Why it's OK to drop some of the balls we're juggling

Teachers are facing a barrage of need from every angle, says Louise Lewis – but looking after our own needs is also important

Louise Lewis

Worried-looking woman, holding up smile drawn on paper

Exams were on: definitely, definitely on. Then they were off…again. 

Jubilation? Relief? A sense of dread? Of anticlimax? Those were just some of the emotions circulating schools in recent times. From all quarters – students, parents, leaders. 

But, at the heart of it all, there is us, the teachers, who have never needed a brave face quite as much as we do now. 

Between reviewing two years of work, formulating assessments that are fit for purpose and supporting students who have a morass of uncertainty bubbling under the surface – and then reassuring parents that we really do have their children’s best interests at heart – we are facing a barrage of need from every angle. Which is a tough gig, in addition to our sudden increase in workload

We cannot be all things to all people all the time

And then all this is mixed together with our own uncertainty. Am I getting this right? Is this child a grade 7? Have they worked at grade-A standard throughout their A level? What if I don’t make the right decision? The questions are whirring and endless. 

Then comes the exams. For some, assessments are informal; for others, they’re as formal as they get. Regardless of the decisions made by your school or department, or your individual decisions to arrive at teacher-assessed grades, it is undeniable that getting to that end point is going to take up the majority of our most precious resource: time. Finite, yet in infinite demand. 

We need to be savvy with how we use time, where we spend it – and, crucially, what we do to keep ourselves balanced. 

Despite supporting our students, reassuring the parents and maintaining our professional integrity, we must also ensure that we have the time and space needed to be what we are – human first. 

Something has to give. We simply cannot be all things to all people all the time. 

It's OK to drop some of the balls we're juggling

We may not be the best teacher we can be to our non-exam classes for a brief period, but – and here is the plot twist – that’s OK. We might not be all-singing, all-dancing practitioners of pedagogy right now, and that is fine too. 

There is a good chance that our latest classroom marvel may not end up in the school newsletter. Emails may go unanswered. A duty may be forgotten. Or perhaps, just the once (or twice), you indulge in fish-and-chip Friday instead of those healthy lunches you have committed to. Or any other of the plethora of balls you are juggling may get dropped. 

That is absolutely fine. Because you are human, and you are doing your absolute best in a tumultuous time, while the rest of the world watches on to see just how you do it. 

What isn’t fine is working your fingers to the bone until stupid o’clock to get that one last resource made or spreadsheet perfected or lesson succinctly scripted. That is not fine at all. 

You see, the one ball you cannot afford to drop is your own wellbeing. Without that, nothing else will stay in the air. You are trying your best, but your best is not working every waking hour until you are completely burned out. Your best is working reasonable hours and giving yourself time to recharge and recuperate. 

You owe that to everyone – especially to yourself. As I am sure you have reminded your students, your best really is good enough. 

This exam season like no other is an exercise in navigating uncharted waters, and emerging more knowledgeable and confident in your abilities – not being a prisoner to assessment and workload.  

You are walking a fine line between being the teacher your students need and being the person you need right now. Human first – always. 

Louise Lewis is a research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school. She tweets as @MissLLewis 

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