Tales from new teachers - Tackling to-do lists

31st January 2014 at 00:00

The problem

I realised near the end of the Christmas term that my work-life balance was approximately 90 per cent work, 10 per cent life. Getting to school at 7.30am, leaving at 7pm and then working when I got home (and on weekends) was taking its toll on me.

It wasn't the planning and marking: I'd been prepared for this to be time-consuming during my training. No, it was things unique to the new challenges that are part and parcel of any first-year teaching: tidying up my classroom, creating wall displays, responding to emails and running extra support sessions for individual students in my own time. It felt as if I was juggling too many things at once and being unable to do any of them effectively. Things had to change - and fast.

The options

I decided to consult a fellow new teacher to see if this was a problem for everybody or if my perfectionist streak meant I was making life harder for myself. I showed him my epic to-do list that covered a whole A4 page. He laughed at about half of the things on there (to give you an idea, it included such trifles as "double-check staples in display backing") and promptly crossed them out. As a first step towards restoring my work-life balance, this was effective, but there were some things that couldn't be ignored.

Next I consulted my partner. Unfortunately he is also a new teacher and so our advice session ended up as a "who has the biggest workload" contest, which made me feel better in the short term but did nothing to help solve my problem.

Luckily, my mentor (and coincidentally head of department) prioritises the work-life balance of her staff. She suggested that we go through my timetable together and schedule all the extra tasks I was faced with into my free periods. We also created hour-long slots after school for me to schedule tasks into, ensuring that the latest I'd ever stay would be 5.30pm.

The result

I took my mentor's advice, scheduling tasks into my frees and adding set times to see groups of students. For example, I began to see the candidates I was tutoring for entry to Oxford and Cambridge universities for an hour on Mondays. This streamlined extra demands on my time and made the students' experience more valuable as I could plan the sessions more effectively.

By doing a little bit of large tasks every day, such as putting up displays, I stopped feeling like I was juggling and began to feel in control.

The best part is that I now leave work at 5.30pm, giving myself enough time to recharge for whatever the next day will throw at me.

Laura Horton is in her first year of teaching history at Ruislip High School, London.

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