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8 Tips To Help You Battle The Teaching Workload

After 10 years as a secondary teacher, Chris Curtis managed to crack the work/life balance quandary – here's how he did it...

  • 8 Tips To Help You Battle The Teaching Workload

Teaching is like no other job I know, and I’ve had a few jobs in my time. There are no limits to the amount of work you do (or feel you need to do). You don’t get to clock off at 3.30pm before relaxing and mentally preparing for the next day; when 3.30pm arrives you start the second shift.

Teaching actually is like having two jobs – one in the classroom and one outside the classroom. It has taken me a decade of teaching to find a balance between my home life and work life, and reign in the never-ending pile of work. Here are some of the habits and practices that have worked for me…

1. Know your enemy – you!

Perfection is almost impossible in teaching. The fight we teachers often have in our heads is one of aspiring to be better or the best. That’s why we spend ages making displays, coming up with whizzy PowerPoint presentations and devising sorting activities. What matters is the learning.

You have to ask yourself, will spending three hours on this worksheet be an effective use of my time for the 15 minutes the task will last in the lesson? Be good and work to perfection – but also remember that good is good enough when teaching day after day. Next time you’ll do it better.

2. Develop a marking code

When marking 30 books, you could end up saying the same thing 30 times. If that’s the case, either feed back the same point to the whole class, or develop a marking code and get the students to write down what the code means. Link the code to some ready-made targets, and you’ll save yourself considerable amounts of time and effort.

Writing the letter ‘A’ is much quicker than writing, ‘Try to vary how you start and structure your sentences…

3. Repeat things

Cheat. I’ll sometimes teach the same lesson in a week to Year 7s through to Year 11s. I might tweak things a little bit, but I use the same resources to teach each class, saving myself hours of preparation. They’ll never know. A good lesson is a good lesson. Why should it be hidden away to be used just once a year?

4. Make resources last and keep them

A teacher without a good set of folders or a filing cabinet is unlikely to be a teacher in a few years’ time. I have known teachers who never kept and filed away their resources after teaching a unit; they would simply press the reset button at the end of the year and plan everything from scratch each time. Many either didn’t last long, or ended up so stressed that they left the job.

Teach, file and reuse resources. Even if you don’t use them again, you’ll at least have a starting point for next time.

5. Use textbooks

Textbooks are your friends. They can save you photocopying and can even save you planning. Basing a lesson on textbook material might make you feel that you haven’t sweated and laboured as you much as you should have, but it’s still useful teaching. You probably wouldn’t want to rely on one for a lesson observation – but textbooks can certainly save you a great deal of time and effort throughout the year.

6. Prepare in advance

I have ready-made spelling lists drawn up for each year group. It took me some time, but having done them I can use them again and again. Sweating the small stuff like this lets me spend more of my time in school on planning, marking and not worrying about homework. Develop systems to help you.

7. Structure your workload

The amount of marking you have is usually controlled by the teacher – i.e. you. Set assessments for three classes at once, and you’ll have three sets of marking to do simultaneously. Don’t forget that you’re in the driving seat; you get to decide when and what you want to mark.

Don’t mark for the sake of marking. Mark for improvement. Mark to gauge understanding. Mark to see if they’re learning what you’ve taught them. Think about how you can do that without reading 30 8-page essays. A quick series of questions can help show understanding. A paragraph can demonstrate whether a skill has or hasn’t been learnt. Mark to make them improve; don’t just mark to show the student that you’ve read their work.

Not everything a student produces in a lesson needs and should be marked. That way madness lies.

8. Mark in lessons

There’s a school of thought that says all marking should be done outside the classroom. That’s rubbish. I do a lot of my marking in class, and often with the students right next to me. After all, where better to show a student how to improve than in the classroom with their own work?

Each week I hold a creative writing lesson, during which I mark about eight students’ work. The following week I’ll mark another eight, and so on and so on. And you know what – they’ve improved considerably. In some cases, I’ll only ever mark their books in lessons. That leaves my PPA time free to mark their assessments, and it helps my car, too. Carrying piles of books in the boot can’t be good for its suspension…

Above all, you should, where possible, keep work at work and home at home. I always try to leave a day free at the weekend for me to do nothing but live and enjoy myself. You owe it to yourself to do the same.

Chris Curtis is a teacher of English; he blogs at Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog and tweets as @xris32

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