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We all know that the working life of teachers has become very busy. All too often it intrudes on our evenings and weekends, leaving teachers sometimes in despair.
Does this mean that only superhumans can join the profession? Is this the way it is – must we accept that life within schools is busy, busy, busy and get on with it, or is there something that we can do to change the status quo?
I believe that there is a way forward and that to bring about change is to turn ourselves into a 21st-century profession. To do this, we need to discard some of our traditional working methods and embrace the idea that, while the classroom may well be teachers’ responsibility, they do not have to do all the work. I remember a time when all teachers were required to do dinner duty. Now, quite rightly, it is the role of lunchtime supervisors.
School leadership teams have a crucial role to ensure a positive work-life balance. For too long, we have institutionally rewarded those who work long hours as if the hours alone are the requirement. What we should be rewarding is smart working that creates results without damage. I am not, of course, suggesting that the singular commitment of outstanding professionals should go unrecognized. Almost the opposite is true: if clever teachers have to work extraordinarily long hours to succeed, then the school leadership should examine what is going wrong.
It is absolutely reasonable that teachers should be able to go home at the end of each day with their car keys in hand and the thought of an evening with their family, instead of leaving with a pile of grading, planning and general administrative tasks. If teachers need to work smartly, then schools need to have smart systems where planning and assessment are not over-complicated.
It is perfectly possible for schools to have central planning systems to ensure curriculum coverage and differentiated approaches that do not require hours of work by each teacher each week.
It is actually acceptable to use the ideas of others to help us teach. Each teacher does not have to start from scratch for every single lesson. In some schools, teachers are allowed to share planning. In a sense, it is all about the school leadership team giving others permission to work smartly. When teaching and learning are measured on pupil outcomes and staff morale, the combination is unstoppable. If you can achieve only through unsustainable effort – think again.
We know that when teachers are released from the burden of tedium, they flourish and excel.
Andrew Carter is principal of South Farnham Junior School and was chair of the Carter Review of initial teacher training