I’m an English teacher and, put simply, I believe I have the best job in the world. I cannot believe I get paid for what I do. Does that mean the job is easy? Of course not.
I began working in schools in 2009; I’ve been teaching for 8 years. I’ve worked in 3 very different schools and in that time have held many different roles: teaching assistant; behaviour manager; teacher of English; teacher of law, second in English; head of house; lead practitioner; extended SLT, and I’m currently Director of Learning, English at a state school in London. Through experience I can tell you that all of these roles present their own challenges yet provide wonderful job satisfaction. One thing they all have in common is that your job is never done; there will always be something else to do, and if you let it, it can quite easily take all of your time. And I used to let them do just that. I would regularly clock up 65 hours of work a week. Obviously, this wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle so I decided to make some changes which I think may be of use to others.
Prevent work emails coming through your phone. This one decision helped enormously. It meant that I wasn’t tempted to contact colleagues, or worse still, parents, in the evenings. Your working hours should be the only time when emails are being read and sent. I’m happy to report this is now the case for me.
Leave your work at work. I very rarely work at home. Instead, I prepare my working week at work. It means that the minute I leave the school gates, I am free to spend my time as I wish.
Have a mini-weekend. The aim with this is to leave work as early as possible once a week and spend your time doing something you love: go out for dinner, exercise, go to the theatre. Whatever it is you enjoy doing, just do it. You’ll feel refreshed the next day for it.
Prepare your weekly lunches. This has had a huge impact on my diet. I eat so much healthier than I ever have and it doesn’t take long to prepare it all.
Say no if you want to. This is a tough one, but it’s important to realise that if you want to feel like you are doing a job well, you can’t take on everything at once. If you feel like more and more work is being added to your main role, ask if something can be taken away before you accept another task. Take control of your workload and be okay with saying no.
Make light work of planning. Reuse old lessons. Tweak what you can. Yes, there may have been lots of changes recently, but there’s no need to start from scratch. Work collaboratively with colleagues. Share what you can. There are so many online sharing drives out there; I am indebted to the likes of Freya O’Dell (@fod3) and the #TeamEnglish community who regularly share their resources. I’m still not brave enough to share my own resources, but I’m building up to it!
If you haven’t already done so, stop the madness that is marking. Challenge school leaders who are insisting on a marking policy that has little impact on student progress yet significantly impacts teacher time. Use live marking/feedback. Share whole class feedback. Have mocks externally marked (I’m planning this one for next year).
I’m currently working in a school that considers the wellbeing of its staff important and I’ve never been happier as a teacher. That’s partly due to the wonderful staff and students I work with but also down to an understanding on my part that, as much as I love it, it’s just a job. I go home happy to have made a difference however big or small, but know that there is a life outside of the school gates that is also pretty awesome. And because of that, I’m a better teacher than I’ve ever been.
If you’re struggling with your own workload, maybe it’s time to reflect on what you could change to make things better? It’s worth noting that if it’s the school that’s making you unhappy, leave. Not all schools are the same. Great schools do exist. I work at one.
These are just a few of my tips aimed at making teaching a truly sustainable profession. For more help and guidance, Live Well, Teach Well has over 90 practical ideas to help you maintain a healthy work-life balance and stay positive and focused throughout the school year.
Abbie Mann’s debut book is out now!