Ah, the elusive work/life balance. A hot topic in the teaching community at the moment. We spend a good chunk of our time moaning about how difficult it is to have a life outside of work; whilst constantly defending oursleves against those people uninvolved in the profession, who think we have it easy. If I had a pound for every time I had heard somebody comment on my short hours and long holidays…
I have spent a lot of my time grumbling to anybody who will listen about how demanding and time consuming it is to be a good teacher. (I’m not using the word ‘good’ as an Ofsted inspector might have done once upon a time, I’m merely using it as a way to differentiate between those people who come to work and do the bare minimum, and the passionate, caring, hard-working teachers who strive to have a positive impact on their students). However, after attending a great INSET day where the wonderful Shonette Bason (if you haven’t heard of her get on Twitter immediately and give her a follow- she’s my new girl crush!) kicked off the morning with a wonderful talk about happiness in the workplace, I’ve tried to stop this constant lamenting and just get on with it. You see, I don’t think anybody can get through their teacher-training without realising it’s not like those rosy adverts you see on the TV –the fact a profession even has to advertise to get candidates should be a big warning sign in itself– but it is instead bloody hard work; myself included. I chose to teach despite the blood, sweat and tears it takes, as (I’m presuming) did you.
During my five years in the classroom, I’ve found ways to get my work/life balance as even as possible and although it needs constant consideration, I’m happy with how I manage my workload at the moment. So after an unintentionally lengthy introduction, I’m going to share some of my tips with you!
Number 1: Know when you are most productive.
I’m not really a morning person. Ask my fiancé and he will tell you I am pretty grumpy before my first coffee. But once I’ve managed to drag myself out of bed, I’m actually very productive and with that in mind, I make sure to get into school before 7.30am because I know this is when I can work to my fullest potential. As an added bonus, the school is always quiet at this time so I can avoid the queue at the photocopier!
Number 2: Find your inner Virgo.
I love anything to do with planning and organisation- probably due to being a September baby- and not a day goes by without me making some sort of list! I probably go to the extreme when it comes to planning (I’ll admit, I’m a member of several bullet journal groups on Facebook!) but it’s actually helped to ensure that I have more free time in the long run. It might seem counter-intuitive to spend time thinking about working, rather than just getting on with it, but let me explain. Taking a moment to think through what it is you have to get done, to prioritise and combine tasks and even –wait for it– choose jobs to delegate, means that you can get through your to-do list much more effectively. Your mind is clearer and focused, you can organise all the resources needed to avoid wasting precious moments getting up and down from your workspace gathering supplies, and you can group similar tasks to speed up the process. All of this leads me on to my third point, which is my little mantra…
Number 3: Work smart, not hard.
This idea is always at the front of my mind. How can I make this task easier and quicker? That isn’t to say I take shortcuts and do a dreadful job, I still work to the best of my ability- I just think carefully about the process to get to the finished product. Back in my NQT year, I would write lesson plans from scratch in fine detail; spend hours creating beautiful resources before cutting, backing and laminating every single one. It was time- consuming and frankly, soul-destroying. I found that the later into the evening, the week, the term it got, the worse my work was. Great teaching isn’t about reinventing the wheel, it’s about building on what is already there! Nobody earns extra points for making things from scratch. Use all the resources available to you as a starting point- whether that be scheme of work, websites or even things shared by staff in your school. Take it and adapt it to suit you. Be flexible with the way you work – can you change things around so that you will work faster? This is a great one for writing reports – instead of writing a full report for one child at a time, I write one subject at a time; that way my brain is focussing on one thing and I get the job done a lot quicker. Prioritise, delegate and share.
Number 4: Make time for life.
It took me a long time to realise that there isn’t an end to my to do list. I don’t think there ever is as a teacher, or in many other professions.It also took me a long time to realise that this pressure I felt to get everything done wasn’t actually coming from management; it was coming from myself. I’ve really had to learn that without the structure of set hours, I need to decide when enough is enough. I meticulously plan my working week, but, until recently, I never thought to plan my downtime. Nowadays, when I look at my ‘jobs for the day’ I decided on an absolute minimum I need to get done in order to be ready to teach the following day. I also look at external deadlines (data, reports etc) and ensure that I have those things covered. I then make sure that this list is manageable and won’t mean I’m tied to my desk all evening; If it isn’t, I re-evaluate and adapt. During this process, I’ll also think about how much time I’ll need to do the things I want to do at home; e.g walk the dog, read a chapter of my book etc and I make sure that I will be left with time to enjoy these hobbies after my work is done and if not, I re-evaluate and adapt. My ‘work’ plans and my ‘life’ plans go hand in hand and are both considered. This leads to a better work/life balance.
Number 5: Change your mindset
This is has probably been the hardest step for me, but actually the most rewarding. I recently read a book called Happiness: Your route-map to inner joy (I’ll link it below this post!) and it really opened my eyes to how negative my mindset is. Instead of thinking “Ergh, I have all of this work to do before I can relax!” I now try to think, “If I get this done, then I will have time to go and relax.” It’s a simple switch from negative to positive, but it really does have a massive impact on your wellbeing. Another change I have made is being more honest with what I can actually manage and learning to say no. It’s no good taking on more and more work if you haven’t got the capacity to complete it. Sometimes we need to ask for more time or delegate jobs to other people and that is perfectly okay.
I’m hoping that after reading this post, you feel more confident that a healthy work/life balance is achievable as a teacher and that actually, it’s not all doom and gloom. I know it can seem impossible at times and despite having all of the above in place, there are still times where I don’t get it right. The main thing to remember is that your personal life is a priority too- but only if you make it so.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please leave a comment below with some of your own tips and ideas!
Until next time,