Teachers: can a work-life balance exsist?


Teachers are, at times, a much-maligned and misunderstood community. Your friends will rib you about knocking off at 3 o’clock.

“Oh, and you get all those holidays don’t you?”

They will quip.

“How hard can it really be?”

To cut to the chase, teaching is a stressful profession. Many of these friends who jest about your extended holidays will not understand the complexities and strains of being in the profession.

If they did I would hope as friends they would not continue this mindless dribble of abuse!

I will only pick upon one of the litany of examples that no doubt are popping into your minds to exemplify the point.

If a businessman or woman is presenting to a client in any given week, how long do they spend preparing, even rehearsing their number?

Hours of time is the answer, potentially even days.

Yet as teachers we present like this every single day of term, with limited preparation time, with many of these presentations within one day, often consecutively.

Add to this the difficulty of managing an audience who are often sprightly, and sometimes uninterested, and you have a burdensome task in not just delivering your material but also stimulating your audience.

Easy work it is not.

I can sense some angry! But you all know this is the case!

Below is my personal thought. Some may agree some will not!

I think I clock up on average 60hrs per week (in-school) and if I include, thinking-time at home (excl.) marking, this exceeds 75hrs or so!!! And this is only to do what I am expected to do at a high standard in my own classroom and around the school.

I have often been at the backend of quips about pay; holidays and recently pensions – and my answer to that is I could’t change the lives of students in 32.5 hrs for 38wks a year. Teaching is a vocation. Its knackering, but totally rewarding.

Teachers need the holidays to mark; plan; research; and REST!

Personally, If you don’t eat, rest, and play…then the qualities you expect of yourself as a teacher, will be far more diminished. It is vital to relax and switch off.

While some might argue that it is worth staying up all night preparing lessons, I would argue against this. Teachers’ health matters, as does longevity in the profession.

This is something I try and stress to all teacher via this blog and my Twitter stream. Teachers: Yes – it’s great to be enthusiastic.

And yes – you can stay up until 2am designing that fireworks lesson or marking the books til they’re dripping with red.

But is that sustainable for more than a year?

Is it of benefit to the youth of today having a horrific turnover of new teachers who burn out quickly?

And will your lesson actually be as effective if you’re so knackered you can’t function properly?

Numerous studies have shown that, above all other factors, it’s the teacher in the classroom who inspires, cultivates and enthuses learning that make a huge different. We all can remember that really good teacher and quite often it was because they were inspirational and awe inspiring!

BUT

How can you do that when you’re surviving on four hours of sleep a night and on the verge of despair? You matter. A great deal.

Teaching is therefore not the profession for a perfectionist. There is always something more you can do. Don’t get me wrong – I am not undermining thorough, dedicated, inventive and innovative planning.

I’m not in favour of teachers who cut corners.

But I also hate seeing people who come into the profession and start destroying their health and their personal life. It’s all about balance.

So how do you achieve this balance?

A fascinating book has been published in the last few years by Jim Smith and Ian Gilbert, called “The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook: how your pupils learn more when you teach less“. I have read this book and would personal recommend you do the same. There are many excellent idea that will help you cut the time you spend planning, but will not impact on the standard or quality of the lessons .

This book does not excusing hard work; far from it actually. But it throws up fascinating ideas:

why should you be the one up all night working when it’s pupils who actually need to do the learning?

By throwing the onus onto pupils, you actually increase their learning. So to put this into practice, instead of you producing a question sheet why not ask the pupils to make the questions themselves?

The message I hope to all teaching professional is that it’s not unprofessional to have a life. It’s not cutting corners to go out for dinner midweek with a friend instead of planning everything to the last T.

It’s not irresponsible to look after your own health. As a teacher, you are the most important person in the room and resource in the school. You cannot perform optimally if you are ill, stressed or unhappy.

So in conclusion I suppose I am say just one thing:

look after yourself. 

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4 thoughts on “Teachers: can a work-life balance exsist?

  1. A really well written piece. It is so easy to get so absorbed in work isn’t it? Getting the balance is hard. I don’t believe we can ever get an even balance if we are to do the job justice and as you say teaching is a vocation but a reasonable balance is possible. Sacrifice is necessary but not at the expense of our personal lives. I often wonder if we have made teaching too difficult a job these days but wonder how we could do it differently. I have so much respect for good teachers making a difference every day in the classroom and as a head try hard to offer the support needed. i know I don’t always get it right. I also haven’t maintained the best balance personally this last term and reading your wise words reinforces the knowledge that both those things must change.
    Thanks for sharing your reflections.

  2. Thought-provoking. This sums up a lot about why I have decided to leave the profession after completing my NQT year successfully. You are right, teaching is not the place for perfectionism, and a work-life balance is so important. After weighing up the pros and cons of my staying in teaching, I had to stop. I think it’s important to remember that NOBODY wants a miserable teacher in their classroom – it will have a negative impact on every aspect of your school life. Thanks for the follow too! 🙂

    1. sorry to hear that you are leaving the profession. Although i admire your courage to accept that after a year this is not the right career for you, i know of a few who feel they need to continue to try and justify the expense and investment

      I wish you luck in what ever you decide to do instead

      Thanks for the comment

      Nick

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