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'This year, accept that teaching is your job and not your life'

It's time to ditch the unnecessary workload – the happier teachers are, the better they do the job, says Colin Harris

Teachers need to ditch unnecessary workload and find a good work-life balance, writes former head Colin Harris

It's time to ditch the unnecessary workload – the happier teachers are, the better they do the job, says Colin Harris

Happy new year! I’ll be starting mine by visiting a great school with wonderful kids, a devoted headteacher and fantastic staff.

The school in question has invited me in to deliver a staff meeting. Why? The headteacher wants me to convince the staff that they are working too hard.

Many headteachers do recognise that their teachers plan too much, mark too much, create unmanageable "to do" lists, and end up compromising their own wellbeing. But when it comes to convincing their staff otherwise, some do struggle.

The issue I now face is how to present an argument that convinces teachers to stop ploughing onwards through the plethora of these endless, meaningless tasks. Because the thing is, most of the time they do nothing to actually improve the education of the children in their care. We’ve reached a stage in which teachers genuinely feel they have to do it all.

When I started teaching 40 years ago, I certainly didn't feel that way.

So how can our teachers move away from this workload overload and find that genuine happiness in teaching which will then be positively transmitted to pupils?

They need to take the workload bull by the horns and control it themselves. Only the teachers can recognise that in their busy week, there must be a good balance of work and home life.

To achieve this balance, the first thing teachers need to accept is this: your individual wellbeing can only be controlled by your actions. If you’re suffering, make a change.

Make the following your 2019 new year’s resolutions:

  • Ditch the notion of the "to do" list. Constantly adding to it takes years off your life. If you must have one, then only add something to it when it’s completed. This way, it shows what you’ve already achieved that day, not what you haven’t.

  • Accept that teaching is your job and not your life. To achieve this position, ensure the two are separate. Have a cut off point each night, and for goodness sake, take some nights off.  Leave school early on occasion, and be proud to do so rather than riddled with guilt. In doing so you may actually start changing the ethos of other staff in a positive way.

  • Know when you have had enough. Working after your mentally spent after a long day only leads to mistakes. Remember, your home is not an extension of your classroom and your family are not unpaid school workers.

  • Make sure that your family sees the real you regularly, not the teacher in you, or the shadow of a teacher or the person that you sometimes become.

  • Use you PPA time efficiently, and don't let people take this time from you with useless meetings.

  • Reduce the time you spend on meaningless marking and paperwork.

  • Be proactive in finding out if someone has done what you need to do already. They probably have…

  • But most importantly if all else fails, please talk to someone. Being open and honest with colleagues can take the pressure off both yourself and them.

The bottom line must always be: will doing this improve the education of my pupils? If the answer is no, then don’t do it.

Teaching is all about engagement, and this is best achieved when a teacher is happy.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were "outstanding" across all categories.

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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