Where do you go for personal and professional support or advice?
I was lucky enough to make a great friend at work. We were both NQTs and we started on the same day at the same school in adjacent classrooms. We used to have a daily debrief where essentially we would have a massive moan about everything – from photocopier woes to difficult students. Although it wasn’t, perhaps, a productive use of our time (we could have been marking), it was really important to be able to offload to someone who knew exactly who and what you were talking about. Once a problem was off my chest, I was less likely to think about it when I got home. A huge asset to my professional life this year has been @Team_English1 on Twitter. It was recommended by a friend and it has, honestly, changed my life. The generosity of teachers in this network has amazed me. The resources I have gained have saved me hours and hours of planning time and I am a better teacher for it.
In my opinion, the worst part of the profession is lack of time. There simply is not enough time to do the job during normal working hours. I don’t work long hours because I am put under pressure by management or Ofsted or because I am a perfectionist (believe me… I am the very definition of ‘winging it’). I work long hours simply to get the job done.
There are teachers who manage to avoid working at home (and I believe that some subjects are more labour intensive than others) but the hours we work are unsustainable. There are small adjustments that managers and school leaders can make to reduce workload but I believe the issue is primarily financial. Teaching and learning would improve exponentially if teachers’ contact time was reduced and we were able to spend more time planning and preparing feedback. Unfortunately, schools are so financially stretched that this is impossible.
What strategies do you use to manage workload and protect your wellbeing?
In my fourth year of teaching, I was completely burnt out. I was exhausted and it was affecting my health. I was working every weekend and also in the evenings. My solution was to search for other jobs because I just couldn’t sustain the hours. The problem was, I didn’t really want another job. As I’ve already preached – I love teaching.
So, I decided to go part time. This was not an easy decision. First of all, I was worried about money. I did some rudimentary maths and worked out that if I went to a 0.8 contract, in my fifth year of teaching I’d be earning roughly the same as I’d earned in my first year of teaching. If I’d managed on that salary then, I thought I could manage on that now. Another concern was, well, embarrassment. In fact, I was so embarrassed that when I put in my part-time request, I made up a lie – that I was going part time to support my partner’s business. Looking back, I should have been more honest. I would recommend anyone in a similar position to talk to your school’s management about how you’re feeling so that they can support you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then others will be too and management need to know this.
Despite my concerns, reducing my hours has changed my life.
The question everyone always asks, is ‘do you work on your day off’? Of course I do. In fact, that’s when I do all my school work. What do I get in return? My evenings and weekends back. I know there will be teachers shouting at the screen as they read this. I agree with you. The fact that I had to go part time in order to do my job is ridiculous. I’ve been told that part time teachers should do nothing on their day(s) off – that by working on these days, part-time workers are actually responsible for the pressures put on full time teachers. My response? If that's the case, then full time teachers should do nothing at evenings and weekends. It’s unfair to blame part-time teachers for unfair expectations placed on all teaching staff. We're all in this together.
What advice would you give anyone who felt like giving up?
I know that reducing hours isn’t for everyone. I agree that teachers and school leaders should come together collectively to address the problems of workload. In the meantime, if anyone would like to chat about going part time, feel free to DM me on Twitter (@HannahHGO).
Sum up our profession in 5 words.
I wouldn’t do anything else.