5 tips on working smarter (not harder)

Is there such a thing as “work-life balance” in teaching?

As teachers, we know that it can be difficult to find the off switch. A teacher’s job is never done and that is what makes finding a good work-life balance so difficult. I have always strived for perfection in my job as a secondary mathematics teacher, but I have also always been a sociable and active person. When I began my career I found it hard to achieve both. I soon learnt to work smarter rather than harder, allowing me to reduce my workload and gain a great work-life balance. So, here are my tips on how you could achieve this for yourself.

1. Instead of work, work, work, why not share, share, share…

We teach younger children about how important sharing is, yet as teachers we are the worst at practicing what we preach. So often I see lessons that are practically identical but created by different teachers within the same department, meaning each would have spent time creating them separately. This seems like a very ineffective use of time across the department. Your department are your team, so use them. For every class you have, try to pair up with at least one other teacher that has a similar ability class. You can then divide planning of lessons, homework and assessments between yourselves… cutting workload in half! The shared work may need tweaking in order to suit your teaching style, but even a starting point could save you masses of time.

2. Differentiating made easy

Most teachers would say that differentiation is the most time-consuming aspect of planning; creating more than one resource for each aspect of the lesson could take hours! My advice? Don’t let it! Differentiating should be simple and effective, taking minimal time to plan. Scaffolding resources is key rather than creating a completely different resource for each ability. For high ability use the following: no scaffolding and simply questions. Then, for middle ability, include some helpful hints or start points for the first few questions. Finally, for low ability students, have a start point or framework for majority of questions, or include a worked example. Therefore, once you have the questions you wish the students to complete only minor additions are needed in order to differentiate for all abilities.

3. Don’t waste time, its precious

It sounds so simple but I see PPA time being wasted so often. Make sure the environment in which you work allows you to work effectively with minimal distractions, such as not having your mobile phone on you or sitting away from chatty colleagues. Work hard during PPA/lesson time, but ensure you give yourself a rest during lunch/break times when possible; this will allow you to work most effectively if you have had a decent break in between.


4. Keeping on top of marking

Marking is the bane of most teacher’s existence: it is time-consuming, often feels like a waste of your efforts and is never-ending! No wonder we avoid it within an inch of our lives… and that is where we all go wrong. The longer we avoid marking, the bigger a task it becomes. Try to ‘tick and flick’ books as often as possible, taking opportunities within lesson time when possible, such as when students are completing assessments. If you can do this and books are not left to build up it should be a quick task rather than an endless pit of doom.

5. Organisation is key

As teachers, we know that no day is ever the same and that we have to expect the unexpected. It seems that far too often one occurrence can make your PPA time for that day can vanish before your eyes. Therefore, it is so important to stay ahead of the game in order to not fall behind. This may mean working for a day or two during half-terms and holidays, but for me it is definitely worth it for the work-life balance you regain during term-time. Try to plan and print for the week ahead so that you can relax and enjoy your weekend, knowing that you are ready for the coming Monday. Write to-do lists and allocate specific PPA time for achieving those tasks that week. Really try not to bring work home when possible, especially not books, making sure you are working effectively when in school to get those jobs done.

Finally, when I’m feeling run down after a long day at school, I like to refer to this quote:

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress: Working hard for something we love is called passion.”

Joanna Loucas is in her third year of teaching, although she is drama trained, her career has been within mathematics at St Michael’s C of E High School. She currently holds the positions of High Prior Attainer Coordinator and AimHigher Coordinator, which focuses upon developing students aspirations and attainment as part of a whole school agenda.

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