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Primary Education News
News Teachers' workload: tips on how to manage it and get a work-life balance
It's not time in class that cause workload problems for teachers, it's the paperwork. Tom Sherrington offers advice on dealing with it
So what advice can I offer teachers who struggle to find a healthy work-life balance? Well, in writing this I'm conscious that I'm not exactly in a position to preach, just ask my family. But obviously enough it comes down to being efficient with the time you devote to your teaching and making sure you have plenty going on away from work. However, that is easier said than done and over the years I have found that some common workload issues arise.
I've seen too many teachers crushed by expectations that they'll review and comment on all their students' work. Not only can this not be done within any reasonable workload limit, it is also an ineffective use of time. To keep it in perspective establish a pattern of regular well-spaced marking that is sharply focused. If you lose control every so often, don't ever do retrospective marking for presentational reasons; just move on and get back into a regular rhythm. Even though it feels great to give out a set of freshly marked books, there are times when you just can't burn any more midnight oil. So don't. If you use a healthy diet of peer and self assessed tasks, and give lots of verbal feedback during lessons, you'll find a level of marking that is effective and sustainable within the overall feedback mix. If you ever feel that you are only marking to satisfy your head of department, rather than because it will actually help your students to improve within the flow of your lessons, then stop.
When teachers experience overload I often find that they are over-planning their lessons or trying to generate too many resources themselves. It's really important to build up a bank of readily available shared resources and to develop an agile approach to teaching that enables you to get students working and engaged without relying too heavily on you and your materials. Teachers often act as solo-operators and spend too long reinventing the wheel with resources. Collaborate more and keep the planning light-touch. The @TeacherToolkit Five Minute Lesson Plan is a big hit for a reason, it models skeletal lesson planning that is time efficient and effective.
Report deadline pile-up
Reports can be another killer. Many schools have sophisticated systems that allow teachers to write reports online from home but this is double-edged in terms of work-life balance. It's especially tough for teachers with multiple teaching groups with reports due at the same time. The only answer is to see it coming, to plan ahead and to let people know if you're struggling so they have time to put in a plan to help you. I'm not condoning a corner-cutting cut-and-paste approach but you need to balance the detail of each comment with the overall time you're spending, using statement banks intelligently.
Busy people seem to attract more and more things to do. Highly-committed teachers often find it hard to say no and find themselves involved in all kinds of working groups and extra-curricular activities; they can become over-involved in pastoral care issues beyond the limits of their responsibility. Each of these things is valuable, highly rewarding and motivating. However, add it all up and you can find yourself spinning too many plates and dropping a few. The trick is know your limits; to sense when it's going to be a bridge too far and just say no. An outright no might be hard but if you say: "to be honest, I'd love to help but I'm already struggling a little with everything else," people will understand. With pastoral issues, always make sure you involve someone else early on so they can support you or take it on.
That 'cog in the machine' feeling
Often stressed teachers say they feel burdened by being over-directed. It depends on the school culture, but teachers do actually have a lot of autonomy and they need to use it. Make your lessons enjoyable for yourself as well as your students; teach the fun stuff, tell the stories you want to tell, do things the way you want to. Make teaching joyful and not a drudge. My staff almost all have an activity that they run in or out of school out of choice; they follow their passions in some aspect of their lives.
A family first attitude is also healthy and good schools support that. Important one-off family events, that class assembly or graduation, are important. Don't be too afraid to ask if you can go. You might want to check what the precedent is but always make a polite request directly to the headteacher in person and be prepared to team up with colleagues to cover each other from time-to-time to oil the wheels. Ignore the stay late culture if there is one; it's never the sign of an effective school. Manage your own time and be your own boss to the greatest extent possible.