Champion of the world(s)

10th October 2014 at 01:00

I had the pleasure of meeting Doug "Teach Like a Champion" Lemov for a coffee recently. Between comparing tattoos and classroom scars, we talked about the importance of keeping a healthy balance between home and school, and how walking that line sometimes felt like walking the plank. One thing we agreed on was that it was important to realise what your priorities were, and to plan for them.

Work-life balance is a joke, of course. Who's got time to work out where that point lies when you're head down sprinting through each day? I remember working tables in London's Piccadilly (waiting, not dancing, I'll add), falling in at one end of the shift and being spat out at the other. Even there, I had a better split between home and hustle. At least I could step off the customer service treadmill at the end of a shift.

Not as a teacher. At home, work clings to you like an odour. Chefs have a term for when they've completely finished with a customer's order - they call it "selling your ticket".

You never sell your ticket in education. Every day produces must-dos that are rarely resolved by the last bell. Our work takes years to finish, if it ever is. There is always something more you could do: more revision, more attention, better marking, closer scrutiny.

Remember the last time you sat in the staffroom and simply talked to a colleague for half an hour? Me neither. Many schools have a culture that not only prohibits room to breathe, to consider and reflect, but also makes it near-impossible for teachers to execute their core functions: to teach and protect.

I've seen good teachers groaning under the weight of admin, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with their primary focus: the children and their education. What a sad joke that in some schools the practice of teaching has been replaced with the formalised demonstration of it.

There are two elephants in the classroom that fundamentally transform the experience of being a teacher yet they rarely get the coverage they deserve: behaviour and workload. Teaching is a hard job, no doubt about it, and we mustn't complain because we work hard. But you will be pulverised if you forget why you're there. We don't turn up to juggle spreadsheets but to teach children.

It's a complex problem with complex solutions. Embrace the power of "No, I'm too damn busy" when someone asks you to do something for them that is pointless. Look at what you do that doesn't have any impact and stop doing it. Spring clean your schedule. Do what must be done first, before it becomes an emergency.

And finally, we could all do with appreciating when our limits have been reached. At that point, you close the book, put the pen down and go home. And when you get to spend time with the people who care a whole lot more about you than anyone paid to do so, you appreciate every minute and you keep that time sacred. Because the people at home already think you're a champion. Remember that.

Tom Bennett teaches at the Jo Richardson Community School in Essex and is director of the ResearchED conference

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