How do you achieve it?

12th May 2006 at 01:00
* Every term or so, I visit a colleague teaching the same subject somewhere else. We swap resources and chat about any problems we're having. It cuts planning time and builds valuable contacts in other schools. blt

* I have shifted from a "must plan lessons to a certain standard and then stop work" mentality to a "must stop work at 6pm and go home, regardless of lesson planning quality" one. It is difficult, and I sometimes feel guilty, but pupils prefer a happy, relaxed teacher with a moderately good lesson plan to a stressed, irritable teacher with a barrage of wonderful Ofsted-type activities. la lapine blanche

* Keep track of your hours. How efficient are you? Have you spent 20 minutes colouring in an overhead that is only going to be on the screen for two minutes? Would it have had any less educational benefit in black and white? For that matter, how long would it have taken to draw it in class, with the students watching?

What about meetings? Do you leave as soon as all business has been efficiently dealt with? Do you chat for 10 minutes? Are you organised enough to be able to find those great resources you made last year, or are you too tired to file them properly?

I work from nine to five, minus a 15-minute break, a half-hour for lunch, and 10 minutes at 3.30, although I sometimes work through these. And I mean I work. Flat out. I have a baby girl; I'd rather not miss her growing up.

I like teaching. I am a good teacher and plan to stay in the profession, but for my health and sanity I can only do it this way. If we all worked together, we could all do it. Everyone needs to help share resources and planning, to make sure meetings run quickly and smoothly. We need a basic cultural shift within the profession. We need to stop being our own worst enemies. rhodian

* My solution was to take on a job-share (O.5) to benefit my health, my marriage and my young family. The children see their mother as a hands-on mum rather than an exhausted grump who appears an hour before bedtime. My husband gets a look-in and I have time over the whole week to plan good lessons. Obviously we have less money, but we're just more careful with our spending. I'm booked with supply agencies in case we do need a financial boost; at least then I don't "take it all home with me". And of course my class benefits from having two healthy, smiley, even occasionally energetic teachers! So the parents and school are happy too. notjustateacher

* Living on my own means that I have no worklife balance. It's very easy to live and breathe school when there's only me and the cats to worry about! Being single means that you also get called upon to be the evening rep at meetings etc, as others have family commitments. And with no one demanding dinner or attention, before you know it it's 11pm and you haven't stopped thinking school since you left the house at 7.30am. not_telling!

* I am an NQT reception teacher. I have been fortunate to begin my career in a school which takes great care of its staff. It has initiatives in place such as "duvet time"; instead of going into school during our preparation and planning time, we can use our "duvet" to do the work at home. I seem to get more done, which leaves me more time in my evenings and weekends.

All staff are also entitled to half a day each term, with the "employee of the month" getting an additional half-day. We also take responsibility for extracurricular activities, but we each take just one term's worth, meaning that the rest of us can plan together, and again take less home. My head is aware of how late we work, and if she thinks we are staying too late she calls us in for a chat, usually accompanied by some good advice for making sure we maximise our time and have plenty of time for out-of-school activities. Teaching is hard work, but it feels good to be in a school where that work is recognised and rewarded, and a worklife balance is high on the head's list of priorities. steevie

* Worklife balance does exist - it's just that no one tells you. I have been teaching for six years and been head of department for a term. In my first year I desperately wanted someone to tell me how to manage my time effectively, but no one did. So I developed my own strategies. I don't have children, but I still have a husband and a life. Here's what I do: 1. I start work at 7.30am because there are few people around to harass me.

2. I use every minute of each day effectively, which can mean working through lunch and breaks (I always make sure I eat and drink something though, because no job is worth starving for).

3. I found particularly as a HoD that during my PPA time I was being pestered by people to do things that they should be able to do themselves.

I now find a spare room or office and hide for an hour - the department won't fall apart without me for 60 minutes.

4. I have a folder for every unit of work I teach, particularly A-level.

For example, take the John Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men. I write up every lesson I have ever taught on it, and put this into a plastic wallet with the resources for that lesson. I find this is the biggest time saver of all - I don't try to reinvent the wheel every year, I just add a few new spokes to it.

5. At 3pm I deal with HoD stuff. I have a support assistant attached to my department and I delegate a lot of paperwork to her. I then plan for the next day before I do anything. If it is before 6pm, then I begin marking; if not, I go home without taking anything with me. I even do this on a Friday night - it means that, more often than not, weekends are free. It is difficult to leave books unmarked at times, but I have to remember the world does not end if I don't mark Jonny's book the same day it comes to me. It goes a bit awry around reports times and coursework marking, but that's the exception rather than the rule. bundle

* My department is very badly managed, which leads to a huge amount of extraduplicated work as we all seem to be working independently. The old hands have their way of doing things and leave school asap. New staff, like myself, are continually scrabbling around finding where resources are - if they exist at all - standing by the photocopy machine and wasting time following up tasks which have been poorly communicated to us.


* I suggest the following reads when your eyes manage to re-focus toward the end of the summer break. Getting Things Done, by David Allen (Piatkus Books pound;10.99); Assessment for Learning: putting it into practice, by Paul Black et al (Open University pound;17.99); Stress-busting for Teachers, by Chris Kyriacou (Nelson Thornes pound;15). codswallop

* I'm in my NQT year and struggled for the first term to strike a balance.

My marriage was suffering (PGCE year was hell), and I was constantly racked with guilt for not spending enough time with my children. This term, I have found my feet a bit more, and realise that I can have a life outside work.

I have set limits for myself: I work until 6pm, then spend time with my family. One night a week I go out to a dance class, and one night a week my husband and I go to an amateur drama group.

Every month or so, I go for reflexology in the evening. If I need to, I will do one or two hours' work on the other nights after the kids (aged three and four) have gone to bed. I usually finish by 10pm, and then settle down and watch TV and relax with my husband. Weekends are now much better.

I don't do any schoolwork on Saturdays, spending the morning at aerobics class, and the afternoon with the kids. On Sunday afternoon and evening I prepare for the week ahead.

This may still sound a lot of work to some, but it is a million times better than my first term. I am much happier, I think I've rescued my marriage, and my children actually get some one-to-one time with me every day. It's not ideal, but for a job I love, it's worth it. mandi2000

* I am now in my fourth year of teaching at senior school level (I do four different subjects) after spending 12 years in industry, where I worked until at least 6pm every day and only got four to five weeks off each year.

With this background and my current experience, I struggle to understand teachers' complaints about worklife balance. We get an enormous amount of holiday for a start. Plus, the longer you do the job, the less time you need to prepare of lessons.

Finally, I am discovering a myriad of ways to get more value out of students' homework without increasing the amount of marking... do. I believe that a well organised teacher should be able to do hisher job well in a standard 8.30-5.30 day without encroaching on evenings and holidays.


Main text: Elaine Williams

Photographs: Neil Turner

Next week: Worklife balance part II

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