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Making Nursery Practitioners Into Work-Crazed Robots Helps No One

But that’s what our children get when managers pile the work on and leave the resource cupboard empty, says the Secret Practitioner…

The Secret Practitioner
by The Secret Practitioner

Your average early years practitioner might be contracted to work somewhere in the region of 40 hours a week. But let’s be honest, we likely all do a whole lot more than that.

Who among us hasn’t spent a Sunday preparing activities for the following week, or pondered for hours over how best to manage the following day’s schedule?

Everyone takes their work home with them to a degree, but we in early years perhaps do it more than most. It’s only natural – we work in a unique environment in which we are constantly subjected to all sorts of emotions. We grow protective of the children under our care, and it’s inevitable that we want to do whatever we can for them, even if that means cutting into our free time.

But it’s important for us all to get our down time. We can’t be thinking about our jobs every moment of every day, and we have to strive for some form of work-life balance. When you work long hours in a challenging sector, you need to relax a little every now and then. So is there anything settings can do to make sure their employees don’t turn into work-crazed robots?

The answer to the above question is, of course, yes. The way a setting is run can have an enormous effect on its employees’ workload. It’s important for managers to provide their staff with the resources they need to do their jobs properly.

I’ve worked in several day nurseries where there simply aren’t enough toys, craft materials or other items to sufficiently occupy a room full of children. This leads to a particularly negative form of work following a practitioner home. I’ve spent Saturdays trawling supermarkets in search of phonics books, crayons and playdough, simply so I can do my job properly throughout the following week.

This is not a good state of affairs. I’m not complaining about spending my own money or using a bit of my own time, but these should be choices I make for myself. It shouldn’t be up to practitioners to provide resources their settings should be equipped with in the first place.

Finding time

Time management also plays a part in finding that elusive work-life balance. I’ve known some practitioners to stay behind at their setting after the day is finished, either completing paperwork or preparing activities for the next day. This state of affairs can be the result of poor time management on the part of a staff member, or simply down to their setting giving them an unrealistic workload.

In the former case, I’d recommend practitioners trying to get their work done at slightly quieter times of day, like mealtimes or sleep times. As for the latter, if a practitioner physically can’t get their work done during their working hours then they’ve been given too much work to do!

It’s important to remember that human beings work best when they’ve had adequate rest. Doing hours of extra work after a long day is likely to result in a cranky, unproductive practitioner turning up for work the following day.

In the end, we have to remember to live our lives. We’re doing the children we care for a disservice if we burn ourselves out through constantly having our minds on work. And we have to be kind to ourselves.

But settings must take responsibility too, for providing an environment in which their staff are not forced to take their work home with them every night (or even worse, not go home at all).

Good time management and reasonable workloads may seem like basic concepts but they really are crucial in making sure staff and children are happy and productive.

The Secret Practitioner works in a private nursery and preschool in Greater Manchester.

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