I was marking books during my lunch break when a colleague approached me, asking for advice on work/life balance. She’d been sent to me by a fellow member of the SLT because, apparently, I’m the expert. My qualifications? Managing to teach a year 6 class, lead UKS2 and maths school-wide, attend to other SLT-type duties and still get home in time most nights to bath and put to bed three under-fives. (I suspect it’s also been noticed that I rarely answer emails at the weekend.)
So, what did I say to my colleague?
What really needs doing and what can wait? This weapon has been the longest in my arsenal. Maybe it did stem from a fairly lackadaisical attitude, but it is now fully grown as an effective tool (can I get away with such mixed metaphors?). The simple idea is that on any given day, there are some things that you just can’t give two figs about. Those things will have to wait. Concentrate on doing one or two things well that day – the ones that obviously need doing soonest. You can’t do everything all at once. I often find that as a result of prioritising, the odd thing drops out of the in-tray and straight into the bin – it would have been wasted time and effort doing that particular job anyway. Admittedly this way of existing runs the risk of becoming last minute.com, but there’s something else to combat that…
Make time by planning ahead. Although it may not feel like it, you are the master of your own teaching destiny. If you know that the week will be heavy on one particular job, ensure that you aren’t piling more on yourself. Don’t plan 5 days’ worth of independent writing which you’ll have to mark and level to the nth degree on the same week you know you’ve got a trip, parents’ evening and your mum’s birthday meal. Be wise. Similar to ‘organise’ is…
Make the most of the time you’ve got. It’s a hateful saying, but there’s an element of truth to the maxim “Don’t work harder; work smarter.” Where was I when my colleague found me? Eating sandwiches with one hand and brandishing my green biro with the other. Using those little bits of time in a school day, even just to make one of your five phone calls, is worth doing. Sitting straight down at your desk once the kids have walked out the door without giving lethargy the chance to kick in will reduce the number of maths books you take home. Even better, and super-effective, is making time to sit down with individual children to mark their work with them.
Nurture a good working relationship with other teachers. Those of you blessed with a year group partner (or two) are sitting on a goldmine of opportunities. Even if you aren’t, there will be other members of staff for you to tap in to. Mention what you’re doing, maybe they’ll have a resource ready prepared for that. Ask for help if you don’t understand something – better to admit a weakness and be enlightened quickly than to remain resolute and struggle through, thus wasting time. Don’t underestimate the time-saving effects of this one.
Productivity relies on rest. I could scour the internet for scientific evidence for this, but we all know it from experience, don’t we? Teaching has a rhythm – some weeks are less busy than others. At the same time, as planning ahead and using the time you have, you should also think about using the natural breaks – and make the most of them. Different people find rest in different things. Ensure there is something else (on the life side of the balance) that takes up some of your time – something that isn’t easy to get out of. Make a commitment to an extra-curricular activity and get some ‘you time’ (I would suggest that even family commitments fall into this category, I didn’t say ‘alone time’!).
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that with a job like teaching there are, as mentioned already, particular points in the year when the workload gets heavy. At these times taking the above advice will help to alleviate but not eradicate. For example, this half term (summer 2), when everyone else thinks we’re winding down for the summer holidays, the cumulative effect of that final push for the highest possible levels (or whatever your school has decided to call them now), assessment and report writing, impact reports (if you have an area of responsibility), end of year productions and all those last minute trips actually can take their toll. When that’s the case it’s worth reassuring yourself that you’ll have five or six weeks of mostly-life and, that for the time being, work might just have to tip the balance.
This is a re-blog post originally posted by Thatboycanteach and published with kind permission.
ThatBoyCanTeach is a Primary Assistant Vice Principal. UKS2 leader. Maths leader. Year 6 teacher.