Are you a teacher struggling with work life balance in your job?
You are not alone.
Sadly in many schools this is only getting worse - and there is one BIG reason why.
In this post I want to explain the culprit, and share 13 strategies teachers can use to serve their students, while achieving a work life balance too.
So what is responsible for the dramatic increase in workload many teachers are experiencing?
Misguided Management Strategy
Modern schools are the latest victim of a philosophy of forensic data collection and analysis - with its roots in the most cutthroat and soulless businesses on the planet.
The belief is that if you try to measure everything, and make teachers accountable for ‘progress’ against targets .. that results for students will improve.
I take issue both with the theory, and in its application in many schools.
Because it is based on the mistaken assumption that by measuring selected assessment data - you somehow make an organic and often unpredictable learning process, scientific and scalable.
It’s application holds teachers accountable for results they often don’t control - and it introduces a culture of justification, rather than creativity.
But most unforgivably of all, its design promotes exam and assessment results as the most valuable outcome of education.
Let me make this clear .. I have nothing against attempts to improve outcomes for learners, or in using data to understand how to do this - quite the opposite in fact.
But I have always believed that before you “measure what you want to improve”, you first need to be clear about the purpose of doing so.
To spell this out for those in education management and government, this means that rather than tinkering to improve results in a series of academic assessments, and ranking schools against each other by these measures ..
.. that we stop for a moment and consider the ultimate purpose of our education system.
Because Students are the reason education exists ..
So what do they need to succeed in a fast moving, connected world?
I might be 46 and born into a world of cassette tapes, chalk and blackboards ..
But I suspect it is not the ability to tell the difference between an explain/describe exam question, and a compare/contrast one ..
It is not the ability to cram for an exam or assessment, only to forget much of what they learned a few weeks later.
And it’s not learning that they 'aren’t good enough’ to succeed in an overwhelmingly academic curriculum.
The skills we should be teaching in schools are well known to educators … they include confidence, patience, creativity and problem solving. Empathy, flexibility, innovation - and the discovery of a passion for learning new things.
These highly transferable skills and qualities have a much greater impact on a child's future success, and yet because they can't be measured as easily - they get relegated behind exam strategy and memorisation techniques.
This Cannot Continue forever ..
At some stage in the future, our current system will wake up and realise the madness it is has been serving on itself.
Because the biggest measurable results these 'improvements' have achieved are:
- Teachers who have less time to teach creatively, and who leave the profession because it no longer reflects what they believe.
- Schools who turn themselves into exam factories, and prioritise learners close to key performance measures - over those that aren’t.
- And students who increasingly don’t see the relevance of education to their lives at all
Ask employers whether the 'improvements' to education trumpeted by politicians in the last few years, have resulted in more skilled and adaptable young people in the workforce - and they will laugh at you.
13 Actions Teachers Can Take to Achieve a Better Work Life Balance ..
So what can overworked teachers do to give their students the education they deserve - and achieve a work / life balance - in the midst of demands for ever greater 'improvements'?
- Take your own workload reduction measures. Whole class marking and feedback, collaborative planning, adapting existing resources and plans for your context etc. can help you to work smarter.
- Shield your students from a system designed to divide and measure them by their academic ability, and continue to create lessons that encourage creative thinking and a love of learning.
- Don’t believe the hype - don't get drawn into believing that the data, results or key performance measures thrust upon you, matter more than the social and emotional needs of the students you teach.
- Learn to say no. Many schools in the current climate, care little about overloading staff with work - and just expect them to cope. Saying no is important, especially when you realise you are already at your limits.
- Recognise that it is likely you will not be able to complete everything you have to do - and prioritise the tasks you can complete, on what most impacts your students.
- Give yourself time off. Set specific times to work, and turn the computer off or put away the marking when time is up. Accept that there is only so much that you can do.
- Monitor your health and tiredness levels. Medical symptoms of burnout include tiredness, irritability, lack of focus and an inability to maintain a positive attitude. (I have an online assessment tool here to help you do this).
- Help your school leaders realise the futility of unsustainable workload. Teachers are not packhorses who can carry 'just one more bag' - we have lives and families too. Neglect this and we either burnout or leave.
- Find a school which applies this data driven system, more intelligently. Enlightened leaders do still exist - unfortunately they often work in schools whose 'headline results' are already good. This fails students and teachers in schools where they are not.
- Start an after school club which provides the creative education students need, and give them a love of learning new things (something sadly lacking in much of the prescribed curriculum).
- Create the 'mental space' you need for a busy working life. There are strategies you can use to make a difficult job much easier. (I have a 10 minute daily exercise I use to do this here).
- Campaign for a world where politicians don't meddle with education policy. Most of these politicians were educated in highly advantageous surroundings - and know little of the challenges our students face.
- And if you get to the point where you can't stand it any more - leave your school before it damages your health. There are loads of people out there who need the skills you have developed in the classroom. (my preferred alternative to a classroom job - which retains the buzz of teaching I love is explained here).
Quite where the perception that teaching and student progress was so awful, came from .. I have absolutely no idea.
But taking a business strategy designed to enrich elite groups of company shareholders (often at the expense of their employees, customers and the environment) - and applying it to education - is both ineffective and profoundly wrong.
It has created a job which many teachers feel no longer serves the students they teach - and which drives increasing numbers away from a profession they originally joined to make a difference.
By that measure it has failed spectacularly badly.
What is your experience of the way your school applies these systems? .. (I hope i'm not the only one with a bad experience of this) .. please add your comment below: