The maxim ‘work smarter, not harder’ is nothing new. It’s become an ever-present, obligatory slide on CPD PowerPoint presentations up and down the country. Of course, it does make a lot of sense. But, for teachers at least, it’s more likely to be met with an ironic (even derisory) smile and rolling eyes; rather than a great awakening/Damascus Moment, as realisation dawns that life will never ever be the same again.

Teachers have every right to retort and remind any person extolling the ‘work smarter’ approach that it is workload that is the issue and the problem here.

However, let’s face facts – teachers can’t work any harder.

And let’s be honest here – most teachers will probably have quit the profession or retired long before the government does anything that genuinely improves the issue of workload.

In truth, a perfect work/life balance for teachers is likely to remain elusive.

But we have to do something, so any tips that help with time management and well-being should be gratefully received.

Eradicate ‘dead’ time and make time work for you

Time is always against you as a teacher. It’s always a problem. There’s simply never enough of it. There are never enough hours in the day to do all the things you have to do or would like to do. To exacerbate the issue, so much time in school is lost or wasted.

Spare a thought for the Year 11 Drama teacher, working hard to get students ready for their practical exam, only to discover that they are missing lessons again, as they are in their 11th core subject mock exam this half-term.

And then there’s those whole-staff meetings held after the long school day. The ones that serve no real purpose at all. The ones that only occur because a meeting has been scheduled on the school calendar, and SLT think it would ‘look bad’ to cancel it now.

The struggle is real, so you need to fight back!

Try ‘live marking’ in the classroom during a lesson. Leave a spare chair on each table of 4 or 6 students. For starters, it will prove to be a wonderful prop when you get to Act 3, Scene 4 of Macbeth as Banquo’s ghost appears.

Okay, so that might have limited appeal to the KS3 Music teacher – but a spare chair enables you to easily sit with a group of students. This means you can mark work there and then. It gives you the opportunity to feedback and offer more targeted support to pupils; giving you a better prospect of dealing with any misconceptions they have – before these are manifested as mistakes in pupils’ work.

The commute is the ultimate example of dead time. Turn it into productive time. Audiobooks and podcasts can be for work, study or pleasure on the drive home. Music can give you some relaxation. If feasible, why not get your fitness fix by walking, running or cycling?

Worry only about things you can affect

Making more effective use of your time should give you a head-start in the well-being stakes. Now, you just need to stop worrying about things so much.

Saying ‘don’t worry’ to a teacher is pretty ridiculous. After all, worry, anxiety, stress… fear: they’re all part of a teacher’s DNA.

Of course, worrying is pointless. No situation ever changes because of worry. Eliminating it altogether would be the ultimate (if unrealistic) aim.

Pragmatism is the key. It’s fine to worry about the things you can change – you can plan how to deal with it. Worrying about the things you have no control over is what you need to weed out of our system and conquer.

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