Things I wish I'd known

17th October 2003 at 01:00
Sue Cowley has the antidote for mid-term exhaustion

It's halfway through the first term, and you're exhausted. You've meetings two nights after school and you're helping out with the Christmas play.

You've got a huge pile of marking, and report-writing starts next week.

Sounds familiar? Then you're probably suffering from the excess of enthusiasm that afflicts many NQTs. It may be commendable, but it's impossible to maintain.

Nobody ever warns you how tough teaching is; they don't want to put you off. Our job makes huge physical, emotional and psychological demands on us. It's a bit like being a professional actor, except that teachers are on stage five hours a day, five days a week.

Watch for the tell-tale signs of fatigue: a worn-out voice, catching every bug going, having to drag yourself out of bed in the mornings. Exhaustion dents our ability to deal with kids. We become over-emotional, or find it difficult to deal with minor incidents in a rational way.

Experienced teachers work out lots of tricks to get through the mid-term wave of tiredness. For a start, they know not to take on too much. It's what happens in the classroom that counts, and you can't teach properly if you're too tired. The key to surviving is to learn how to prioritise. Work out what's important, and what can wait or be conveniently forgotten.

Give yourself some lessons that require little teacher input. Get the children watching a video, typing up work on computers or doing some private reading. Learn how to balance your teaching load. Look at the overall shape of your days and weeks, giving yourself easy times to balance those that need a lot of energy.

Fight the urge to be in control at all times. Let the students take over their own learning as often as possible, using group tasks where they can work independently. Delegate if you can - for instance, letting a student "be teacher", writing the work on the board, or delivering part of the lesson. Get some helpers in from outside: a theatre group, a police officer, parents.

Try to give yourself at least part of the weekend off, and don't spend half-term doing marking and preparation. Instead, leave the books behind and escape somewhere sunny. Book an Inset day for when you know you'll be tired: escape from school and take it relatively easy for once.

Teachers are incredibly supportive of each other, so lean on other people when you need to. Without the fantastic support of my fellow teachers, I would never have made it through my first year.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book , Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact: sue@suecowley.co.uk

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