Opinion: 'Why must we choose between risking criticism for not working hard enough or watching our work-life balance vanish?'

One Tough Young Teacher calls for the workload issue to become not one of how hard teachers work, but how smart

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As one of the most prominent and pertinent areas under the educational microscope, managing teacher workload has been at the forefront of education debate over the past decades.

The topic is often fraught with pernicious, acerbic commentary towards senior decision-makers. And I can sympathise. As a teacher at the chalkface, I am often frustrated by the amount of seemingly unnecessary administration.

I frequently fail to know when to stop working. I love this profession so much that I forget about the other facets of my life. So, to do something about it, last year I committed to doing all my marking while I was at school. I wanted to separate it from my home life.

Furthermore, from the start of this term, I have vowed that there will have to be times where I just say no to a new idea or project.

I have come to the conclusion that I will not be doing my students any good if I am exhausted, or melancholic that I haven’t seen my friends in weeks.

As teachers we are too often faced with the tug-o’-decision: leave at 3pm and risk public opprobrium for not working hard enough, or leave at 7pm and watch our work-life balance vanish (all the while being told by non-teaching friends that we have to suck it up because we get great holidays).

I’m tired of both those options.

So I’ve got a new option: we must get to a point where schools – and, most importantly, school leaders – take an approach that encourages teachers work smart and not hard.

Giving staff the impression that the mantra of the school is “Work harder!” puts pressure on staff to go beyond where they are productive, whereas “Work smarter!” gives people a growth mindset and permission to go easy on themselves.

Not only must headteachers emphasise this message but they should also model the practice themselves.

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