Please find below my presentation from the School Leaders Summit at the Education Show 2015, Birmingham NEC.
Saturday, 21 March 2015
Sunday, 1 March 2015
Bubbling under the surface, throughout the three-and-a-bit short years that I've been teaching, is the issue of teachers and their working hours. Personally, the most difficult weeks of the year hug either side of every half term and often continue up until the next holiday. In other words, there are very few weeks of the school year which are not hectic/manic/crazy/choose-your-own-synonym. Have you ever started on Monday morning and said, "it's a normal week this week" and then realised it would be nothing but? A "normal week" simply does not exist in teaching.
If you're a teacher or you live with one, you know exactly what I mean. Sometimes there are weeks when I feel I work non-stop from 7:45am through to 10+pm and then dream about school and wake up with a few jobs to add to my to-do list before it all starts over again. No time for family, friends, a social life, exercise or the brain to switch off. These weeks often result in illness at the weekends and planned activities being skipped in the name of catching up on some sleep and rest! It's a regular topic among the authors of the Guardian's Secret Teacher articles, with words like 'burn-out', 'slog' and 'pressure' being common among these weekly reflections. Recently, the TES 'proved' that teachers are working way beyond their hours by publishing 'Teachers work more overtime than any other professionals'.
Now, this is all very negative and, if you know me at all, you'll know that just isn't how I tend to look at things. On filling in the recent work-load survey and reading the published results, I've come to realise that the obvious is true: there simply isn't a solution to this problem. There is nothing that the government or OfSTED or anyone else can do to make me work less hours. Truly, it's down to me.
That's easy for me to say, I know. I'm fortunate enough to work in a school where I'm free to do my job in a way which I see fit, without any neck-breathing. I'm trusted as a teacher and given the opportunity to try new things and, sometimes, fail to learn. Obviously, that is not the case in a lot of schools; regular messages I receive from friends in much more difficult situations make this clear. For some friends, I wish that their SLT would stop checking their plans are in place by Friday afternoon or scrutinizing their marking in books every month. For others, I would suggest that their SLT buys in trained teachers to cover PPA so that my friends don't have to plan a whole day every fortnight for a TA to teach.
For me, however, I've thought time and time again about how I could reduce the hours I work. I see people who work part time having some time to themselves but I simply wouldn't want to be part time because I love teaching my class and being responsible for all their learning. What about stopping all the extra-curricular stuff I do in school like Digital Leaders, Netball Club and Scratch Club. That would be a travesty - those things really help me get to know the kids in a completely different light and they love those sessions. Perhaps next year we just won't do a production or any trips - that would save me hours. Of course, I could never do that because the kids get so much out of those experiences. I could give up some of the things I do outside of school: organising TeachMeet Sussex, blogging, church youth groups, my netball and stoolball team. But those things keep me sane (and healthy)!
And then the realisation comes. It's me. I love doing these things and I think they're important. Nobody is telling me I have to do them.
So, while in some settings I am sure there are things that could be done by those 'above' to improve teachers' working hours, I know that for me, I'm my own worse enemy. Therefore, efficiency in what I do is key. Trello helps me organise my to-do lists and I'm getting much better at saying, "no" or delegating. Secret Teacher 6 has come up with some great tips for avoiding burn-out, the most important of which is about sleep and rest. However the quest for a perfect (!!) work-life balance continues and I'm now looking solely to me to create some solutions to help myself.
P.S. If you're a teacher with a child, you are a super-hero. I have no idea how you do it! Any clues welcome in the comments!?