How do you achieve it?

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Join in the debate at * Sometimes it feels like you'll never make it out the door. People always catch you as you leave, you spot marking that needs doing for tomorrow, you spend longer than you meant to planning something... One of the best ways to make sure you leave at a reasonable time, at least a couple of days a week, is to arrange to do something. Meet a friend to play squash or go for a drink, join a club, do an evening class. If you have an appointment that you can't break it stops you fretting about having work to do.

I am in my second year teaching, and I don't feel that school takes over. I used to work in the IT industry so was used to having to set limits to the hours I worked. I have never worked longer than 8 to 5; if you can't do it in that time, too bad. It is no use being exhausted.

You can't expect every lesson to be all-singing, all-dancing. I play squash once a week with my brother, and help with a running club once a week so on those days I finish soon after the bell. I rarely work weekends, and do no more than a day or so each holiday. Kids learn by being inspired by the person who teaches them, not by meticulous planning and preparation.


* I retired at the end of the last academic year after 30 years in the profession, the last eight as a head. I was able to maintain a worklife balance for most of the time because of planning and strict self-discipline. I was in school by 7 each morning and spent the first hour on paperwork. Three days out of five, I also spent the hour from 4 to 5pm on paperwork. In this way I shifted paper very quickly. I also had a magnificent PA for the last four years.

We had two staff sessions a week, one of 112 hours and the other of 30 minutes, as well as a 15-minute weekly briefing.

I always left the building no later than 5.30pm. When I did work late - for governors' or parents' evenings - I took time out later in the week. I took no work home in the evenings and did not work Saturdays. Sunday afternoon was usually thinking time, planning the week ahead, etc. Maximum: two hours. This meant I worked, on average, a 55-hour week, but this suited me and I still had time for the theatre, cycling, friends, and other hobbies.

All this happened as a teacher, head of department and head. As a head, if the paperwork didn't get done, then it didn't get done; it meant there were more important things to do, like talk to children or staff.

In my first year of headship I also did an MA and thrived on it. Sometimes it was hard to be so strict with myself, but it worked and I have no regrets. My concern now is that many young teachers are being put off headship with a fear of no breaks at all. It is possible. Go for it and enjoy life. Yvonne D

* I think it is essential to have something in your life that is not work.

I spend an evening a week singing and dancing in our amateur operatic group. For one week in the year I am at the theatre every night performing.

Yes, it's tiring, and sometimes I don't feel like going, but I always love it when I'm there. When it's show week I have to be organised, but it's also nice to be able to say very firmly, "No, I can't do that. I've got to be on stage later". People need to know that you have another life. wicked witch

* I started teaching about three years ago, working 50 hours-plus a week.

The first two months were the worst; I was tired, stressed, and sleeping about three hours a night before I decided enough was enough. So I work to rule now. I already work about 10 hours over what is required (for free!) I recycle old lesson plans, refine resources and, most importantly, no longer try to reinvent the wheel. I will sit down and speak to other lecturers and get ideas from them, but I do not bust a gut to make the best-ever lesson plan. I plan a sensible lesson with the resources available (which are very few), because I have learned that anything else is difficult to achieve in the time allocated.

I firmly believe that to prepare a fantastic lesson you need to prep two hours for every one hour of teaching ....laughable in the current environment. pablopicasso

* After wearing myself into the ground preparing my students for their exams next week, I've realised that the more I do for them, the less they do for themselves. At Years 12 and 13 especially, they should be made to feel a certain sense of responsibility. As a teacher it is my job to make sure that I provide the knowledge they need to pass their exams. As a student, it is their job to take the time to revise and learn what I provide. When I start the next modules I will be sure to emphasise this fact. Life isn't handed to you on a plate once you leave college. Mrs ICT

* I gave up an amazing village school headship to become a deputy in a big school. It was a strange move in the eyes of many people and caused a ripple of confusion and concern. But I now have time for my children and my long-suffering wife. I sleep at night and have time to read, to think, to paint... and to live. Of course my current job is hard work. I enjoy hard work. It's just that I now know how to keep my job in perspective. It's a job - a wonderful vocation - but it's just a job. scapegoat56

* Yes, worklife balance does exist. But you have to move to Scotland.

I was a head of department in West Sussex back in 2001, working ridiculously long hours. I'm a drama teacher and would often stay behind for rehearsals and performances as late as 10pm.

In January 2002 I moved to Scotland and now work as a supply teacher. I work almost every day of the academic year, moving from school to school as the need arises. I take days off when I want to.

My day starts at 9am and finishes at 3.30pm. I do not mark homework. I do not do parents' evenings. At 3.30 I go straight from school to my local health club where I float around in a jacuzzi and have a swim or maybe a game of squash. I go home via the excellent local butcher, avoiding the supermarket if I can, get a nice piece of filet steak, go home, eat, drink, do something in the evening. I do not even think about school. I go to bed, get up and it all starts again. johnmilton

* Worklife balance is extremely hard to achieve. The Government needs to do so much more. I am in my second year of teaching and have already burnt out. I have no time for me and work most evenings and most of the weekend.

And when I do say no, I feel guilty for the work I am not doing. PPA time gives me three frees a week to mark books, plan lessons, etc, but I have 13 classes and it takes me over an hour to mark one set of books. Work it out! On top of this there is coursework, assessments, planning, admin...

I have spent the past few months crying most evenings, driving to work in a trance and generally feeling pretty low about myself. My confidence is nil and I no longer feel productive as a teacher.

May I suggest: more teachers thus fewer classes to teach, smaller groups (no more than 20), more PPA time. Teachers would cope better and feel happier, children would pick this up and be happier too. Smaller groups means more attention, better results. Why can't the Government actually listen to teachers who are in the job? At the moment many of us are simply keeping our heads above water: there are teachers off with stress; teachers pretending they are not stressed and keeping going while their health is affected; snappy, overworked teachers; good teachers wanting to leave; teachers not giving as much to the profession to save their own sanity...


* As a single parent, life has to come first - something I realised when I nearly fell asleep at the wheel driving to a training day. I'm only in my training year and already teaching seems to expand to fill all available space. Weekday evenings are for work, but no more than one evening per weekend. Bed by 10, prioritise, switch off, plan in outline and trust oneself to "wing it" without being exhausted, rather than exhaust oneself to the point of not being able to deliver that carefully planned lesson.

Well that's the idea once I no longer get observed or have to write essays; most days I could just sleep. But you have to make your own worklife balance. No one will do it for you. eagleowl

* I have achieved worklife balance by opting to work part-time and staying part-time when my children were old enough to go to school. If I have stuff to do, it can get done on my days off and so I rarely work in the evenings.

Everyone has benefited from the calm, unrushed atmosphere. The only gripe is the one from full-timers. "Oh lucky you, that you can afford it," they cry. But it means the posh holidays and the second car are no-nos, as is the cleaner and the ironing lady, but lots of families manage on less, even in London.

Lack of promotion has been another big disadvantage. I must be the oldest teacher without an allowance in the school and it annoys me greatly that colleagues with far less experience get promoted. I feel that some managers, especially women who have had to sacrifice a lot to move up, are very defensive about their own choices and are hard on women like myself.

But I'd argue that my life is much nicer. part-timer

* I can't say I have achieved work life balance yet (if, indeed, it is possible in teaching), but this year I have discovered one or two things that are moving me closer to it.

1) I now use my planning and preparation time for its original purpose, rather than allowing myself to be sidetracked into conversations and many "could you just deal with little Johnny" incidents. This may mean spending the whole time in a cupboard in a distant corner of school where no one can find me.

2) Looking back through the last year's cycles of planning and adapting them to ensure they are at an appropriate level for current classesgroups.

Small adjustments, or sometimes even just a change of date, is a lot quicker than reinventing the wheel.

3) Getting ahead and doing two weeks' worth of planning or assessment recording in one go if a busystressful week is coming up - for example, parents' evenings or even to make time for a family weddingpartycup of teaglass of winehot bath.... kaybob

* I write as the husband of a teacher and on behalf of myself and our two kids. I'm really pleased that someone is taking this worklife balance thing seriously. And, when you've sorted it out, can we have her back, please? Chilly

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