With workload and poor work-life balance being two of the main reasons for teachers leaving the profession, it is especially important to find ways of effectively managing the daily pressures of teaching. One of the biggest challenges for me has been taking work home. The first three years of my career involved taking work home almost every night, whether planning or marking and left me asking: Can teachers ever have a work-life balance? Since then, I promised myself to not work on Friday evenings or Saturdays. Sundays were inevitably spent preparing for Mondays.
At the end of a particularly trying Wednesday in my NQT year, I sat in a dark room crying and pouring my heart out to the assistant head teacher. She gave me some advice: you need to recognise when you have done all that you can for the day, and then go home and leave it at work. There will be many days when you haven’t been able to get everything done that you wanted to, and that’s OK. In my head, I ran through all the reasons that this advice didn’t work for me: the books need to be marked for next lesson, I have to teach something tomorrow, I haven’t made a differentiated worksheet yet for that class. The thought of trying to leave work at work stressed me out even more! How would anything get done?
A couple years later, her advice was still stuck in my head. At some point – I don’t know when or how I arrived at it – I was able to get to the end of the work day and, despite incomplete marking and planning, I was able to tell myself resolutely, “It can wait”. And much to my delight, the world didn’t end. I got through the next day. The marking eventually got done. Lessons happened. Learning happened.
It can wait. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you will think that it cannot. It can. Unless it’s particularly urgent, the marking can wait. Exercise books? Give them back for the next lesson and collect them in again. Your lessons aren’t all prepared yet? Come in early the next day. Find a premade lesson on tes.com. Ask a colleague if they already have a lesson prepared on that topic. Have a backup plan, whether a research activity in a computer room or a revision lesson. Don’t be a slave to the scheme of work. If you already have resources for a different topic or lesson that you were going to teach later on, use those if they don’t rely on anything from the lesson you haven’t prepared yet.
Have a buddy system at work. At the end of every day, one of my colleagues and I go through together what we each need to get done for the next day. We give each other advice on how best to accomplish our outstanding tasks. Most of our advice helps us avoid doing anything at home in the evening. We ask each other questions. Is there something else you can do tomorrow? Does is it even have to get done for tomorrow? Do you have a free period during the day when you can get it done? Without this colleague, I easily get caught up again in that perfectionist mindset. Remember: it can wait.
There will be exceptions, no doubt. Refusing to bring work home with me now, I find other ways of getting things done. Rather than plan or mark at home, I take it to a café. It still infringes on my personal time, but it doesn’t infringe on my space.
I’m still figuring out the problem of work-life balance. This past year, I was still putting in about 55 hours a week by being at work between 7:00 and 18:00. I get to the end of the day and have very little energy to put into personal endeavours. I only brought work home once, though, and that was in the midst of an Ofsted inspection. As a result of leaving work at work, my job satisfaction increased and my relationship with my husband was noticeably better. It was so worth it. As teachers, we need to get out of this frame of mind where taking work home so often is accepted as the norm.
Repeat after me: it can wait.