Knowing Your Place

Senses Working Overtime

Teachers (that’s Kurt from the British show above: less teaching, more drinking) are notorious for working long hours and in many cases taking their work home with them. The contracted 40 hours is for many in the profession a baseline, rather than a maximum. Marking and preparation are as often completed at the dinner table as they are in the staffroom. Like other professionals (in both public and private sectors), teachers will testify that this encroachment into their private lives is essential if they
are to fulfil their professional remit.

The encroachment of work into leisure and ‘private’ time shows how permeable the boundary between work and leisure time actually is, and makes one wonder what the actual benefits of professional work are (as opposed to ‘non-professional’ work). Of course the invisibility of leisure time helps in this regard – private lives are ready made to pick up the slack in working life (with the attendant stress and anxiety). Nevertheless, although the demands of jobs like teaching are clearly evident, it should still be the case that the hours paid for should be sufficient to cover the tasks required to fulfil the professional contract. After all, working longer hours, while in some cases necessary, means in the end that the professional wage (at an hourly rate) is gradually eroded to a pre-professional unskilled level. So why is it that people still go to great lengths over and above their contracted status to carry out their duties, even to the extent of turning
their home into a workplace?

This is not the first time this question has been asked, the responses ranging from the abstract (include in here all variations of the labour theory of value) to the prosaic, even
sentimental (increasing job pressures, but what about the children?). Special mention here should go to the manner in which ‘sacrifice’ hovers over concepts of professionalism, the notion of vocation providing a strong parallel to our previous discussion of martyrdom and modernisation. It is the theory of hegemony, however, that for some provides a more effective framework for understanding the sacrificial nature of modern professional life. Developed by Antonio Gramsci, a Marxist and one-time leader of the Italian Communist Party, hegemony (very briefly) refers to the ways in which people conspire to undermine their own interests, even when those interests are staring
them in the face.

Antonio Gramsci en 1915
Antonio Gramsci en 1915 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hegemony was originally developed to theorise why the European working classes refused to rise up against capitalism, and since then has found much favour in theories of the media and popular culture. Capitalism, and/or the dominant ideology, the theory goes, is fiendishly good at manufacturing consent, making slaves of us all.

It is true that capitalism is a well-oiled machine when it comes to extracting every last drop of labour power, but it doesn’t have a monopoly on slave making. Neither will you find capitalism sitting in the school staffroom, gossiping and passing judgement on those who: don’t pull their weight, are too big for their boots, are too selfish for their own good, don’t care about the children, are careerist, or worst of all, are unprofessional.

Teachers do an important job but all too often the sacrifice is worn as a badge of honour, this badge proudly displayed and visible to those who may or may not cast doubt on their professionalism. The world of relational senses, in the confines of the staffroom and the school, is all too easily deployed as a weapon, a way of keeping people in check, making sure that others suffer just like the rest (and it happens so quietly). Taking your work home with you, rather than a chore, can for many teachers be the only way to assert their right to belong, and consequently their right to acceptance, respect and some modicum of self-worth.

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By Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.