Unless you completed your teacher training in a parallel universe, where everything is perfect, you will have picked up on the fact that “workload” and “wellbeing” within schools are kind of a big deal right now. You’ll have heard about education’s recruitment and retention crisis, and you’ll know that many teachers complain that their wellbeing is affected by the amount of hours they do. According to a 2016 NASUWT survey, 74 per cent of teachers have considered leaving the profession, with 90 per cent citing workload as a problem.
But as an NQT, full of enthusiasm and not yet infected by the cynicism that is rife in the profession, you are in a position to foster working practices that will safeguard your wellbeing from the beginning. You can – and must – start as you mean to go on, by learning to manage your workload. If you don’t, you may not go on at all, as ignoring your wellbeing could result in a short future in teaching.
With that in mind, here are some workload hacks to help you take a sensible approach to the potential mountain of work that will land on your desk in your NQT year.
Timetable your life
Planning when to complete a task and when to just chill out sounds a bit boring but knowing how your time is allocated can make all the difference to your wellbeing. Consider when you are at your most productive and assign specific tasks to that time slot. Organise your planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) and NQT time so that you get things done. The temptation is to see such periods as an opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief and slow down, but using them wisely while at school will help to protect your “me time” in the evenings and on weekends. Decide when you will finish work each day and stick to it. Make plans for leisure time (yes, you are allowed) that you can’t break. Committing to meet friends or attend a club or event will help with this.
The temptation for many teachers is to look at the never-ending job list and believe that it all has to be done tonight. But what if you didn’t do it? What if you looked at your schedule, planned it in for another time and left it until then? Of course, some things need doing for the next day. Other things, though, (such as laminating) can initially appear to be hugely important but, on closer inspection, are actually a waste of time. Decide what’s important, do that, then go and read a book or watch the telly for a bit.
Find a workspace that works for you
Make it a priority to discover where you work best. Consider the environment and atmosphere of the workspace. You might be someone who works well with company or perhaps there are times when you just need to be alone to be efficient. Seek out the spots in your school where you can make the most of your time without distractions.
Find your teaching soulmate
In every school, there will be someone with whom you naturally click. It might be another NQT or a more experienced teacher. Either way, it’s good to have someone at work that you can share your struggles and celebrate your successes with. This person will be the one who helps you to stay sane when the going gets tough. You might rarely discuss work with this person but having a friendly face around is essential to your wellbeing. It’s also crucial that you don’t let pre-existing relationships with family and friends slide – they are your support network for the times when it all seems a bit much.
Share the burden
Not only will you need someone to share your feelings with, it also really helps to nurture good working relationships with other teachers so you can share ideas and resources, whether in your own school, further afield or even on social media. As an NQT, you may be tempted to reinvent the wheel but it’s always worth seeing what’s out there already before embarking on a two-hour lesson preparation session. Find the right experienced teacher and you’ll be able to mine their wealth of knowledge and cut your planning time in half.
Don’t let marking beat you
High volumes of marking are what contribute most to a teacher’s workload, so you have to be clever about it to make sure you don’t end up drowning in unmarked books. When you plan, be aware of how much marking a lesson’s work will generate and take into consideration the other lessons you’ve planned for that day. You don’t want to reach 3:30pm with a pile of maths, English and topic books from 30 children. Consider your working week – 90 books per day equals 450 books to mark per week, and nobody’s got time for that. Not all of your students’ work needs to be produced in books and not all of it needs to be marked at home. Immediate feedback during lessons can be a far more effective way of supporting learning. It will depend on your school’s policy but marking is an area where you should be constantly seeking ways to ensure it doesn’t become the death of you.
Sleep is your friend
It’s hard to work well on a deficit of sleep. All that careful time management will go out of the window if it’s not supported by a healthy amount of rest. You could spend hours planning the best lesson but lose out on sleep as a result, and then find that your lesson bombs because you just don’t have the energy or mental capacity to teach it well. There isn’t a planning pro forma in the land which has a space to write “sleep”, but it is crucial to your preparations. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you have so much to do, sleep isn’t a priority.
Aidan Severs is an assistant vice-principal at a primary school in the North of England