cherish each other whichever generation they are in, love and mutually support family members ” through thick and thin”. I would urge and commend the spending of time one with the other when it is possible with tolerance and understanding. One can never turn the clock back and no one is here forever and there are so many folk that regret not taking the opportunity for journeying together when it is too late….

  18. Great post. I’ve kept a copy of ‘death of a salesman’ in my briefcase for the 20 years I’ve been a Head. My friend calls it ‘my emergency Arthur Miller’. It’s the finest play for perspective on what’s important and, more importantly, what’s not! Kevin
    Sent from my iPad
    >

  19. A brave post, John. And there’s an inevitability about it too. Just before your recent Ofsted, another head teacher friend of mine had his. Like yours, it went well. Like you, he had worked round the clock for three years to achieve it. Like you and all the other conscientious heads, he felt exhausted afterwards and wondered about the impact on his family, whether he’d done the right thing by them. To me, at a social do far away from school, he privately admitted he wasn’t sure he could keep this up – or wanted to.

    Every great human achievement exacts its toll and it is not uncommon to have to rebalance after it is over, as I guess you are doing now. I hope that rebalancing will be a source of strength over the next few years, that you’ll stand firm about being good enough. But I do think that all of you Heads should speak up more about the performance regime you are operating under, not to decry its ambitions nor your noble commitment to the task, but to challenge its heartless using up of people, its resolute insistence on destroying work-life balance, its utter rejection from all discourse of words such as beauty, joy, compassion or love. And this regime is led, insisted on, by a bunch of career politicians who do not themselves submit to it, who consider themselves to be superior beings who know best, when in fact the vast majority of them have never done anything as demanding as run a school themselves. They are clever idiots, smugly unaware that they are operating at the lowest level of learning – unconscious incompetence – and either naively or callously promulgating the dehumanising, manufacturing-derived doctrine of continuous improvement.

    How we account for Wilshaw and his ilk is another matter and maybe one that you Heads need to take up amongst yourselves. Wilshaw HAS run a school. He HAS been there. And yet he appears to exemplify that dour streak of cruelty which some school and education leaders relish, most notoriously in his quote about teachers’ morale. He speaks from experience of the need for toughness with some children and to have higher expectations of teachers than they might sometimes have for themselves, but he and the heads like him (not many in my experience) seem to reject compassion in the process. He says he’s been misquoted but, if so, let him show his love a little more – as well as the intellectual grit to acknowledge the downsides of the continuous improvement doctrine and what Mick Waters refers to, in his recent book, as game theory.

    I didn’t know that you were another working class hero, John. I’ve met quite a few of those running schools. Fantastic achievers, all – and yet the mostly middle class politicians look down on you! To be a head teacher would be a modest and mediocre achievement in their book. You and your colleagues – the compassionate, conscientious heads – need to stop kowtowing to these people and articulate your criticisms of their attitudes and the system they impose collectively. I know you and the Heads Roundtable have been doing this; don’t fight shy of arguing for work-life balance and teacher welfare, for fear of being accused of whingeing. Challenge the policy makers on their own family lives; ask them what penalties they and their loved ones have paid for their drive to power and ‘success’. And above all, push for experiential targets to be written into every policy document alongside the statistical ones. After all, if the ‘kids come first’, that includes your own kids too.

    Nuttgens Creative Learning

    Use of this phone does not imply endorsement of Apple’s tax avoidance nor its efforts to manipulate tax policy.

    1. Thanks Nick. We’re meeting with SMW and MG next month. I know MG reads this blog and suspect SMW might too. Some of the issues the blog raises may well arise in our conversations. Thanks for such a sharp comment.

  20. You made me cry John. A sobering thought, especially as both my husband and I are educational managers. Your post (shared by a colleague on FB, my one guilty pleasure which I never really have the chance to read) came at exactly the right time! We have 11, 15 year olds who as I type, sleep on our sitting room floor – having no doubt thrown the popcorn all over the place! A decision pondered and discussed for far too long, but thank goodness it became a reality for our daughter and her friends. Like you, my husband and I always dreamt about a noisy house full of teenagers, happy to eat all the crisps, biscuits, chocolate, toast or cereal we have in the cupboards, walk around in their p.j’s in front of the tv programme we so desperately want to catch up with and generally treat our house as their home. We are beginning to realise……..
    I recall how when our two big kids, aged 15 and 13 had more of our time and ironically we had more money (my husband ‘s pay went down when he was promoted and switched from the old Senior teacher’s pay scale to his position on SLT), compared to the time spent last term with our most recent addition, or little four year old, it makes me so mad!
    Well enough already, perhaps we have managed to catch this just in time. I thank you for your honesty, it was brave of you to expose ‘the other side of teaching’ and it’s wonderful to hear how your relationships have survived, as I’m certain many others will have not.
    I showed this to my husband and he too has been reminded that although fortunately for us, in our relationship we have a natural acceptance that we do not spend any time with each other on week nights, too much school work to do but that doesn’t make it right. So today we he will be mostly spending the day taking our boys for a barber bonding experience whilst my daughter and I indulge in a little bit of retail therapy before bundling on the sofa this evening to watch a movie together. We will plan at least one ‘date’ night out together each month and with a ban on talking anything school!
    And what of the assignments which are awaiting assessment in my bag in the study, or the letters to the parents whom I was unable to contact last week, even when I tried to call them at 7,8 or 9 pm from home (in between bedtime reading and homework support) before eating dinner separately at 10pm, before continuing with school stuff left over from the day unable to be completed as we ran out of time………Well they all will be done ………… just well enough.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reminding me and my husband about what our reality should be!
    P.S Do you need a Deputy or two?

    1. I’m glad it was helpful. Sounds like you have a plan! We don’t need a DHT but we have an advert for Director of Sixth Form in the TES next Friday!

  21. I totally concure. I have just walked out of my ‘dream’ job as a SENCo in a primary school after 10+ years of continuous service. I worked really hard to get there, and yet I still want to put my husband and any potential family first. I just couldn’t do both, even working ‘part time’ as a teacher meant working 45+ hours a week and still not having anywhere near enough time to do my best for the children I teach or for my family. I have learnt the hardest way possible the value of my family and how short life is and I still have hope for the future. But now, I’m doing my best to give my everything to the people that are closest to me. John, I would love to work for you, because you get it! So many people in the teaching profession don’t! Thank you for expressing what I feel, it helps me to feel I have made the right decision.

  22. This is fantastic, and brought tears to my eyes as it brought back the feelings I experienced when my 2 eldest children where young. The realisation that the very well paid job and company car I had were actually meaningless as the pressure of the job was not just ruining my life but my mental health. To give up a good salary was a tough decision but we did it. I knew I would never get those years back and if I continued to work I would be missing out, and its true the time goes so quickly. I now have 3 children 2 of them teenagers. I Eventually did go back to work, part time. We dont have the luxuary of that salary anymore but to me that money represents a very unhappy period of time because money can never buy a good family life of nurturing your family so your home is a happy sucure place for your children. Money will never buy you that love.

  23. I am reading this whilst sitting at my sons bedside in the oncology ward. He has a tough fight ahead of him. His mother and I both teach, we’ve had crazy discussions about how to balance work and nursing care in the months that lie ahead my school has been brilliant and given me all the flexibility I need, but it may be different for my wife, I have a light teaching load she does not. Your blog has really crystallised my thinking and I now know what decisions we should make for the good of our family…..thank you

    1. Thoughts and Prayers are with you, your wife, especially your son and other members of your family.

      1. As I type there is the happy noise of year 11 lads talking nonsense in the living room and playing daft card games. Eldest son home from hospital for the weekend. All he wanted to do was get the mates round and have a banter. Best therapy for him, hard to believe how seriously ill he is although long term looks like a happy ending.

  24. John, as a HT whose eldest was born just before I became s DH your blog really resonated with me. It’s been a constant struggle to maintain balance. Today my family ARE coming first 🙂

  25. Thank you for this!!! It sounds all to familiar and has confirmed a few things for me.
    My children WILL come first, I will not huff & puff! What doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done! It will still be there tomorrow!!
    I think it takes more guts to admit it to yourself than anyone else

  26. Thank you Joe and John for sharing this – it’s moved me to tears and, as is so often the case, is very timely for reasons I can’t share at the moment but which I’m hoping to be able to in the next few weeks when our pre-Christmas Ofsted report is published. I’m an ex-Barclays employee and gave up my ‘high-powered’ job in the City 15 years ago for exactly the reasons you’ve described here. I’m pleased to now be doing something I consider to be more worthwhile, albeit not a front-line role in education, but regularly see the significant demands Headteachers and the team in school face and the damaging impact it can have on personal and family lives and emotional well-being. I’m pleased you’ve finally got your houseful of teenagers – I may complain sometimes but, in truth, there’s nothing I love more than my son and his friends in the house, talking and laughing – and raiding the fridge! Enjoy your weekend with the family and with Joe in particular 🙂

  27. Dear John – a friend shared this on facebook and I was very touched by your honesty and openness. I was able to put family first, as my husband worked the sort of hours you did and I worked mostly while the kids were at school. And I am so glad I did, because I had a good relationship with my lovely older son – and then we lost him in a canoeing accident a few weeks before his 20th birthday. I still have regrets about somethings I did or didn’t do – but my boy knew he was loved and loved us back. Children leave home, get married, move to another country, work stupid hours themselves – they are with you a short but intense time – savour it!

    1. Thanks Julie. Yes, it’s an instant; my wife has only just gone back to work FT and both boys are at her school – she teaches Joe History A level. She’s better than me at spending time with the boys; she doesn’t regret a second of the time off work. And I look back on my dad and feel I hardly knew him but we had some great times. http://wp.me/p2wufC-3S

  28. As a head myself with 4 children I’ve really struggled to read this………Ben and Jo I love you and I’m sorry.

  29. Thank you for sharing this important and very personal lesson – I am at the start of my journey you have outlined here, and can see myself and my two boys in your words only too (painfull) well.
    Lesson learned: now I need to hide laptop, iPad, iPhone, and the TV remote and go play outside with my boys!
    David

  30. This is a beautiful post and another reminder (as if we English teachers needed one) of the power of literature. I just finished ‘teaching’ Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town to a Grade 10 class, and so your essay is particularly poignant. If you haven’t read the play, it’s Wilder’s attempt to “find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life.” It doesn’t matter how many times I read it or see it, like Miller’s play it’s a potent reminder of how we often miss what is right under our noses. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  31. Thank you so much for posting this, it has reaffirmed my decision to quit my role as a Head of Primary at an International School, a decision that fermented in my brain for almost a year. I am at the opposite end with my children just toddlers and I experienced an awakening in the summer of 2012 at a CPD session when a former head now trainer told a story similar to yours. It resonated so clearly that I could not focus on the rest of the session and put in motion a chain of events that led to me, with my wife’s support, resigning 6 months ago giving my school a year’s notice. I am currently working out my notice and looking for a new and fresh challenge as a teacher back home in Blighty. Quitting before securing a job caused a few to raise their eyebrows, but I am convinced that we have made the right decision so I thank you for your poignant post, it is a comfort to me.

  32. This is one of the most touching blogs I have read in a long, long time… Reading it now has opened my eyes – I don’t always put my family first and they are the most important people in my life! I need to stop saying yes to work all the time and start saying yes to my family!!!

  33. John, Too few people face those issues and you nailed it. You also show why we can’t celebrate loudly enough the power of literature or that it’s never too late to face up to our own fallibility. I’ll look at my teenage daughters differently tomorrow. Thank you.

  34. A brilliant post. It’s time we stood together as a profession on this though, instead of allowing staff to be hounded out of their jobs for daring to put their own family equal if not above their job. It reminds me of a great headteacher I worked for at the beginning of my career, Brian Ford. I sat there bemused as he told us all “please don’t forget, it’s just a job”. After having to drop my responsibilities as Head of Department, reduce my hours year on year and ultimately resign my post in order to be there for my own two children it saddens me that it all happens secretly and quietly. We should stand together and say NO – we will not destroy our personal relationships and our health just to jump through the latest hoops!

    1. It’s time EVERYONE stood together on this … not just in teaching but in other industries as well … although I know that teaching, and particularly school leadership, is one of the worst culprits. No-one’s life should be ruled by work. No-one should have to choose between their work and their family, because there shouldn’t be that pressure or expectation on them in the first place. Unfortunately, whether it’s public sector where costs are being forced down by funding cuts, or private sector where they are being driven down in the race for profit, too many companies are seeing easy savings to be made by piling additional work and pressure onto fewer staff.
      I have always been fiercely protective of my work–life balance … it’s part of the reason why I haven’t looked much for promotions and better jobs, because I really value walking out of the door at 5.00(ish) and leaving it behind me til I come in the next morning … and that’s just for “me” time, I don’t even have a family!
      The whole culture needs to change. Your job is your job. Your employer pays you to do a job, but they don’t own you. Everyone needs to play their part in this. I’m not saying that everyone can suddenly insist on 9–5 hours and no more … start small, but take a stand. Don’t give in to every demand for longer hours. That’s harder when you ARE the boss, but you still have the right and the duty to do it. Because if you’re working every hour under the sun, and plenty of hours under the moon as well, what kind of message is that giving to your staff about the expectations on them?
      As always, a powerful and moving blog … keep up the good work … but not at the expense of time with your family 🙂

  35. Many thanks for sharing this. Death of a Salesman has so very much to offer, one of the best in American lit. Our kids grow up so fast, too fast. And our lives go by so fast, too fast. One lesson school teaches us that is ….well, sad…..is that we are preparing for tomorrow. We learn, not for the sake of learning, but for that imminent exam. We prepare exams only as stepping stones to university and/or professions. So much of school life is focused on tomorrow that we lose sight of living today. And as we see from Willie Loman, our jobs continue in the same pattern–the exams of yesteryear become performance reviews, quotas, promotions. We live in anticipation, on the verge of making it, whatever “it” is. Too often we wake up one day to realise all that we have are not the memories, but the dreams of yesterday. Somehow the treasure of today has vanished. Not to say we can’t love our work–we should–but we need to remember why we do it and keep a balance that is nurturing to ourselves and our families. Again, thanks for the reminder.

    1. Yes. I know we have the kids “on loan” and once they’re gone they’ll hardly look back, so it is important to nourish ourselves for ourselves too.

  36. I’m not a teacher, neither is my husband but we both work long hours to provide for our 3 children, I think most parents are these days in this climate and are all guilty of being short/stressed towards our families, it’s all about balance but what’s the right balance??

  37. I put off reading this because I anticipated that it would be like looking in a mirror. Sure enough I’m in bits. Courageous thing to write John but many many Dads and Mums will have experienced all of those reflective emotions. This will induce many into positive remedial actions. What a good looking lad! Best Wishes. Phil

  38. My kids are 11 and 12 – just about to start this phase in their lives. When I switched careers, late in life, part of the reason was that I would have more time at home to watch my kids grow up and not miss all this (I was a London Commuter – out at 6am back at 8pm). The same dream of a vibrant, noise filled house was a part of my vision. I’ve since found that, as a teacher, it’s all too easy to be working every waking moment; evenings and weekends. I’ve started a new job, a promotion within T&L and there is an eternal carrot dangling in front of me. I love what I do and I find it hard to stop myself but this has been a timely reminder of what could be. Many thanks John. Love reading your blog along with countless others. Of course, the irony is I’m typing this at 8:30am on a Sunday morning when maybe I should be making pancakes! Better go.

  39. What an honest and moving account. I’ve worked for a head with no life outside the school and her contempt for staff who wanted to eat lunch/go home on time/ not want to run revision classes at half term was overwhelming – we ended up with an SLT of robots who were disdainful of staff – labelling them ‘lazy’ if they were ill or putting their home life first. Thanks.

  40. Reblogged this on travellingcoral and commented:
    For all parents out there. For all my teacher friends and workaholics. For all of us who have parents still with us. . Read the comments too.

    1. I don’t expect John will remember me but, as a trainee English teacher at Lady Lumley’s quite a few years ago now, I remember him. Every staff training began and ended with the ‘work/ life balance’ message and a photo of him and his son. My own son is now sixteen and has had to cope with rather a lot too as I. Have tried desperately to balance life as an NQT, worked under the label of Special measures and now as a new HOD. This is a message we should all read every now and then …

  41. How brilliant to read a heartfelt story of life…this would not have been easy to do I can imagine but well done and thank you for sharing it.

  42. Thank you for this moving and timely blog. As a teacher who is a single mum, with a son the same age as Joe i can really relate to what you say. Its a timely reminder of what is important. Your blogs are always inspiring but this one especially so. Thank you for so much for writing it.

  43. I am a mother of 2 boys age 6 and 8, I work in school hours as an Assistant Accountant, my husband has recently left his job after 7 years to start up his own business for the purpose of fitting his job around the kids and spending more time with us. We do struggle sometimes and our kids don’t always get the same material things as their friends at school, but we spend plenty of family time together. A lot of people spend so much of their life working and trying to make more money for a better way of life for their families, but the most important thing is quality time, and people should remember you can’t turn the clocks back to relive the time missed, life is so short, cherish every minute you can with your kids they grow up so fast. I hope people learn by your message John.

  44. I was in year 7 (about 15 years ago!!) – I always thought you were fun and looked forward to your lessons! I respected you but didn’t fear you unlike some of my other teachers! It’s not until recently (since becoming a teacher myself) that I realised how much work you and our other teachers put into shaping the people that we have become. I met an old friend last week and reminisced about school and I said I wish I could have done a few things differently……. I would have listened more, worked harder and shown my appreciation because I truely didn’t realise the full cost of you being dedicated teachers! I loved this article and it’s growing happy ending!

      1. Now I remember you clearly means I was a pain!!! I was talking to Angela Feltham about you the other day! How lovely that your the head of Huntington now 🙂 happy memories!

  45. This is so true .. We all want things in life and work hard to provide them ! I myself has work things that could be done constantly like yourself, but your words will ring in my mind when I should be doing things for my family and making them come first ! So an afternoon of movies and leftover chocs, instead of work prep !!
    Thank you

  46. John, what a brave piece of writing, made me cry, as I wrestle with this dilemma all too often, thank you for sharing 🙂 I am off to a football match with my son, Justin aged 13 and won’t moan about late kick off I promise, just maybe the cold.

  47. Thank you for sharing. Love reading your blog, this just show how the profession can affect us from the top as head teacher to being a teacher. I love my profession but I love my family too and your blog just remind me of what time I lost with my little girl. I Remember last Ofsted I stayed in school till 7 rang my mum to keep my daughter for the night, didn’t see her for two days, just because I didn’t want to let department down , my school down and to be graded with a 4. This was one extreme but there are many occasion where I lost time with my family and dealt with work life balance on many occasion .

  48. A moving post john – life is too short, enjoy and make the most of family time. I know it’s hard to do this in teaching but try to relax and take opportunities when you can.

  49. Hi John, my kids were very lucky to have you as an inspiring head teacher. Josh is doing very well in his army career and Georgia gained a 2:1 in Psychology last year, thank you for your dedication and inspirational leadership

  50. As I sit here typing a Pupil Premium document on a Sunday (not unusual). I took a moment out to read your blog John…..This is not any Sunday, it’s my eldest son’s 19th birthday. I am doing no more work today, I am dropping him to 5-a-side with his mates and we are then going out for a family meal. As you rightly say, the school is doing fine! Thanks for the honesty. Tony

  51. Amazing read, so true. We get enveloped often in our job as we are passionate in our career and ensuring children we educate and care for get the best , sometimes to the detriment to our own children. Your words were very thought provoking! Reflecting and stepping back is necessary to ensure our own children have that same passion and input that they deserve. Love my family and my career. Just need to get a good balance all the time!

  52. Thank you for such a frank blogpost. I have been teaching for 30 years and putting my family first was the reason I gave up an HoD position which with 4 young children was hard enough to build up to in the first place. Then my partner left and my children’s needs took centre stage as I worked 3 then 4 days a week, juggling work and their needs, especially as one daughter has Asperger’s. Whilst I believe I did try to put family first and still love teaching, my biggest regret is that there has been virtually no “me” time. I am really close to my children and also my foster daughter; I am incredibly proud of all of them. However, if I ask any of them how they would describe being the children of a teacher they would say that it was the amount of hours I worked every evening after I had finished helping with homework. Thus, the materials for lots of projects I would like to undertake sit in a spare room, sadly awaiting that time, some years away yet, when I might have some “me” time. With a FT HoD job again but no partner to encourage me to stop planning or marking, I hope I look after my family well but I still work too hard. The trick is to find a 3 way balanced position: family, the demands of school and just a little time for yourself. I am still working on it….

  53. Mr Tomsett!!
    This is a fantastic read and very thought provoking, well done!!
    Always thought you were a great teacher and really cared about your students and the school!

  54. Hi John As a secondary head teacher working this afternoon, and having chosen not to go and watch my 15 year old son play football in order that I could prepare for a post OFSTED session with governors, this blog struck a real chord. I too have run the argument that, because of my status, resulting workload and the financial reward that comes with it, we get good holidays and a standard of living which is quite high and this compensates for the time I am not at home or when occupied mentally by the ever present responsibility of leading a school. But your honesty and perspective has reminded me that what matters is the here and now, and being with my son as he moves into the most important period of his school life. Thank you.

  55. Thank you – and thank you to Joe, too. As a 42 year old daughter, I would also like to tell you that it is never too late to repair parent-child relationships. I was 41, my mother was 80, but when she passed away last year we had had some of the best years of our relationship.

  56. Lovely to read John Tomsett…..don’t really know you personally as such but your beautiful wife Louise taught my daughter Emma History and not sure if Emma has told her yet but Louise is her hero and inspiration. Emma is now at Oxford and a lot of this is down to the support and encouragement Louise gave her after her dad died. I work in education and maybe you could pass your wisdom on to some of your colleague headteachers….

  57. I would like to say how much I enjoyed your story , My Grandson started Huntington school in September and I have see him growing into a confident , self esteemed , Polite , younge man that I am very proud to say that he is my Grandson
    You have given him brilliant opportunitys in the short time he has attended your school , first was to speak at the open night for perspective children for next year .
    Secondly his public speaking at the council chambers a night that made us very proud Grandparents . So I am sure your Son is very proud of his Dad giving these children so many chances in life . And stands back and says ” that’s my Dad ” all I can say is Good Luck I’m any future plans you have for your much lived school , I am sure these children will continue to go from strength to strength as will your Son

  58. I started Huntington school in 1998, you probably don’t remember me tho! Always enjoyed your lessons, its great your the head now. Very pleased your article had a happy ending.

  59. Lovely moving comments. But please rest assured that most parents feel like this regardless of how we try to juggle things. I backed off from my career to work from home when mine were younger then went back to my main career but part time and permanent nights in the hope the kids were hardly aware i was out of the house but still have moments when think i let them down! I have had the honour of being in your house when my children were little and it always was a welcome lovely house full of fun and on the flip side of your life i am a parent of a child at your school where i feel the children are welcomed and flourish in a great environment. Your comments serve as a great reminder to us all to enjoy each other and leave the chores to spend time with our loved ones! (I never need an excuse!) But also give yourself a break and try not to be as critical of yourself!

  60. Thanks, it was a good day and been a good weekend. Just wish I could enjoy family time without the little ‘niggle’ at the back of my mind off all the things still to do. Hate that guilty feeling! 🙂

  61. Not just Head Teachers but all teachers in state schools feel the same way. I have taught for 20 years and have never known as many teachers leave the profession early, either by choice or mental illness or as many teachers relationships with partners/wives/husbands break down. The demands of OFSTED/Government are bad enough without being labelled ‘failing’ if you do not wish to teach in a certain way regardless of whether it works for you or your pupils or how successful you’ve been in the past. No other professional has to continually prove their ability, often to people without any qualifications to judge or to people who found a way out of teaching because they couldn’t hack it in the classroom. Some Headteachers need to look at how their behaviour and decisions are affecting their staff also.

    1. most professions have to continue to prove their ability! This is another example of a teacher being out of touch with the modern workplace!!

      1. Another comment from someone who clearly has no idea what goes on in a school. Out of touch? Oh what little you know!

      2. Surely the piece is about work interfering with and damaging family life. That applies to any profession not just teaching.

  62. It’s nice to read something so brutally honest on your behalf, it often annoys me that there are not enough people in this world who are big enough to own up to their mistakes. My dad too was a deputy head in the york area until recently and believe me I understand the length of hours you work and how much pressure you are under via ofsted and looking after a school full of pupils. But you’ll be glad to hear there’s the flip side to your story that I wouldn’t mind sharing with you…Although slightly older than your son, I never really took time to stand and appreciate just what my dad does for me regardless of whether he’s there physically or not. Your son seems to be growing into a fine young man and that is testament to the parenting skills you have possessed whether you think it or not. As a teenager I’m not sure Joe will fully appreciate just yet the hardwork and sacrifice you put in so that he could have a roof over his head, food on the table and clothes on his back, he will grow to appreciate it as he grows wiser to the world. Yes, we are always looking to better ourselves, but don’t be too hard on yourself…at least you have realised your priorities before it’s too late!

  63. I wonder what the impact of this will be on your colleagues. You probably don’t remember me, but I worked at Huntington when you arrived; the ‘golden boy’ who would win all those funding bids.
    I recall at times you being distant and unapproachable as a manager. One particular occasion sticks in my mind as I brought you something serious and you didn’t hear me, because you were probably to busy.
    When work becomes all consuming it often isn’t just our family that suffers. As we work longer ours productivity goes down, relationships across the board get frayed and frankly we’re often not as good as we like to think we are.
    The upshot of all this, I suspect, is you being a better head teacher.

  64. A lovely read that has given me real food for thought. As an ex pupil of Huntington School who studied under your tutelage let me please say that for every minute you have lost with your growing lad is a minute spent having a positive impact on your students. Don’t get me wrong Joe should be a priority over your students/job but without your hard work and dedication you would be a teacher quickly forgotten rather than the well respected man whom I learnt so much from. Keep up the hard work, get us out of this recession…so Joe doesn’t have to, so Joe will have a quality of life that enables him to spend quality time with his children. I’m sure he will appreciate it.

  65. Honest as ever, and moving too. Thank you so much. How I love that you can cry at work – and talk about it afterwards! I wonder whether you always could, or whether the first days in headship told you that ‘headteachers don’t cry’? Parenthood and leadership have this in common: there are no dress rehearsals: we do what we do with the resources available to us at the time and we live life forwards, but understand it backwards. As Ed says, you don’t need to be a headteacher – or actually even a teacher – to feel this way. I wonder how your son’s equivalent of ‘This much I know about…why my dad still matters’ will read when he’s in his forties. If you could have been the Dad you wanted to be AND not had an impact on the many lives you’ve affected (testimonies above) would you have given up the latter?

  66. This is all so true John- as an ex colleague of yours I let the formative years of my two boys go by without really realising what I was doing. Teaching was my obsession and, although I have no regrets about that, I missed valuable times. Now my two sons (both former Huntington boys) are in their thirties and we have a fantastic relationship but what brings it all home to me is the time I now spend with my 19month old grandson. I relish every second spent with him, playing silly games, reading, laughing and sharing exciting times- times I let slip through my fingers when his Daddy and Uncle were young. I still look back on my Huntington years with fond memories of you and precious colleagues in the English department.

  67. I have just seen this posted by a friend on Facebook. Just wanted to add how moved by it I was, & how utterly connected to your experiences I suddenly feel. You interviewed me back in 2010 when I was at (what I only realised in hindsight was) my most vulnerable. I came very close to getting a job I so desperately wanted at your school but the second day got the better of me and I left disheartened & distraught. I was ignoring inner signs of turmoil at the time and continued to look for my dream promotion that would allow me to move on from a turbulent merger at my school at the time where I felt I was stagnating. I managed to get what I realise now was ultimately my perfect post back at the school I started out as as an ITT, not as director of a large faculty as I had attempted to secure with you, but as head of a subject within a faculty, and now as second in that faculty responsible for ks3 and transition. The experience of interviewing at your school has never left me however. I was inspired by the thriving atmosphere you managed to create at your school and actually learnt from the tasks you set, from questions you asked and from your philosophy. I vowedI would return should the post ever come up again, but when it did, 3 or so years on, I realised now was not the time and left it for a more suitable candidate. I had only just, with the help of my extremely supportive head, reared my head from a dark period of low confidence in my abilities as a teacher and was beginning to thrive in my role once more. In a flurry of life changing events after that I moved house, married my partner of 12 years and six months ago became a mum for the first time. Today was my first day back at work-full time-& reading your article has reduced me to tears. However you have given me the perspective I needed. I am passionate about what I do for other people’s children, but I now also have the important task of trying to be the best mum I can be to my son. I’m determined to do both but previous experience and now reading what you say has made me realise balance is the key. Thank you for providing me with further inspiration and I hope one day in the future I will cross your path again. For now however I have my current roles to get stuck into. 🙂

  68. John,
    Truly amazing to see a real life story ‘from the top’.
    I have been teaching 13 years now, have recently moved into a TLR role, in an inner city, socially deprived school, that expects 100% all of the time. I love my job, and wouldn’t trade it for the world, however, I find myself at times, forgetting the balance between work and life. I try to give myself a chunk of the weekend off with my family, but it doesn’t always happen. I too have found myself getting agitated with my children, who are 3 and 6, at times when I desperately need to get work done, and I find myself mentally reminding about the fact that they’re just little and deserve my time and attention too.
    I am dedicated to providing a high standard of lessons for my class, and opportunities that will raise their aspirations, but I also need to remember my own, gorgeous, fun loving children in all this.
    Thank you for the timely reminder!
    Leanne

  69. I can’t remember where I read it, but a wise man once said “No-one lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office”. So true. My husband had a condition which meant he knew he would die relatively young from cancer, so he made the decision to adjust his working hours to more family friendly ones: he got the train to work at 8.30am (not 6.30, like his colleagues), so he could see his two boys for breakfast; he also left the office on time, so he was home early enough to kiss them goodnight. He also stayed in a job which he no longer enjoyed, because the death-in-service benefits were fantastic.
    He died 9 years ago, when the boys were 6 and 4. I think he would be proud of the young men they have become in those 9 years. Had he not stayed in his job (I was forever telling him to look for something else, but he wisely ignored me!), our life today would be very different – the lump sum paid off our mortgage, and I have a pension income for life (plus the boys have one till they are 18). We would have had none of this, if he had changed jobs, and it took me a number of years to realise why he had done what he did.
    So yes, get the message out there: being a Dad is about so much more than bringing home the bacon. 🙂

  70. Very good. And very helpful. From a Dad with two cracking kids who works long hours and pursues many of his own ambitions and is trying to ween himself off of it.

  71. A from the heart, honest blog which I, too, have great empathy with.
    After 30 years teaching English (so glad you chose my favourite play!) I have never taken my eye off what was truly important in my life: I have two of them, Jenny and Ben. When people ask me what I do, I say teach English; when they ask me what I am, I’m a Mum.
    Thank you for sharing such a personal and inspirational message 🙂

  72. Agree, as a deputy head teacher and lover of theatre I worked, and played, all hours, juggling work, hobbies and family. I’m afraid my family suffered because of my selfishness. It was only when I became ill with M. E. that I started to give my children the time they deserved. If I hadn’t been ill I doubt that I would be as proud of my children as I am. My daughter has been a superb mum, giving her children oodles of time, and confidence! My youngest, with special needs, ended up going to college and university because I was able to give him the time he needed taking his G.C.S.E.’s. He managed a 1st for his dissertation and it was chosen as an example to new students, he even went back to his college to lecture on the course he was on earlier.
    I thank God for my illness and my family.

  73. This piece of truly fantastic writing has really made me think and reflect of where do I go from here? Thank you John for publishing this.

  74. Said it before and I’ll say it again..just love reading your blog Uncle John. Fantastic as always..X

  75. Very moving and I know it is true. Both my children are teaching and I see them struggle with their workloads, but they find it hard to say ‘no’ to the unreasonable demands made on them. Any advice?

    1. Just do all you can do and that’s enough. I like this quotation from Gould’s last interview before he died of cancer at 61.
      ‘What would have been better for me would have been to have said, “I’ll do what I can do, which I do quite well” and then just push it back a little bit.’
      Philip Gould to Andrew Marr, 18 September 2011

  76. John, thank you for this.
    I’m an illustrator and community artist, and though I have more time with my children than I’m sure some dad’s do, I’m often consumed with work (and the worry of not often knowing how we’re going to pay the bills next month) … Thank you for the reminder to be present – there is nothing more important than our families – I needed to hear this today.
    All good wishes.

  77. I taught for 31 years and quite often during busy periods I would not get home from my office until 8 or even 9 o’clock at night. My work/life balance was not good. It took a mini-stroke following an Ofsted inspection to make me realise that there was more to life than work and that I was being unfair to those I loved and to myself. A few months afterwards I took the decision to take early retirement with the support of my wife and I have not looked back. I enjoyed my teaching and the students I taught were superb but the time had come to live life to the full and find other ways to be useful. Thank you for the post as I honestly think it is an object lesson to people in all sorts of jobs that there is more to life than work and that while it is important there are many other factors that make life worth living with family and friends being right at the top of the tree.

  78. Thank you for sharing. Fate that I’ve read this today as I’ve been off school to go to the doctors this morning. I’m a deputy head. Although my mum and dad are very proud of me they don’t want me to move up to headship as they think it will be too stressful and will have a negative impact on my health. This post really struck a chord with me as we’d imagined the same with our house & two boys as they grow up. Even bought a lovely 6 slice toaster as we’d imagined having lots of growing boys to feed after weekends of football, and as they get older ‘after the pub snacks’ 🙂 Why then, only this week, did I say to my youngest that he couldn’t have friends over until after 27th Jan as I’ve got to finish work off for my NPQH! I’ve woken up to myself today and when I go to collect him from school later (a very rare event as I don’t usually tend to get home until 6.30) I shall invite his friends ’round for the weekend.

  79. This is why I choose to work only 2 days a week with my young family. I try to start my work when they are in bed although this is sometimes difficult and results in some very late nights!!! I sometimes think about my full time friends big houses and new cars but then I realise, nothing matters more than your family! Time is precious and you can’t get it back! Thank you for posting this- let’s hope more people start thinking like you!!

  80. This is the most important thing you will ever write. You’ve changed my mind about an idiotic, selfish decision I was going to make today: to commit myself more thoroughly to work.
    I’m off to the theatre with Len instead.

  81. Your post has made me cry. I am so glad your son persuaded you to post this. I am part time with a young family and off sick at the moment but worried about getting better for school ASAP. If only that message could be spread by all those in charge…

  82. Reblogged this on Reset Parenting and commented:
    A wake up call to us all. Do we really put our kids first or are we kidding ourselves. Let’s stop for a minute, be completely honest with ourselves and take a long hard look at life to see where our priorities lie and where maybe we would prefer them to lie

  83. Thank you for writing this. I hope you don’t mind but I have reblogged on resetparenting.com and tweeted @ginzandtonic. Such a valuable contribution.

  84. Hooray for you, Joe and Arthur Miller!!! i’m 58 and began teaching in 1977 as a humble drama teacher. I scaled the heights pretty quickly and then, pulled back…..these days i work as a freelance Drama teacher, hopefully showing other teachers the power of teaching through stories!!!!
    Happy Teaching, Pat Gilbey http://www.whatifworkshops.com

  85. John, would it be possible to remind me of a recent link you sent to a video clip. I couldn’t workout if it was genuine or ironic – it was a discussion of teachers having and imparting all the knowledge (or something like that!). Hope you know what I mean. I have tried to find your blogs, to no avail. May be it was something you sent separately. Hope you know what I am on about! thank you, Debra

  86. Jon,
    this is why I gave up teaching after rising to the dizzy heights(!) of assistant head of faculty. I was beating myself up to find a full time HoF post and thinking about assistant head jobs. Then I stopped. I get to spend two days a week with my lovely son and still work with young people as an educator in the Houses of Parliament. But even so, I don’t always appreciate the time I get with him when I’m too tired or busy. This was a timely reminder of why I chose to forego the bigger house, car and holidays. Thanks!

    1. I am currently considering my future after 20 years. I think you might have helped me decide! Thak you

  87. A great piece John (only just found this blog, but will be following from now on!)
    As a new(ish) dad – in York as it happens! – with two young children and a wife about to return to school as an assistant head after a year of maternity leave, it certainly resonates! Thanks!

  88. So pleased to have literally stumbled across this on FB where a photographer friend had posted it, so very true and touching, … you used to work at Hove Park, when my Mum Jan Quinlan worked there, am passing her the link to read your blog, she will love this.

    1. Hi Sallie! How are you? Great to hear from you. I’d love to get in touch with your mum. I was talking to my Joe about her the other day, about how I used to give her a lift in the mornings when she lived in her flat at Bath Street. Say hi to Jan for me and pass her my email – jtomsett@hotmail.com. John. x

  89. What a wonderful read. I returned to full time work after a year maternity with my first child (now three and a half) and am about to do the same after our second (nearly a year old). I have always said no to PT work as I felt I needed to stay FT for my ‘career’ and to ‘provide’ for my family. I’m in a difficult place in my career as I get the same pay as at assistant head (i’m an AST with full school responsibilities) but always wanted to be an Assistant Head to have achieved this role – but why? I get the same pay? School is all consuming – when I come home, I try and play but i’m thinking about school, wanting them in bed so I can work. But I have spent the last year feeling guilty that I will never be able to take my child to school or pick her up (we live in York but I work elsewhere) or spend the same sort of time with them as I’ve had in my years off. You have helped clarify my thinking – we have one life, our children are young once. What a brilliant blog (thank Joe for letting you post this – my children will appreciate him for this).

  90. Yeah it must be hard having 12 weeks a year off of work to bond with your family… Did you work all through your holidays as well “marking papers”?Gimme a break… Whining teachers again…

    1. Thanks for the comment Rob. I think it’s an important comment because your viewpoint is one that people wouldn’t necessary post here but many would have. I wasn’t whining – I love the job to be honest; it’s a privilege. 1,200+ parents trust me with their children and their children’s futures on a daily basis. Loads of my non-teacher mates work weekends and don’t see their kids either. There isn’t a whinge in the whole post – just a confession of personal failing. We all have to work – it’s just that I’d lost a sense of balance between work and home life.

      1. Your blog is a very moving echo of many of my own sentiments, but it is this reply that has inspired me to comment as I think it gets to the heart of the issue. I am not a teacher, though I am a governor at my daughters school and my wife is an assistant head. However, I work long hours, am committed to a job I love and feel it is a great privilege to be responsible for an equally committed team – so I guess we have much in common. I think there is also a sense of wanting to improve the lives of others at play here, including those of our kids. So perhaps the sense of perspective spans a little wider? I certainly don’t consider what you have described as a failing. It’s not possible to get the balance right all of the time, all we can do is recognise when it’s drifting and correct – a bit like steering a ship! Sounds to me like you have done this John and you’re still very much on course.

  91. Touches some raw nerves. With one daughter in final year at uni and the other in yr13 I find myself close to having a house without children. I have spent the last 25 years teaching full-time, went straight back to work when the girls were 4 months old and now regret wearing myself out TRYING to be an amazing mum and an amazing teacher/ head of department. Marking and planning from bedtime to midnight night after night, never considering going out in the week. Fortunately i have a fab relationship with my girls but I now realise that I have sacrificed ME and now I don’t feel it was worth it. I could never settle for “it’ll do” until recently. Even off sick with vertigo I am stressing and spending hours planning decent cover work

  92. There is pressure in all jobs. The difference in teaching and I’ve done other jobs, is firstly the interference from ones who don’t, can’t and have no qualifications to undertake the role. Not only that but they sit in judgement of those who can and do. Judgements often not based on any scientific method but simply the latest meanderings of whomever is education secretary. Parents should not be fooled into believing schools are full of terrible teachers whilst the rest of the world forges ahead. The truth is education is a political football and led at many levels both in and out of school by incompetent and unprincipled management teams who have a total disregard for children and staff’s welfare. Teaching is also the only job I know of in which you are ‘on stage’ performing in front of, in some cases, an eager audience all day, every day. Not only that but constantly being told you must change your delivery method regardless of what has or has not worked previously by someone who never sets foot inside a classroom other than to criticise others. Parents also need to know who many teachers are replaced with when they leave or break down. Qualified teachers? Wrong and you never knew. Cheap though and we are all in it together after all, aren’t we?

  93. thank you. I had a lump in my throat as I read this. I became a HT fairly young I suppose, then v quickly had my daughter. Was lucky enough to go part time when she was a toddler, went back into full time HT as she started school. Then I gave up headship because I wanted to see if there was something I could do and make sure wasn’t burnt out for my family. I gave up one term before my daughter finished primary school so, instead of going to all Year 6 stuff at my school I could go to hers and not feel guilty. I now work with trainee teachers and do this http://www.lightingcreativefires.com and http://www.storyshack.com Sometimes I’m wobbly about it as I think we all want to do well and I like schools very much but I love my daughter above all that and I think we need more blogs from folk like YOU and others to try and shift to a family led society where it’s not frowned upon to go home early and to put your family first. I think there was quite a famous speaker/leader who suggested you needed to be the last one at school to be a good HT-stuff like that just doesn’t help at all. If we’re leading a school for children we must get our own priorities in order and put our children FIRST.

  94. Thankyou to helping me to re-affirm my decision to go part time in 18 months time. I have been teaching 32 years, my children are 17 and 19 and luckily we have managed to keep good relationships even though my working week as a Faculty Leader is 80 hours every week.. The only reason this has worked is due to my husband working p/t throughout their childhood and I teach in the school they have attended, so we feel connected. Their father has been brilliant at caring for their every need. Don’t want to conk out before grandchildren kick in and so p/t for me and a compromised income for the whole family. It has got to be worth it. Hope your new found relationship continues to grow.

  95. This is a great point. I have no children but I do work long hours. I have friends who I’ve not seen in many years already.
    A career is for life certainly but the point of time for both family and friends along the way is massive. I think of being where I want one day and I want my friends there too, not forgotten on the journey. It’s never too late to think about this and change it, my 2014 resolution for the new year

  96. When I was little my dad travelled all over the world and would always bring us gifts back from his journeys, the trouble is, what we really wanted was his presence and not his presents and now it’s too late, he died last year and we can never get that time back! Live your life as if today is your last, it just might be!

  97. Thanks for this, Jon. I’m a deputy head in a primary school and have been off work since June last year with depression caused by the awful working conditions of just being a teacher in this modern society. I have made the decision to take early retirement at 56 but what seriously worries me is the number of teachers now who find themselves in similar situations these days. You only have to read some of the replies on your blog to see that. I think we as a country need a serious re-evaluation of our whole education system before too many more teachers also end up neglecting their loved ones or even burning themselves out.

  98. a wonderful post, it is good to hear you have been able to repair the damage – not all fathers can say this! I would like to point out that your story is true for many working parents, not only for headmasters! Many parents are so busy working that the years fly by. Unfortunately the way our society operates people are led to believe that the job has to come first and children come second (if not third or fourth).

  99. My son asked me for the last 5 years to ‘leave that school’ as I worked from 7.15am-10pm every day. I left in Dec and am enjoying sleeping a full 8 hours a night. I also get to spend more time focusing on my family, asking my teenage & adult children and husband about their day. My son is however now telling me to get a job, as I am able to see just how much homework he really is doing! Setting up my own business as a leadership consultant after 25 years of teaching (13 as a headteacher) is scary, but I don’t want to go back, I’ve already missed too much of my children’s growing up and look forward to being there for them now. I too hope it’s not too late.

  100. I assume you’ll bring advising leaders to work less and ensure the rest of the staff are treated fairly and allowed a work life balance. After all many good teachers choose not to pursue promotions in order to ensure this and as such are paid significantly less and expect lower pensions in addition to not embarking on well paid consultancy/ofsted work after leaving the classroom. I wish you luck but please bear this in mind when analysing data, children and staff. My current experience is that teachers and older pupils in many schools are not enjoying the school experience at all.

  101. Hi John..a colleague from days gone by here – Carol Livingstone (Hove Park). Just wanted to say thank you for what is, once again, a thought provoking and inspiring post. As I read your post, it brought to mind a poem I studied with my wonderful sixth form students today, Hardy’s ‘The Self-Unseeing’. Memories of a childhood happiness are vividly recalled but it ends with a regretful line, ‘Yet, we were looking away’. Both Hardy and yourself encourage us to embrace ‘now’ and appreciate life and family to the full. Better be off…I’m off to walk the dog with my boys as the sun sets. Thank you!

  102. I thought that maybe I wasn’t ambitious enough but now I know I was family orientated and my ambition was in perspective and aligned with what I could actually achieve. Thanks for this post, brilliant and honest!

  103. Really hit home. When my first child is born I will only be able to take 6 weeks maternity. It’s ironic that I will be spending more time with other people’s children than my own. Teaching isn’t always the ‘rewarding’ career people make it out to be unfortunately.

  104. I’ve been teaching 18 years and had the same realisation three years ago. My first grandchild is due in 2 weeks, I won’t make the same mistakes again. Family that’s what matters xxxx

  105. Wow a very emotive piece. I caught a sight of my two children colouring in my office while I evaluated my action plan…I have just become acting head in a primary. I have years of juggling the children, planning who is picking them up etc. walking in late or just missing events as ‘I need to be at school.’ I am a dad first….something has got to change here. Thank you for the wake up call!

  106. Well said. The irony is that because of the over-supply of teachers and the ridiculous lack of worth government puts on the profession this is now the norm, not the exception to the rule in teaching…when teachers start to get a ‘normal’ life, they are moved on and replaced until the next incumbent is run into the ground…or forfeits their family life for their work. Being recently divorced (with not a twinge of guilt that this rings a chord) I can totally empathise with the writer. Unfortunately I can’t see it changing any time soon, especially as we obviously ‘require improvement’ as our children are suffering (sic).

  107. Oh my goodness, I just came about your post after seeing someone ( you know) I worked with sending me a ‘well done’ message on a Facebook page I manage. This is also after a row today with my 32 year old daughter, complaining that I had let her down terribly as a teenager, and that my work and how I’d been was why she left home and lived in a young people’s hostel. We blamed each other for what seemed like an hour and I earnestly tried to get ‘her’ to understand me! The ‘why I worked so hard’, trying to keep a new job, with 2 hours travel each morning and back again each night, no car, public transport, delays, long hours, traveling safely at night, and within 2 weeks of that, stayed local to my job, arranging a new urgent management transfer of tenancy, working away, new home, new Managerial job, new life, and managing all this as a single parent, desperate to get her and us away from London, where I previously worked as a drugs worker. She finished her exams, as we agreed, my family ‘watched her’ each day and stayed many evenings. We spoke on the phone. She ‘insisted she was ‘fine mum you’ve got to trust me’ and I paid for extra expenses I could scarcely afford in both homes, to be close to work, whilst she felt in recollecting these events now as an adult…… abandoned. I felt it hurt, but then railroaded myself and her into a vehement denial!! I have ‘evidence’ in work diaries of the 59 hours a week, the UK wide training and networking days I had to attend, that all seem to start at 9am! The conferences and evening meetings, the weekend working, the sickness record that seemed to be creeping up, the complete and utter stress of managing all this as a lone parent, even with a partner at times, this was useless in terms of support. All defining how much it should have STOPPED! and had a chance to breathe, or listen, to BE still! and then to notice the impact on my daughter. Why she didn’t want to move in with me in the new home , why she did for a short time , ‘ Harrow is miles away, all my friends are in East London’, then left. I am to blame. ‘But chasing this job was for her benefit’, I told myself . The drugs scene in London was terrible back in 1998 and in the borough that we lived. I feared losing her, and then did just that! I lost a part of her life and her memories are tarnished by my actions. It is repaired now, but will always be misunderstood. I think until now….after reading your blog and writing this. myself. I feel able to hear what her perspective is and was. I feel terrible for her memories and for mine. I am at least ready to listen. I just hopes she can talk

  108. A really interesting and thought-provoking article. It is impossible to do my teaching job properly and also have enough time to see my family, do any kind of exercise, life admin etc. At any point you know that senior management can quite legitimately point out that something hasn’t been done. My sympathy and admiration for John Tomsett is tempered by the realisation that as a headteacher he will have gone to a great deal of trouble to inflict an unreasonable workload on other people.

  109. As a recently qualified teacher (<5 years) who came to teaching after having children I understand this situation completely. It isn't something unique to management, teachers, experienced or recently qualified teachers. It seems to be a situation that affects all teachers. I love my job but I love my children more. Being a teacher has had a negative impact on my health as well as my relationship with family so I have decided that I will leave the profession. This was not any easy decision to make. It might be something that I may later regret. I (we) had to sacrifice a lot to allow me the opportunity to retrain. However, reading this article made me think that maybe it is the right decision for all of us.
    As a parent I think it is a shame that good teachers are moving away from teaching but as a teacher I can understand why this is happening.

  110. Hi John, as full time English teacher with two young children, this resonates deeply. A brave post and I’m glad bridges are being built with Joe. Your comment about popcorn being spilt in the living room made me chuckle; you might remember(!) when you taught me A level Lit in ’99-’01, we finished with a celebratory party at your house at which I rember playing sword fights with Joe in the front room – I think more than popcorn was spilt on that occasion!

  111. This brought a tear to my eye and made me think about the relationship I have with my own father.My father spent 30 years working at the same company. The justification was the same. It gave us the trappings of a middle-class lifestyle.
    For us it wasn’t Arthur Miller but the 07/08 global recession that we are just emerging from.
    We realised that in retrospect much family spending pre-crisis wasn’t all that necessary. We had a Sky Sports subscription for the best part of a decade and a half. I’d conservative say that cost about about £7,000. I mention it for the symbolism. It was paid for by weekends spent at work rather than watching by brother play football in the local 7 a side league. It is only now that I recognise the absurdity of it all.

  112. John
    I have a two year old and already recognise some of the things you’ve said. I know myself I am letting work start to dominate and I am determined to not allow that to happen. Thanks for your honest reflection in this blog. Have a good break and hope to meet you one day
    Andy

  113. Absolutely spot on. I waited until I was 36 to have my son because of pursuing the holy grail of a headship and I really have to remind myself of what you have said here. It is far too easy to let work take precedence over family- I know I can do work well it’s almost easier than home as you never quite know the next challenge I.e finished work on Friday son sick as a dog – so much for a rest first week of the hols! I need to remember to be mindful- I know he won’t want me to read to him every night for long – so I have to hold back the yawns and enjoy the story…

  114. I also had a real fear about missing out on my wonderful children’s blossoming, so I quit as my job as a class teacher and became a special needs assistant. Trying to find a job share as a part time teacher was like looking for rocking horse xxxx so I took what some might consider a demotion.
    I am now time-rich, able to be physically and mentally involved with my own children and have time to read blogs and educational research to develop my understanding of child development.
    None of this would have been possible without me having a similar reality check to yours: ” Mum, when will you have some time for us?” My daughter’s plaintive cry one May half -term while I wrote Y4 reports.

  115. Hi,
    I just wanted to say thank you. I’ve been teaching for 5 years now. I don’t have much of a family and my personal life is in tatters… Mainly because I put the job first.
    You’re article really did move me. Thank you x

  116. Oh god this has made me cry. I’m not a head teacher. Just an English teacher who, as a single mother has sacrificed everything because I didn’t want people to say ‘ she’s a single mum and not committed etc’. My daughter is 17 and I hope she loves me too.

  117. I’m a Head – in my 4th year with a 7 year old son and this was exactly my reason I gave today to turn additional work to my role down. I’ve made a decision I need to do this more!
    Thanks for this!

  118. Whooooo, powerful. Hope those with children, too busy to read blogs get this thrust under their noses before it’s too late. Took forced redundancy to make me realise how precious time is. Changed my life.

  119. Powerful blog, thank you for sharing..John, I follow you with admiration, like you I am 49,(love golf!!) been teaching for 27 years, my daughter is 17, been a headteacher for 4 months! (but so often been the absent mother working crazy hours!) Keep sharing you wise words from your experiences.

    1. Headteacher for 22 years, taking 2 too short maternity leaves for 2nd & 3rd child. Being a mum to 3 and a head was hard, hard work but I made myself spend as much time as possible with them. OK my schools were good and not outstanding but do I give a sh*t? Nope! My outstanding 3 grown up children more than make up for that. Thank you John!

  120. Moving and resonant. Never solved the problem and y it might have contributed to my current health. Needs practical solutions as you were being pulled between competing, yet laudable desires. Lot of Twitter noise on it leading nowhere. Has affected my early bonding with grandchildren.
    Not a Head, but was determined to lead a very large PGDE programme well. The practical answer also has to lie partly at the door of those who couuld support us better. I see it the NHS now. Do more with less has to be addressed. I helped create an impression that it was all manageabme but that was only true because a small number of us did what you did.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking honesty and insight, which I have reqd from my hosoital bed.

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