'Teachers, bin the admin and take your time back'

Let’s reject everything that diverts us from the important business that adds value for our students, says Sarah Simons

Teacher workload: How can teachers make the most of their time?

Time. It’s the thing we all have in common. Barack Obama and I, Margaret Atwood and I, Oprah Winfrey and I – we all have 24 hours in a day to use how we see fit. How we use it makes the difference. 

I’ll be 46 soon. By that age Barack was months away from becoming president, Margaret had just finished The Handmaid’s Tale and Oprah had already built an empire, having been named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most important people of 20th century. None of them was born with a silver spoon in their gob. The scales of fortune were not particularly tilted in their favour.


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Precious teacher time

Their greatness was not assumed. They all had the same amount of time in their day as you and I do. How they used their time to get to that place in their lives was important. Not the retrospective assessment of a long career, but the chunks of 10 minutes stacked on top of each other to make an hour, a day, a week. How they, how we all, use the now-ness of time.

Not to get all negative and low self-esteemy on you, but it’s very unlikely I’ll be president of the USA or a groundbreaking media mogul. But, should I somehow stumble upon a shitload of knowledge, talent and dedication, I could be an author.

Obvs not a cultural Mystic Meg, like Maggie A, sculpting a beautiful piece of warning literature that predicts, then comments on, then offers a means of protest against a turbulent and regressive future. But one who bangs out a book a year among other work commitments. That’s doable. I could do that. I probably won’t though - I’m not focused enough or strict enough with my time.

I bet even if the internet had been invented when the Atwood was my age, she wouldn’t have pissed her time up the wall by getting lost down a YouTube wormhole, looking at dogs in hats or Judy Garland interviews or Basil Brush and Cilla Black musical duets… Erm… For example. 

Teacher workload

But as I say to my students who, maybe, always use a capital G instead of a lower case one no matter where it sits in a word, or never use paragraphs to split up a longer piece of writing, isolating the problem, even knowing the problem exists, is the first step to sorting it out.

As edu-sorts, our time is important. If you’re teaching back-to-back sessions, the day sometimes seems to whip past without even time for that wee that you were desperate for six hours ago. It’s not just the actual teaching, there’s the planning, the admin, the meetings and the other surprise stuff. When a student needs help with a personal matter and you’re the one they come to. When an incident kicks off and has to be dealt with. When the computer is on a go-slow or all the photocopiers within a three-mile radius have packed up.

Some of those things are really important, they might be even life-changing - that student may have taken months to disclose their concern to you. Some of those things are not important - the hour-long meeting that should have either been an email or lasted 10 minutes, but no one is directing the group away from the trivia that’s somehow taken centre stage.

So, I’ve got a plan. Brace yourselves, readers, perhaps bob Classic FM on the wireless and hope for a rousing piece of marching music as background while you read this next bit.

Let’s rebel. Let’s bin all the mini time thieves that nick those 10-minute building blocks that construct an hour, a week, a year of our time. Let’s question the "because we’ve always done it like that" mentality of time-wasting. Let’s reject the inefficient activity that diverts us from the important business that adds value to our days and to that of our students. Let’s just not get involved with the most distracting time thief of all – the entirely misinterpreted, made-up-by-management, panicky bullshit that’s imposed upon us "because Ofsted requires it". Does it require it, though? Does it?

Let’s just quietly not do all that stuff and concentrate on what matters. We don’t have to make a song and dance about it. Oooh, that reminds me, I wonder who else Basil Brush duetted with. Hang on, I’ll just have a peep.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

 

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