I’ve been thinking a lot recently (the last few years if I’m being honest) about how many hours is reasonable to work, how my life should be impacted by my job, and how to keep myself happy and healthy whilst still enjoying teaching and giving my students the best opportunities. This has led me to a number of conclusions and methods, but some that I thought might be helpful to share – particularly for new teachers who might be struggling to manage their time and wondering if it will always be this way! It also may be helpful for any PGCE or NQT mentors, Head Teachers, or just colleagues of new teachers, who might have started to forget how difficult teaching can be in the early years. One thing that we realised this year at our school was that the teachers worked more hours, more sessions after school for Y11, more sessions on Saturdays, and actually our results weren’t as good – we burnt out ourselves and the pupils. There is such a thing as working too hard, just like too many cooks can spoil a broth. Some things I will raise may seem silly little things, yet it’s all about the marginal gains here. Every 5 minutes adds up!
I know that so many teachers are amazing at properly managing their time and putting in a million hours every week, however, I still haven’t got in to the knack of this. It absolutely blows my mind how much time people manage to pour into their jobs. I cannot help but admire every element of their dedication and unwavering passion. At times I wish I was so selfless that I would do some of the amazing things so many teachers do – @mathsjem, @studymaths, @mrbartonmaths to name a few. Having said this, I have to be honest when I say it’s not something I will allow myself to aspire to right now. The hours I put into my PGCE meant that I slept for less than 6 hours every night, which isn’t healthy (particularly if you have migraines – lack of sleep is a major trigger). This, compounded with other factors, meant that I had considered leaving teaching before I’d even really started*. I really don’t want to overwork myself to this point again before I’m ready. Thankfully, my NQT was easier (somehow!). I managed a more reasonable attempt on a balance and I’ve been working ever since on maintaining a (imo) super healthy work-life balance.
*I’m so happy I stuck with it, teaching is the most rewarding career I’ve ever had (I’ve worked in a lot of different jobs). It’s also the most entertaining: young people are hilarious 🙂
A little disclaimer: A number of these time saving things are enabled by the insightful way in which my school is run. Our SLT are supportive, encourage us to teach in whichever way we see fit. Experimentation is not only allowed, but encouraged. Emails are not sent during the holidays or weekends. Feedback is done fortnightly for KS4, in simple, time efficient yet very effective ways. Overall, it is designed such that the amount of admin based work is limited to the necessary. In my view, this allows us to focus more on providing better lessons.
PS. Some people may greatly disagree with what I’ve written, these are just things that have helped me.
Travel Time: For my NQT (and since), I have worked in a much closer school to my house, this has cut my travelling time from 2hrs per day to only 40 minutes on a bad day – 1h20 extra for planning, or cooking, or sleep! If this isn’t possible, a lot of teachers listen to podcasts during the journey to help them keep up to date with new ideas and such. (More about these later though). Alternatively, it can provide a good opportunity for reflection or distraction and chill time. It’s a personal thing, but I definitely prefer being closer, and waking up later 😉
Twitter, Blogs (irony!), Research, Books, Podcasts: This is a controversial one, yet I think it’s important. When I first started teaching, I was super keen, I wanted to be involved in everything and make sure I knew all the research, all the new and innovative ideas, all the new technology for AfL, etc. I joined Twitter as a teacher, I listened to the Podcasts, I bought the books, I read the blogs. This is all great, and there is no doubt that they are insanely valuable, often created by people with absolutely loads of experience, and backed by research or other teachers. However, when you’re a new teacher, and it sometimes takes over 2 hours to plan one lesson, you don’t necessarily have time for all this. I have often found myself drowning in a never-ending Twitter feed, going to sleep later because I want to read a book on pedagogy, listening to Podcasts instead of talking to friends or family. It’s so easy to get carried away with the hype (and pressure) about all the things you can learn, yet sometimes it’s important to take a step back and think about what you are sacrificing for it. It has frequently meant the different between cooking myself a good meal, having a relaxing bath, going to the gym, having a social life. These are such fantastic resources, but remind yourself that you can’t be a fantastic teacher if you’re half asleep, or miserable because you don’t spend any time on yourself. A happy, enthusiastic you can actually make a bigger difference.
Smaller but more easily changeable things
Marking and Feedback: As mentioned earlier, this is made simpler for me by my school’s policy. A number of departments do it differently, but picking out strengths and targets which you assign a colour or number to can save you time, how many times do you write the same feedback? Give it a colour or a number and put that on each pupil’s work that it applies to, in the next lesson you can write on the board what each colour/number relates to, and they can write it down next to it on their page. This is a massive time saver for me. I also tend to track this information so I can see how many of each target I have, for worksheets. If the work isn’t a test, and you can trust pupils to either mark their own work without cheating, or to mark other pupils work without being silly, this also helps enormously. With my Y11s, we do a practice paper every week now. At the end of the lesson we mark as a class. This means I can look through the papers to get an idea of which topics they’re good at and need to improve, but I don’t need to mark 32 papers per week.
Homework: In the same vain as getting pupils to mark homework, there are lots of websites (paid and unpaid) that you can use to set online homework. The advantage of this is that they usually mark themselves and give pupils instant feedback. My school subscribe to MathsWatch, but many of us also love and use Dr Frost Maths. Again, this saves the marking time and means you can focus on giving them targeted feedback on what they need to improve. Again, if you can trust them, Corbett’s 5 a day are also great, and they can check their own answers. Training my Y11s to be independent and how to mark effectively has been one of the biggest pay-offs for me.
Creating resources: (Mainly aimed at worksheets) It’s admirable to make your own resources for each topic, but also enormously time-consuming. Not only do you want to think of a creative angle to look at the questions, but you want to think about building them up on to the more difficult parts, or do you want just lots of practice on the same question. Personally, if I have an idea I really like, then I’ll absolutely make my own worksheet, but this isn’t something I do for 6 lessons a day. I’ve carried on growing my collection, and it’s really rewarding when pupils enjoy it, however sometimes you can already find some engaging, exciting worksheets that other teachers have shared. After all, you are only human. Don’t just use TES to teach though. My best advice in this vain, is to use TES and online collections of resources mainly for worksheets and activities, they’re usually the best part. The lessons/powerpoints you may want to use for inspiration, but it’s usually better for you to write those as you’ll teach it in your own style. When you teach a really good lesson, try using the outline of your powerpoint as a template for other lessons, eg. Bell Work, Related Starter, 3 Examples, Multi-Choice, Practice, Worded Question, Problem Solving. Don’t feel the need to use animations on powerpoint to bring up every line of your example, in my PGCE year, my mentor advised me to have the question on the board, and to write my working out whilst in the lesson – taking pupils through every thought. I like this because it takes less time to make the powerpoint, it makes me go through the example slower and explaining more parts of my thought process, giving them more opportunities to ask why I did different bits, and if I’m doing it whilst asking for suggestions from the class, I can take it in any order they want. There are lots of paid-for and free websites that provide loops, bingo, drill exercises, codebreakers, etc., it is worth finding your favourite ones.
Searching for the perfect resource: Seems like a contradiction to the paragraph above, but don’t spend hours looking for a resource that isn’t there. Sometimes you do have an idea that simply has not been created or isn’t what your class need. I’d suggest a maximum of 10 minutes trawling through the internet, or adopting the two page TES rule. After that, you might be better off making it yourself (and sharing it on TES for others to enjoy 🙂 ).
Don’t feel guilty: (Similar to above) Sometimes people will make you think that textbooks and packages of worksheets such as TenTicks and Cazoom, etc, are if you are being lazy or they are lack lustre. Try not to let anyone make you feel this way. On occasion, particular classes need lots of practice on certain skills. Don’t make up 100 questions on a topic that you could have got elsewhere just to say you did it yourself. I have found textbooks to be particularly useful in a low set where there are some behaviour difficulties, and when you have a small photocopying budget. Some pupils really benefit from having the questions in front of them (less opportunity to notice other people around the room), and they can work entirely at their own pace (or your pace). Equally with circle theorems, why print off lots of sheets when you have a class-set of textbooks at the back of the room?
Ask for Advice: Other people within your department will also have ideas on what you are teaching or considering. Asking them how they might introduce or teach a topic, if they have a good worksheet, what activities they like to do, what websites they use for resources, any kind of help, is absolutely acceptable and advised. Every teacher learns from other teachers, no matter how experienced they are.
Working at home: If you can, it might help to avoid this. I’ve tried to draw a line so that I can leave my school work at home, and do other things on an evening. Sometimes this doesn’t work out – when I’m marking tests for example. It feels healthy to go home knowing I don’t need to do anything for tomorrow though, even if it means leaving at 6 or 7. I also don’t work in the holidays. I will perhaps work on the last day, planning lessons for the first day back, but that’s basically where I draw the line.
Accept help: from friends and family, if someone offers to cook you dinner one night, say yes! It saves on washing up and being on your own, it also gives you bonus social time. I probably eat with my parents at least once per fortnight, during my PGCE it was probably twice a week! Other forms of help can also be accepted – don’t isolate yourself or make things more difficult for no reason.
Love your freezer: If you live alone, this one might help – I batch cook everything and freeze the extra. I only cook vegetarian food so I feel safe reheating things, but lots of people freeze meat dishes too. I make 4 portions of all meals I make, meaning I get to have 3 days at a later time when I can eat well, but only have to cook some rice or pasta and stick a box in the microwave. This is also helpful because most sauces need to be used quickly once opened, so unless you fancy bolognese four nights in a row, this may be the way forward!
Love yourself: Have some me-time, do some exercise that you enjoy once or twice a week, have an early night when you’re tired, read a non-teaching book, write, play music, anything that relaxes you and takes your mind off teaching. This will save you taking out stress and unhappiness on the pupils 🙂
Maths Conferences: Are a great way to meet a lot of amazing Maths teachers who will give you ideas and support you in your times of need. They are generally on non-school days, so don’t go every week, but sometimes it’s nice to hear what teachers in other schools are doing too!
I hope at least one of these ideas has helped in some way (especially if you’ve read so much of it!). Being a teacher is such an amazing thing to do, but it doesn’t have to run you into the ground. Please let me know if there are any other things you think I should add! I hope your Leadership Team are supportive and consider your well-being as much as mine 🙂