Working with the Load
Successive government policy reforms over the past two decades have changed the conditions in which teachers teach. These conditions have increased workload pressure on teachers and is a major contributing factor to the current recruitment and retention crisis in the profession. Despite these conditions, most teachers do not leave the profession; they adapt and at the very least they survive.
Steps to help manage the load
- The first, and perhaps the most essential step, is to remember what you love about being a teacher - your learners! Reminding yourself of this core purpose will help you to stay true to your belief in your own values as a professional.
- The second most important step is to remember you, the teacher. Self-care is vital to ensure your wellbeing. Like anybody else, teachers need to have a balance between work and life outside of work. Make time for yourself. This means trying to manage your time within the working week: set yourself a cut off time each day and spend time at the weekends doing whatever you enjoy doing. One of the best things I ever did to help achieve this was to take the work email app off my mobile phone - now there is a clear distinction between work and home.
- Have realistic expectations of yourself. Recognise your own limitations and don’t judge yourself too harshly; we are, after all, our own worst critics, so accept that you can’t do it all, and you certainly can’t do it all at once. Accepting this will help you to ringfence your time so that work does not encroach on your life outside work. It can be really easy to allow the work to take over and this is not sustainable. Make sure you give yourself time to do what you love in your own time.
- Try to keep a positive attitude, especially when times get tough. At these points it is helpful to speak to a colleague and share what you’re finding difficult – you may well not be alone. Reaching out to others is an important source of support and helps to reduce feelings of isolation, especially when you feel overwhelmed. It can help to build strong working relationships with colleagues, lead to collaboration and sharing resources so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every lesson.
- Ask for advice if you do not know what you need to do, do not know what needs prioritising or do not understand how to complete the work. Knowing what to prioritise is particularly difficult for new teachers, as everything seems important, so ask. This is where a supportive mentor can really help support new teachers. Plan ahead for those busy points in every term; be prepared to say ‘no’ if you cannot take on extra work. It’s the hardest word to say for a lot of teachers, but one that will help avoid you becoming overloaded, and it’s an important act of self-care.
- Lastly, a sense of humour is essential! We’re all in the same boat so humour can have a positive effect when things are tough and helps us to enjoy the good times even more!
Teaching is complex and demanding work which requires a lot of investment from us, the teacher; physical and emotional investment. Sometimes we set ourselves high expectations, especially when we’re at the start of our teaching careers, but we need to recognise that we are human, we can’t always get it right first time and we certainly can’t do it all on our own. All teachers will have found themselves spinning too many plates, and dropping a few, when they first started teaching. That’s when feeling supported by colleagues can really help. So, although things may not always work out as we expected them to, try not to lose sight of why you are there in the first place - your learners. Every day is a new day and giving yourself time to feel your life is not all about work, then you can bring fun, passion and enjoyment to your lessons.