It’s hard to avoid the end of year burnout that seems to go hand in hand with teaching but start planning now for the healthiest year ever with these tips.
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 UKEd Magazine.
1) Pace yourself. The word I use to describe teaching is relentless. Once you walk through the door in the morning the treadmill starts in earnest and doesn’t let up. Accept that, do what you need to do for that day and then set up your desk or classroom for the next day. Work out your (even more than usual) busy periods of the year and try to plan accordingly. If the school play is coming up and you’ll be needed for rehearsals every night then postpone any non-urgent meetings; stack your bag with healthy snacks and make sure family life is as organised as possible.
2) Don’t be a martyr. It’s midnight but your classroom light still burns as you plan outstanding lessons with one hand while pinning up a display with the other. ‘Still here?’ says a colleague in awe. ‘Just another three hours of marking to do,’ you sigh, ‘ and then I’ll be up baking cupcakes for the summer fair all night and back in by 6am.’ There are no prizes or medals for the martyrs, however. I used to work for a Head who would stand by the exit looking at her watch. ‘Off already?’ she’d say. I learnt to answer,’ Yes. See you tomorrow.’ But it was hard. Pick one, maybe two nights a week where you leave school at a sensible time. A normal, healthy time. Your stress levels and your pupils will thank you for it.
3) Eat well. At times of stress it’s more tempting to run on quick fixes but this is when your body needs nurturing. An energy drink might work in the short term but all that caffeine and sugar will only drag you down further. There’s no need to go all kale and hand-churned yoghurt but being aware of what you’re putting in your tired, stressed body will extend your battery life a little further. Make at least a few minutes to eat lunch properly. It might seem like a waste of time when there are students, colleagues and paperwork all vying for your attention but you’ll be in better physical shape to tackle them.
4) Get a hobby. So many teachers admit they don’t have time for hobbies or out of school activities. Pick something you enjoy and make time for it. If it’s the gym or a fitness class change into your gear at school. It’ll remind you- and others- that you’re getting ready to leave. Hobbies will help you feel calmer, force you away from your desk and if you pay for them up front you’re more likely to keep your commitment.
5) Make time for friends and family. Quite often the teachers with family commitments are the ones who manage their time best. Make time to meet up with friends and family, especially if they’re not teachers. Try and bat away any school-related questions and teasing (‘when’s your next half term? You haven’t had one for at least two weeks Ha ha!’ ) And relaaaax.
6) Get organised. Before the start of each half term, tidy up the previous weeks’ loose ends. File, recycle, bin and sort. There’s nothing more depressing than starting a new half term snowed under by piles of last term’s mess. If you’re a hoarder, try looking at Pinterest for organising hacks and ideas.
7) Structures and routines. As well as organising your classroom make sure you spend time on classroom routines and ensure all pupils know their responsibilities. Even the youngest pupils can get out and put away their own resources if there are systems in place and older pupils can take responsibility for setting up activities and managing their own resources. Tidying up should be the least of your worries.
8) Stronger together. Even if you’re planning lessons with your team or department it ‘s still easy to feel isolated when you’re stressed and snowed under. If you have meetings, training or extracurricular events to plan, enlist the support of a colleague. Rather than asking, ‘would you mind helping with…’ try, ‘I could really use your expertise in organising parents/ managing spreadsheets/ basket-weaving,’ and offer your own expertise in return.
9) Take time. Create small pockets of time away from school by booking in treats, dates or get togethers with friends or family. Instead of leaving things fluid (‘we must have coffee soon’) fix something in the diary and honour your plans. If you’re watching the pennies then plan an evening of Netflix and Chill, watching the match or a long bath and leave school work at school for once.
10) One step at a time. Find one small change you’ll make right now before the start of the school year. Plan for another small step in the first week of term and another by half term. Check in with yourself at regular intervals, ask yourself if you need a little boost, and then plan it into your diary. Before you know it summer holidays will have come around again and this time you’ll be ready to enjoy them.
Siân Rowland @Sian_Rowland is a freelance trainer and writer specialising in PSHE. View her website at sianrowlandwrites.wordpress.com