We moan a lot as a profession. And, though at times warranted, it doesn’t do us any favours for all sorts of reasons. Yes – managing behaviour can be hard; yes – the pay often doesn’t reflect the hours worked and yes there are lots of bits of our job which don’t add value (especially the paperwork). However, moaning and whinging is not going to develop solutions, nor is it going to win us any favours or improve our own wellbeing. This stance may seem harsh and I’m not trying to diminish how hard teachers work or denying that some aspects of education need changing. However, I do think that we’re guilty of being our own worst enemy at times and need to recognise we can’t change everything. There are things that we choose to do which don’t add value to be worth the effort and it’s time to let these unhealthy habits go. Perhaps if we can identify them and modify our own behaviours then we won’t feel as stressed about workload. Here are a few that stand out for me:
1. Being accessible all the time
Even senior leaders can afford to have a break. Will checking your inbox before bed (and maybe giving yourself a sleepless night) have more impact than at 8am the next day? Do you respond to work communucations straight away even when it’s not convenient?
Why? Most things can wait.
2. Marking for others rather to inform planning and students’ progress
Always ask yourself who is this for? When we mark it’s to assess what students have learned so that we can make sure our future teaching plugs the gaps and builds on existing knowledge. Students won’t care as much about the feedback they receive as being successful in the subject. Take time to talk to them in class, they’ll appreciate this more than the fact that you stayed up until midnight making sure everyone got a comment. Often the feedback we give is the same for a number so it’s much better to revisit this in class. Additionally, if you’re marking for parents, SLT or external agencies rather than the children you teach then everyone’s time is being wasted. I’m not saying don’t follow policy – even if it’s a ridiculous one, I’m suggesting that you use professional discretion and then have a dialogue with SLT about how the policy works in practice. If you’re spending more time marking than planning or not using marking to inform your planning then it’s time for some reflection.
3. Doing what you’ve always done
If you’re running yourself ragged doing what you’ve always done then perhaps it’s time to stop and take stock. I used to put lots of energy and activity into my lessons – too much. At the end of the hour the students were exhausted, as was I. How much learning took place I couldn’t say but my students were entertained. One day I had an epiphany, realising that I was doing more work than the students so I changed my approach. Now my planning focusses on students doing purposeful activities following clear and coherent teacher instruction with relevant supervision and support where necessary. I’m still as enthusiastic, I’m just more discerning about what we do which has reduced my planning time significantly. Students work harder, learn more effectively and their outcomes have improved.
4. Favouring style over substance
I used to spend hours making my PowerPoint presentations look amazing. Knowing what I know now about Sweller’s Cognitive Load theory I realise not only how much time I wasted but how much damage I did. I spend much less time making things look nice and focus on ensuring instruction/resources are fit for purpose. The result is a reduction in the time I spend preparing and an increase in students’ learning.
5. Being last minute with deadlines
I’ve been both sides of this: class teacher with deadlines to meet and manager setting deadlines to be met. I recognise now that being last minute.com always made me feel stressed. As a class teacher I’d often complete reports and paperwork the night before the deadline leaving me stressed and tired when I’d been given weeks to complete the task. I’m much more in favour of little and often now. I set myself small, manageable goals; short bursts of focussed attention give me a much more satisfying outcome.
6. Trying to be the hero teacher
In pursuing this foolish endeavour you not only damage your own wellbeing but create a tension among colleagues. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t try to be the best teacher you can be, I’m merely encouraging you not to be in competition with everyone else for the martyr of the year award. Please don’t strive to earn the reputation for always being last person to leave on parents’ evening or the students’ favourite teacher. When you try too hard you waste your own time, make it difficult for others and create an unhealthy competition among colleagues.
7. Wasting time during the school day
Working in a school is brilliant. Interaction is what teachers love and working with young people is the most rewarding part of the job. Breaks and adult conversation are equally important but don’t prioritise too much downtime during the school day over family time outside of work. Always check yourself. We work to live not live to work remember!
8. Tweeting about wellbeing instead of actually enjoying your life
I struggle to understand the need to post pictures documenting your successful efforts to chill out. In our busy lives it’s probably much more worthwhile (and a lot less stressful) to be in the moment rather than tweet about it.
9. Being a blogoholic/tweetoholic
If you feel your workload is becoming an overwhelming dark cloud but you spend all of your time blogging and tweeting about education then give yourself a holiday from all things online. Try relaxing then reassess your approaches to work – a clear head might just help you gain perspective and replenish your energies.
10. Signing up for everything
Schools can’t operate without good will and we are so lucky to have people who will go the extra mile. Education is about so much more than exams; extra curricular clubs, trips and competitions develop many aspects of character that lessons alone simply cannot. However, if your participation in the extra stuff is affecting your wellbeing or if it means that you’re struggling to keep up with the day job then take a break. No one will think any less of you. I know I’d prefer to work with healthy and happy staff who want to come to school than ones who are stressed and feel that the work is never ending.
Teaching is hard, there is always plenty to be done and some systems add unnecessary work to our daily life. That’s the reality and there are many aspects of our profession that we can’t change. However, one thing we are in control of is ourselves and who we practise to be so the next time you’re feeling stressed about workload start with yourself because self-love can totally transform your outlook.