All in good time

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Mike Fielding gives some pointers managing workload

How many hours did you devote to school work last week? Almost certainly too many, and the danger is that you will go on doing the same week after week, possibly for years.

You're not alone: surveys show that teachers on average work more hours than is reasonable. And new teachers tend to work even longer. The reasons are obvious: they are less sure of themselves and worried about making mistakes or forgetting something, want to impress colleagues, have not learned the short-cuts, or feel that doing their best must mean considerable sacrifice. The last is certainly true, but a sense of proportion is essential.

Children will gain nothing from teachers who have to drag themselves into school each morning, tired out and easily irritated because they have been working so late on marking their books.

So strategies for making work a reasonable part of your life and not the depressing whole of it are essential. The first move is to become clear about what you are trying to achieve. Too many people dash around in a disorganised fashion and never stop to ask themselves what is important.

In your first term, for instance, your aim could be as straightforward as becoming established with your classes and a few key colleagues. In that case, why are you helping with the school play? Next year might be better for such things.

You should also be clear about any school or department priority that might require extra effort from you. For instance, if this term's emphasis is on children self-evaluating their work, should you still be marking everything that they write?

Marking and preparation are major demands on your time. But you may be over-preparing and over-marking, and that is where more experienced colleagues can help with effective approaches that don't take up too much time.

They know that there are opportunities in most days for tackling small tasks that would otherwise have to be done at home; the notes, returns, lists and comments that senior managers and others often want from you, for instance.

They also know the importance of restricting home-working to certain times. Having rules about when you'll work - for example, from 7pm till 10pm - is much better than saying "I'm going to try to finish all this marking tonight".

Don't do work that is better and more efficiently done by other people. It's a waste of time, for instance, to spend hours at your computer trying to produce perfect teaching materials if there is a resources technician or typist who can do it better or more quickly from your draft.

Time for yourself, for partners and for having fun is essential. Most people relax on Friday night but try to give yourself Saturday off and if you have to work on Sunday, try to confine it to activities which will make next week go better.

But pacing yourself is not just about each week. Every term has its rhythms and you need to tune into them. Check the calendar for when reports are due or examinations will be set so that you know when to avoid other heavy duty activities.

It's worth recognising, too, that everybody has low points in the term - often just before half-term and about three weeks from the end. Plan to do something which is enlivening and fun or give yourself a break and deal only with the routine and necessary.

Always remember that teaching is only a job and not the whole of life. You need other interests and must put work aside sometimes, giving time to friends and family. You'll be a better teacher for it.

Mike Fielding retired as principal of the Community College Chulmleigh, north Devon, last year

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