First Step - Work, rest or play

12th June 2009 at 01:00
You may have planning and preparation to do, but there's no need to be glum in the sun. Relax now to avoid a burn-out

You've probably left it until the last minute to make any plans for the summer break. As you're about to enter your second year of teaching and have passed your "probation", how much time should you devote to lesson planning over the summer, and how much to recharging your batteries?

Time for some myth-busting: however much work you do, it will never be enough. The sooner new teachers realise this, the closer they will be to achieving that rarest of things - a healthy work-life balance.

While devoting the holiday to planning and preparation is admirable, it will, eventually, result in burn out. And that will not benefit you, your pupils or your school. Take time out to clear your head, take stock and pursue activities unrelated to school. You will probably need it after a tiring NQT year.

It is worth remembering that your first year of teaching was probably the hardest of your career, says Chris Wheeler, a teacher and NQT mentor at Ashton-on-Mersey School in Sale, Cheshire.

New teachers will have had to come to terms with learning school rules, mastering discipline and getting to know the pupils - all while planning, designing and teaching lessons. It's not exactly "downhill from here", but you can afford to take your foot off the pedal for a good chunk of the holiday. You will still return in September a much more competent teacher than you probably realise.

"I guarantee that this second year will be much easier because the students know you and your confidence will also have grown as you understand how the systems within school work," he says.

"If your first year has gone well then I'd seriously recommend having the majority of the summer to yourself. Travel and catch up with the friends and family you have undoubtedly neglected for the past year."

Rather than slaving away over the summer, devote time during the last few weeks of term to prepare for your second year, advises Sudhana Moodley, a teacher at Foxborough Primary School in Slough.

"Arrange to have a transition meeting with the teacher who is handing over children for your second year and chat informally with parents and carers of these children so that a rapport is established," she says.

Look at the targets you and your mentor set during your first year, she adds. Have you met them yet or is there room for further development? Consider your strengths and weaknesses and see how these will fit in with your performance management and the school's development plan next year.

Some planning will ensure the new academic year is less intimidating when it arrives. As a minimum, you should plan a good set of lessons for the first fortnight back or so, says Mr Wheeler - either during term time or the holidays. "This will enable you to focus on settling your new classes and getting your expectations across," he says.

Mr Wheeler tries not to look at next year's timetable until September. The discovery of challenging classes can upset his equilibrium over the summer. "Subconsciously you can start going over possible problems before they have arisen," he says. "This in turn makes you stressed on your return and can actually escalate problems quicker."

Find out if you are expected to prepare for an unfamiliar course or subject, he adds, but try not to worry about individuals. "You will have a much better chance of dealing with them effectively if you are refreshed," he says.

Next week: Sustaining interest at the end of term


- Give yourself strict deadlines. If you say you'll do an hour's work, stick to it.

- Get organised. Keep your resources well filed.

- Share schemes of work with other teachers to reduce the planning burden.

- Meet with other teachers to plan together and talk through any problems.

- Use your time efficiently. Focus on what you must do, not on what you'd like to do.

- Read Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.

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