First step - Balancing act

29th January 2010 at 00:00
If you find that planning, teaching and marking are taking over your life, something's wrong. It needn't be all work and no play

You are now four weeks into what can be the toughest term of the NQT year and have come to realise that coping with the workload without sacrificing your social life is a difficult balance to strike.

So how do more experienced teachers manage to plan lessons, cope with a full timetable and still enjoy themselves? Being well organised can help to ensure that you don't fall victim to your workload.

It is important to accept that you can only do a finite amount in any 24-hour period. "It helps to cultivate the attitude that you will work most effectively and efficiently within the boundary of what's reasonable," says Alex Brandram, a former induction tutor at a secondary school in Greenwich.

"If your workload means that you have little or no time for anything else in your life, either the expectations made of you are unreasonable or you could do with some expert advice on improving your efficiency."

Adopt an attitude that will enable you to sustain realistic high expectations of yourself and your pupils whatever the circumstances or context, says Verna Brandford, lecturer at London University's Institute of Education.

"One of the most effective ways of dealing with stress is to develop some kind of understanding about what exactly it is that stresses you out," she says. "Once you can identify this, you can find ways to tackle the root causes."

Many teachers find that they spend significant amounts of time working at home, but this should not mean that you can't draw the line between what is work and what isn't. "Organise your time to do as much work as possible in school - plan and evaluate lessons and prepare resources," says Miss Brandford. "Try to gauge when you work most effectively and complete tasks accordingly."

There will always be times when work spills over into home life, and sometimes getting it done is less stressful than leaving it undone. But the key is to recognise when you need to take action to preserve your precious down time.

"Make sure you have at least one full day at the weekend and at least one or two nights off every week," advises Emma Cuthbert, a recently qualified maths teacher at a secondary school in Bedford. "Complete as much as you can while still at school - be strict with yourself. It's the only way to prevent work from bleeding into time that should be set aside for relaxation."

And if you do take work home, make sure that you keep it in a designated place, so that it doesn't spread around every room. "In my first year, my home became an extension of my classroom, which was a huge catastrophe," says Miss Cuthbert.

Miss Brandford suggests joining or initiating an extra-curricular activity that you and the pupils will enjoy. "This will ease the stress of long days at work," she says. "Try to block out time in your diary for social activities unrelated to school."

Feeling in control of your job is crucial. Try listing the aspects of your job that you have control and influence over, and identify those where you feel restricted. This can form the basis of discussions with your induction tutor about how your work affects your life and how to develop personalised strategies for a better worklife balance.

As long as you know you are working to the best of your abilities with the resources available to you, and you seek and take advice from those with more expertise and experience whenever you feel you need it, you will have nothing to worry about.

If you feel that anxieties linked to performance are getting the better of you, ask for help. "Talk to colleagues about their experiences and do some active stress-busting by taking some exercise, giving yourself your favourite healthy food and safeguarding your time off," says Mr Brandram. "All of these actions will help you gain a more balanced perspective."

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

- Develop an understanding about what stresses you.

- Cultivate an attitude that you will work most effectively within the boundaries of what is reasonable.

- Get some expert advice on improving your efficiency.

- Recognise when you need to take action to preserve your precious down time.

- Make sure you have at least one full day of rest at the weekend and at least one or two nights off every week.

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