We all know that teaching isn’t simply a 9-3 job and that in reality, we all work a lot of extra hours to get our job done, bearing in mind that those ‘extra hours’ aren’t reflected in our annual salary. Recent reports have hit the web stating that on average some teachers are working 60 hours + a week and workload pressures are at an all-time high as well that few too many teachers are sadly leaving the profession due to the ongoing workload pressures we face. Whether you are new to teaching or have been a teacher for several years you must be fully aware of the workload it bears. However, what is important is beginning to understand either as an individual or as a school how those extra hours can be used as effectively as possible as well as knowing when enough is enough.
I am currently in my 3rd year of teaching, I am by no means an expert and will never claim to be one in the world of teaching but I wanted to share some tips as well as general advice on how I began to figure out a work/life balance and potentially inspire or urge you to do too. Just a reminder that there are some days (probably more than I would like to admit) where I don’t have it altogether and that is okay and normal as a teacher! First of all, let’s start with a brief definition of what a work/ life balance means. According to good old google, it is the division of one’s time and focus between working and family or leisure activities.
When did you realise that you needed to work on a work/ life balance?
Before being a teacher I didn’t think too much about what life would be like when I became one but a couple of weeks after starting my teacher training I soon began to realise how much extra work was needed to be put into everything. I kind of just plodded on through my teaching training and put it down to the fact that I was ‘training’ to be a teacher. It was only at the end of my teacher training that I realised that a whole 9 months had flown by and my social life had gone from a solid 10/10 to a grand 0/10. I knew it was an intense year and I decided not to dwell and told myself that when I become a teacher it will be different. My first year of teaching was very different and workload pressures were very different but still intense and different from how I had it mapped out in my head. Throughout my first year of teaching, I was working hours and hours after work either prepping flipcharts or resources for the next day/week, marking books or inputting data. It was tiring but I hadn’t let it get to me. It was only really during my 2nd year of teaching that I began to realise that my life mainly consisted of school and school work. I often made excuses for not being social due to work commitments or because I was ‘too’ tired. During the Christmas holidays, I realised that I didn’t want to spend my holidays bogged down in work, I almost had a realisation that this was my job not my whole life, only part of it. When I returned in January I began being super strict with myself as well as having read into reducing workload, talking to other friends at work/ people in different settings and it was only then that I began implementing things into my daily working life that I began to notice a difference. Almost a year later and feel that I can comfortably say I feel like I have begun to establish a work/life balance (most of the time).
The steps I began to take to help establish a work/life balance
- Incorporate systems in your classroom and your daily working life
- In lesson marking (absolutely changed my teaching life), whether your school follows a specific policy or not, in lesson marking can provide so many benefits, not only to you but also as instant feedback for children.
- Children/ peer marking, again an easy thing to establish in your classroom, benefits you as well as the children.
- Marking – if you are finding your marking too demanding, start a conversation within your school about ways how it could be changed.
- Delegating tasks to other adults within your classroom. Myself and my TA work very closely and because this was established early on in the year, it makes a huge difference within the classroom. Ranging from marking to working with groups and providing feedback which ultimately helps me with data collection.
- Provide children with jobs. I never have to to tidy the classroom or hand out books as my class are gems at doing it all.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel
- Use what is already out there. 9/10 times you will find that the resource you may be spending hours making is already out there on the interweb. The list of teaching resource websites is endless. I know you want to make the learning engaging but that can be done without necessarily needing to start from scratch each time. At the end of the day, you need to ask yourself is the specific resource you’ve spent hours making going to be as effective as the one you can find in a matter of minutes. The answer is usually no.
- Strict Routines
- Set yourself strict routines, you’ll be more likely to follow them if they’re consistent. I usually get to work the same time and leave around the same time, unless something major crops up. Since forcing myself into a routine, it made me use the small amount of time before and after school more productive as I knew what time I wanted to be out that door at the end of the day.
- Make time for you
- This one is important, make sure you make quality time for you and sometimes just you. Our job requires us to have social interaction from the moment we set foot into the building and usually till the time you leave. Designate time for you, do something you enjoy or makes you happy. Alongside alone time, try to find things outside work that allow you to properly switch off and don’t use the excuse, I’m too tired or don’t have time. Make time.
- Sorting out your priorities
- Prioritise what is important and what needs to be done, for example redoing the border to a display because it’s got a small tear, so what? That won’t impact the children’s learning so therefore it isn’t a priority.
- Lists are great but don’t become list obsessed especially as a teacher because the truth is the list will never end which all in all makes you feel worse about everything you need to do.
- I am a list fanatic, however, I only write what is absolutely necessary, my lists went from being 20 jobs long to about 6!
- Pushing past the teacher guilt
- All adults are prone to guilt; in teaching, it’s the main thing that stops you from having a work-life balance.
- You may feel a tad guilty at the start but I can promise you that guilt soon subsides.
- Knowing when to say no/ when enough is enough
- You may enjoy teaching but teaching is work, a job, not your life. It is great to enjoy your job but you need to know what to take on/ what not to take on.
- Early on in your teaching career, sometimes people may ask you do extra tasks and without realising you take them all on, which can just sometimes become all too much. Have the courage to say “no” at times and although it can be hard at times, really think about how much you can take on. You can always offer to help out at another time!
- Make time for friends who aren’t teachers
- I have only recently started realising how important this is. Quite a few of my close friends are also teachers and when we come together our main chit chat is all teaching-related which sometimes can be a bit of a downer. Socialising with people who aren’t wrapped up in the teaching world is so refreshing and teacher talk doesn’t usually crop up. This also helps with switching off from work.
- Reaching out for support/ starting discussions in your workplace
- A lot of schools are working together to incorporate teacher well-being and reducing workload pressures. Having a chat with like-minded people can effectively create and manifest ways to help teacher well-being and workload pressures. Don’t be scared about chatting about these topics, you’ll be surprised at how many other staff members are probably feeling the same.
That’s that. At a quick glance, these little tips are probably ones you’ve heard before, they aren’t new revelations. You may be thinking, this doesn’t solve the problem and none of these will ultimately change my work/life balance. What I do ask, is that you dig a little deeper. There is probably one of those that maybe you don’t follow closely enough or haven’t given a chance. Ultimately, you need to be in the right mindset to want to achieve a work/life balance, no it won’t happen overnight, but slowly working on areas you know you currently aren’t achieving in is a step in the right direction. If this can help one person, then it is a job well done.