Science Teacher SOS and working smarter not harder

The ASE Science teacher SOS kit gives lots of useful tips for those who are struggling or considering leaving the profession. One of the most common reasons for teachers leaving is workload. Unfortunately, there is little the ASE can do to influence time-consuming policies at a school level apart from highlight good practice and signpost teachers to resources that can be shared with the leadership of their institution.

Sometimes you can be ruthlessly organised but still be overwhelmed by tasks and expectations – I know because that’s why I left my last post (the school acknowledged my high workload but didn’t know what to do about it)

Firstly if you haven’t seen the ASE’s Science Teacher SOS I’d recommend reading it and then putting a copy in your prep room or work area where other teachers can see it.  Be familiar with its contents – it contains some useful advice and guidance

I’ve posted before about my workflow and I thought it was worth sharing again.

Knowing what you have to do

I found that tasks came in two streams. Those that arrive by email and those that arrive through other means (e.g. face to face, departmental meetings). It’s handy to know what you need to do so you can map it to the time you have available. I have two ways of tracking what I need to do (and they are fairly simple to combine into a single stream) and that’s my inbox and my to-do list. My inbox is synchronised across all my devices and my to-do list is hosted by Todoist, my favourite online to-do list app (I chose Todoist because it links to Amazon’s Echo for those of you who have one of these!). It’s a fairly simple extra step to add emails into Todoist if you want to combine this information into a single stream (their Outlook and Gmail plugins are amazing!) Now you have a list of all your tasks you need to how to organise them into the time you have available…

Being organised

Being organised is about using your time effectively. Plan out your week – put in your calendar all your teaching, planning and marking sessions (you can either use your preferred electronic calendar or a paper-based system such as the one in the appendices of the Science Teacher SOS document) I chose to use an electronic version as I didn’t have to carry a bulky physical diary from one place to another with me. Electronic lesson plans are much easier to share – plan your lessons electronically on your calendar and invite your TA to the meeting, then they get a copy of your lesson plan too.

Some of the most ineffective teachers I’ve supported are disorganised. They have bags of papers (that are all muddled up) and don’t know what they are doing next and so they arrive at lessons unprepared and often late. Unlike other aspects of teaching, learning to be organised is a relatively easy fix – a quick Google will reveal lots of websites that can provide support.

Being realistic

Nobody can survive without the basics of food and sleep. Make sure you stop for lunch and have a break. If you have to work, stick to reading articles on the TES, I know many teachers who have spilt coffee or blobs of mayonnaise on student books, often followed by feelings of remorse.

Some useful phrases to have in your vocabulary include:

  • which would you like me to do first?
  • which one would you rather I complete?
  • I can do but not until….
  • I don’t have capacity/time to do that until…
  • I only have xx time available, what would you suggest?

Be sure to be a member of a union and keep up to date with their guidance on workload. Try not to be negative, if you can think of a simpler or more time efficient way of doing something then feed this back through your line manager. If you haven’t seen the “Reducing teacher workload” poster, read it and share it with your department who may not have seen it either.

If you are struggling, find someone to talk to. If you are an ASE member then you will find support through the ASE. You can also speak to your union who will lend you a sympathetic ear and give you some useful advice.

Should I be feeling guilty about the amount of work I’ve done over the holidays?

I read a blog post earlier today by Debra Kidd about teacher workload and the impact it is having on teacher retention.  For those of you that haven’t read the blog post you can find it here.  I’ve found that as a teacher of 20+ years I’ve weathered the turbulent changes that have blighted education, but even my mindset has changed to one of “if I leave education” to “when I leave education”.  I tend to put in ten hour days at work (on top of my 50 minute commute) and have to work on evenings and weekends to keep up.  This isn’t unusual for teachers and it isn’t a moan – just a statement of fact.

guiltWhen I left school for half-term I packed up work to bring home (fortunately as my books were marked up to date this consisted mostly of exam coursework that needed marking).  I finished the marking by bed time yesterday which just left the mountain of tasks (policy reviews, emails to reply to, exam board risk assessments etc) and the minor job of planning my lessons for the next week (or even better the next two weeks).  At that point I started to feel guilty because I felt that I should have spent more of my holiday catching up so I didn’t have to spend the last day of my time off working (and I might even have returned to work with an empty inbox!)

I tweeted to my followers asking if there were other similar professions where you feel guilty for not working in the holidays.

I have to admit to being pretty surprised at the response I received.  The replies ranged from teachers in the same boat feeling the same, to those saying that holidays should be for resting rather than working.  At the time of writing this blog post over 100 people have retweeted the post and well over 200 have liked it.

I like to think that I’m an organised person (ruthlessly organised in fact) and that being a school leader I have more flexibility over how I organise my time.  I’ve never stopped before to question the culture of teacher workload as I’ve just regarded it as part of the job.  Unfortunately nothing will change until the day that we agree that long hours and excessive workload shouldn’t be just part of the job and that is going to take more than teachers retweeting my feelings of guilt to bring about a change.

I don’t have any answers but I can’t help but worry that the 30% of teachers leaving the profession within five years will rise as budgets (financial and time) become even more stretched…