Teaching is not a career that people choose for an easy life – the workload seems never ending at times. Alas, we can’t turn up at 9.00 and finish at 3.00 – no matter what some people may think! It
is most definitely a job in which you can never ‘be finished’, tidy your desk and smile smugly to yourself at a job well done. So how can we realistically improve our workloads when we are trying to: plan, mark, assess, present data, prepare presentations/resources, sort displays, call parents/carers, design seating plans, write reports, set targets.....oh...and teach?
1. Scrap perfection
It is great to aim high – we all want the best for our students and we want to do well in an inspection, or a lesson observation. However, perfectionists will have a hard time in the classroom. If you have 5 minutes before the students come in to trim the resources because the photocopier was jammed or you were stuck in traffic – they might just have to trim those resources themselves...imperfectly!
2. Be flexible
In teaching, you really do have to learn to go with the flow. Perfectionists may find this difficult – but it can be done! For example, for one teacher during an Ofsted inspection, teaching Year 6, all the power went in the school. There are two choices at this point – become a blubbering mess or go for Plan B – or even Plan C. The lesson went well with backup from the dependable old paper flipchart. The teacher knew the objective and aims inside out and could quickly tailor the lesson. You will be surprised what happens when you are put on the spot! Of course, this comes with experience. When you are starting out, listen to and watch more experienced colleagues. What do they place value on above all? What do they do when things go wrong? If you have a clear aim or learning intention, you will be OK. Sometimes flashy resources are masking an unclear learning trajectory and it’s fine to go back to basics occasionally.
3. Work as a team
This one sounds obvious – but in every school that I have ever been to there are teachers re-inventing the wheel when Miss Norris down the corridor has already made those resources that could be shared. Splitting the planning can really take the load off – as can working to people’s strengths. If someone is better at data analysis and the other person is better at creating a beautiful display, share those skills to everyone’s advantage. If you are lucky enough to have a teaching assistant even some of the time, they are often the expert on seating plans, ideas for differentiation and possible resources to use.
4. Mark smartly
Some schools/colleges have opted for no written feedback and many settings are trialling systems that enable them to cut down on marking. You will need to align with the policy of your setting, but use control where you have it. If it is age appropriate, students can self mark and peer mark, which often has a great deal more impact. During some activities, you can go round and mark when you don’t need to be working with a group. Develop codes with your students so they know what you mean instantly – begin lessons with them reading your marking so at least if you have done it, they actually use it!
This is easy to say, but lists can really help, especially when you are drowning under a sea of paper. Prioritise yourself and your health at the top of this list – you must have breaks and you must leave at the time that you have set yourself. If you find yourself just working all week then talk to someone at school – it is possible to have a good work life balance.
Hopefully there are some tips here that resonate and are something to work towards. We are all trying to do our best and we are only human. It’s impossible to be outstanding at everything all of the time. If the students feel that they are safe, happy and learning and you are getting some work life balance then that’s a great achievement. Ideally, there is somebody that you can talk to about your workload – teachers do have a large workload but it should never feel insurmountable. Congratulate yourself for ticking items off your list and consider it a job well done!