How do you achieve it?

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
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* What is anyone killing themselves for? We have contracts that state our working hours, we have union agreements stating what we do and don't do... I am the moo who walks out of the one meeting I decide to attend exactly one hour after it starts! I work an average 40-hour week, save and adapt lesson plans, save and adapt resources, assess and feed back as I go and have one piece of work per week per student that I evaluate and write feedback and targets on. And that is it. Anything you do over your contract is up to you. Norabatty

* My worklife balance is useless. My to-do list never seems to have fewer than 35 items on it, excluding the regular planning and marking. I could work 24 hours a day and not keep up (catch up would be a better phrase).

Colleagues tell me to let some things go (I have removed myself from a research project and committees which, of course, never seem to make up time and feel so important) - but they never say which things. Last year, my marking slipped as I tried to concentrate on my management responsibilities and so I got into trouble for that. Of course, when I don't do something as a manager I feel in a no-win situation.

I know I have to do something about it. Mrs Phys is fed up (although she does understand, having been a teacher) but I don't spend enough time with the toddler and baby and perhaps too often seem to lose my rag with child No 1 because I am tired. I never get to bed before 11.45pm unless I'm ill and often it is 12.30 or 1am. Year 11 reports last week were finished at 3.30am.

My time management skills suck and I have read most of the books! I procrastinate too much and seem to always just pull things out of the bag at the last minute. Surprise, surprise, I get ill. I had four days off last week with an infection, went back two days and am now off for the rest of the week with a second dose of antibiotics. Stress, of course, knocks out the immune system.

I have thought of packing in teaching a number of times, but I don't know what I would do. I like it, anyway (just hate the admin markingother rubbish). Mrs Phys likes where we live and doesn't want to move. Nothing here would pay the salary I get and which our mortgage relies on.

Colleagues tell me I do a good job and shouldn't kick my management point, and that it will get easier.

Being ill and off work (and the to-do list is not getting shorter, much as I would like to be using this time to catch up) has made me consider how I am going to sort this out. I am going to try hard to get into work for 7.30am. Allowing half an hour for breaks and leaving at 5pm means a nine-hour day or 45-hour week. I am going to allow myself only one hour per evening (as an average, taking Tuesday and Thursday evening off) and three hours on the weekend. That makes a 53-hour week or a 2,120-hour, 40-week year. If the job can't be done in that time, then it can't be done.

I need to do this, otherwise I am going to have a nervousphysical breakdown or a heart attackstroke as the other side to my survival is sugar and fat in the form of biscuitscakesetc. And I'm not getting any exercise!

Sorry, this may not help anyone but it has helped me as I haven't told anyone who knows me quite how badly I feel. Phys

* I am nearly 55 and have been teaching for 34 years, most of which I have spent working my socks off, resenting doing marking and preparation on sunny Sundays, missing weekday evening TV programmes that everyone else was watching but, more importantly, neglecting my own marital relationship and my children growing up.

My marriage is over now and fortunately I have a good rapport with my grown-up children. When I entered my fifties I resolved that it all had to change. I was helped by my union's Time for a Limit campaign, which lasted several years and resulted in the removal of admin tasks, a limit to meetings (I remember the bad old days of two or three a week, with no finishing time - sometimes 6pm) and planning, preparation and assessment time.

I decided to do less marking, to be willing to accept less-than-perfect lessons and to go to the gym or go surfing more often. The change in my life is not total; I still think I work hard, but now I am ready to say "Enough!" I tell my younger colleagues to do the same. ancientmariner

* After my first three years teaching and notching up 70 to 80-hour weeks, I took a year out doing office work and then gained an overseas post, where I learned to develop a more laid-back approach - that is, a maximum of two hours prep at home on week-nights and at least one night out at weekends.

The expatriate lifestylescene helped - having a ready-made social life meant that you could go undercover for a week or so while you had reports or exams to mark and then slot seamlessly back into it. It's not so easy now that I'm back in England and newly single. I'm terrified of being sucked back into the vortex ("I and she was never seen again") and ending up a 60-year-old "Miss". That's if I even manage to get another teaching job - employers seem suspicious of the gaps on my CV and see it as lack of commitment to teaching, rather than a serious decision made on the basis of my personal happiness and well-being.

What other reason to teach is there than happiness? And how awful for children to have a teacher who isn't happy. amanda32

* It is up to us as professionals to manage our own worklife balance.

Would your class prefer an enthusiastic, energetic, refreshed teacher or a tired, overworked, exhausted and irritable teacher?

I start work at 7.30am and finish between 5.30 and 6pm, Monday to Thursday.

I also work through my lunch hour. This means that when I get home after a 50-minute drive, I can spend some quality time with my partner, relax, smile and enjoy myself. Think about all those PSHE lessons you have taught and all the messages we try to explain to our classes. Isn't it time we learned some of those lessons ourselves?

We may be teachers but we are also human, we deserve to relax, take some time out for a hobby, even watch meaningless TV.

It's a sad time when schools are introducing classes based on "How to be happy". Let's be role models for pupils ourselves, let's show them that we can work hard, provide an excellent teaching environment and have a high quality of life. We manage our own time and in my mind it's better for children to see happy professionals than fatigued ones. cazzarc

* I moved into teaching to find an acceptable worklife balance, something I remind myself of whenever I get stressed. My husband has told me that since I started as a teacher he's never seen me work harder, but he's never seen me so happy about work, either. If work is something you enjoy, then it's not a big deal for bits of it to be in the "rest of your life" is it? It can expand infinitely, but any job can. Prioritise! porphyria

* I am about to become a head of department and know that things will change for a while but... I start work at 7.45am and leave at 6.30pm. I go to the gym for an hour or so most nights and then go home, have dinner with himself, write my "to do" list and go to bed. Every day. But I don't have children at home demanding basics like food. stowie

* I think the issue here is not so much worklife balance as careerlife balance. You can work perfectly happily and have a life outside, as many people have demonstrated. What many teachers find impossible is maintaining that life outside when they going for promotion. How do you get it without offering to do more? If you do more schoolwork, you have less time for out-of-school activities. It's not rocket science. The catchphrase might be: Don't Get Ahead, Get A Life! mountstuart

* Competitiveness is a problem for me. I like to feel that no one is doing more than me; that I'm totally committed. I'm taking up a HoD post in September, and want to lead by example, but I have to admit that I don't keep up with everything I need to do, and feel, quite frankly, washed out.

The irony is that I changed my career to teaching as I thought it would offer the time and money to pursue my hobby, songwriting and singing. How naive. Mad miss

* After qualifying last year, I focused on nothing but the classroom.

Unfortunately, I am prone to stress, which came to a head around two months ago. I left my post and moved back in with my parents. At the time I felt a failure, but soon came to realise that my health was my priority. I took five weeks off before accepting general supply with the local council.

Although this has not been ideal, it has enabled me to address my worklife balance and realise how important it is to exercise, meet friends or simply watch TV. If you must choose between your health and returning homework late once in a while, your health must win every time. fuzzy_logic

* There are 10 simple rules for achieving a balance: 1) The next nine do not apply if you are still an NQT. So the first rule is: do not think you can have work life balance if you are an NQT.

2) Do not marrygo out withhook up with another teacher. You will just talk shop all the time.

3) Have fun with your class. Laughing 100 times is the equivalent of 15 minutes on an exercise bike and reduces two stress hormones in your body.

4) Give yourself something to look forward to at least one night a week.

Cinema, music lesson, a drink with friends...whatever floats your boat.

Which leads on to...

5) Always have a holiday during half-terms. But spend lots of weekends at home during term time; you get more things done around the house, thus making life easier in the week.

6) Learn something yourself, be it a musical instrument, a foreign language from a tape course... anything. Learning is a joy! If you see it that way this will rub off on your children.

7) Make learning fun for the children. The happier and more motivated they are, the less grief they will give you.

8) Make sure your partner takes it in turns cooking. If you are single, treat yourself to a takeaway.

9) Make sure you have a break during the day.

10) If something is bugging you, talk about it. Seek advice from senior colleagues. Never be afraid to admit it if a pupil is getting you down.

Nicola Cole

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