Working within the Further Education and Skills sector involves distinct challenges relating to workload and which may not at first be evident when taking up a teaching post. Some of these include:
- Evening or weekend work
- Working off-site
- Irregular teaching hours
- Large amounts of marking which comes in waves
- Frequent changes to curriculum and organisational structure
- Balancing admin with teaching
All of these factors, if they are not managed carefully, can impact on staff wellbeing. In fact, recent surveys by the University and College Union (UCU) suggests that workplace stress is increasing within the Further Education sector. Some of this is due to curricular and organisational changes, but 85% of respondents to the most recent survey said that they typically work more than their contracted hours. So what can we do to achieve and maintain that elusive goal of work-life balance?
One of the biggest misconceptions new lecturers have when entering Further Education is that their work will only involve teaching. Nowadays, in our data-hungry, accountability heavy world, there is also a considerable amount of administrative work to be completed.
The usual time management strategies can work well, as summarised here, ie prioritising tasks according to urgency and importance and blocking out distractions, e.g. turning off email notifications, allocating time to check and respond to these or simply putting a pair of headphones on whilst marking to indicate "do not disturb". Many managers are happy for marking or admin to be undertaken at home, which can suit some staff, whilst others may prefer to restrict work-related activity to college premises.
Tech can really help with managing admin tasks, but can also make marking both more efficient and more effective. Electronic marking of work is becoming increasingly common, but this can also include recorded verbal or video feedback, which can save time and may also be more accessible to and have more impact on learners.
This has become a regular feature of staff development within the education sector more broadly, both as a strategy to increase staff well-being and resilience, but also equipping teachers with strategies which they can pass on to their learners to help them to focus and manage their own workloads.
Health and fitness
Many colleges have sporting facilities as well as classes offered at discount prices for staff. These are worth investigating as a means not only of staying fit, but also of meeting other staff – one of the greatest tonics there is in FE! Add sessions to your calendar, so they become part of your routine. Anyone searching for a convenient slot for a meeting should be respectful of this visible commitment to your own health, as well as admiring your ability to plan and prioritise this.
If things do get bad, you need to share. Tell your line manager that your health is suffering due to stress. Talk to colleagues who may also be able to help out, or who can share strategies for coping when things get hectic. Keep a written record of any problems you have. You can also talk to your health and safety representative and visit your doctor.
Whilst it can sometimes feel that FE teaching staff are being asked to do more and more with less and less, it is important to take control where we can. Planning and communication are the two most important strategies to develop.