Ask any teacher if they have much work to do, and they will all give you the same answer, in one way or another: there aren’t enough hours in the day, days in the week, or weeks in the term. It’s no secret that the to-do list of a teacher only ever gets longer. With the many blogs, tweets and debates in circulation at the moment about teacher workloads, I thought I would have a go at explaining my work/life balance.
Now, I’m not claiming to have it right. Far from it. My very-nearly teacher husband and I barely speak to each other during the week in term time, with him on his sofa with his laptop, and me on mine. However, over the years, I’ve had some very different extremes of work/life balance, and I think now I am heading some way towards something that just might work.
Many moons ago as a new and eager NQT, there was no balance in my life. It was work, work and more work. I’m often reminded by some members of staff what a young and skinny thing I was in those days. And I’m always very quick to remind them why this was: I never even stopped to eat. At best, I’d grab something quick at the end of the evening, but I’d skip breakfast in favour of an extra few minutes sleep, and lunch in favour of making some extraordinary resource that I would only ever use once. It didn’t take long to realise that this way of life wasn’t going to work. So I did what I’m sure many an NQT did, and I partied! I made new friends, found a boyfriend or two (not more than one at the same time, you understand!), and I went out. I had a life. But the school work suffered: the marking piled up, the planning went down and life at school became a little bit more stressful. Another unsustainable lifestyle.
As I became older and wiser, the balance became more even. As a single woman, then a not-single woman, then a wife, I could manage my time. I knew what needed doing and when I could do it: if I wanted to go away for the weekend, or out for a meal, or had a busy weekend of band commitments, I could make up the work time elsewhere. I could come straight home from school and get started on the planning, or stay late at work, or even hide myself away for a day at the weekend if things got really busy. Just as I began to find some kind of system that worked, things changed: kids.
If I had thought things were tough before, I was in for a shock. Suddenly, all of my priorities changed. Of course I still want to be a great, hopefully slightly inspirational teacher, and I want to do my job to the very best of my ability, but my children are the most important people in my life. When they came along, I made a very deliberate decision not to do any school work while they were around. The laptop, the literacy books and the plans stay away until after they have gone to bed. Of course, I still talk incessantly about my day, my lessons and my class in front of them (tell me a teacher who doesn’t!), but I am not prepared to sacrifice my family time for them. It does make life tough at times: I’m always mulling over lessons and plans while I’m doing bedtime bottles or making to-do lists while cooking the dinner, but I don’t want my children to miss out on time with me because of my job. It does mean I have to be super organised: I prioritise what needs doing first and the most urgently and get it done, and look to see what can wait until a slightly less hectic time (if there is such a thing!). I usually utilise my PPA and Management time to get done all of the things that I don’t want to take home, but every now and then, I have a down day. Not ‘down’ as in spirits, but ‘down’ in productivity.
Today was one of those days; I spent a lot of time catching up with people and drinking cups of tea (I wasn’t in the classroom, you understand!), and it did me the world of good. I told anyone who asked how my day had been that I had achieved nothing, but when I really thought about it, it wasn’t true at all: I printed out new reading targets, planned my literacy, made some resources, demonstrated a new curriculum portfolio to colleagues and the headteacher, did additional maths tuition with Y6s, updated the school tracking system, edited the Assessment policy and tried out a new system for assessing without levels. ‘Down’ day? Perhaps not. But I felt much more rested and relaxed at the end of it.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there is no ideal way to balance your school work and your life: you just can’t do it all. So my advice would be to sit down and decide what your priorities really are. Once you know that, you can plan your time around them. Vow to give your best, but recognise that you can never be Superwoman or Superman. Identify how you can save time, but don’t waste it. Don’t procrastinate or faff, just get on and do what needs to be done. Recognise when you need time out, and take it. And once you have done all that you can in the time that you have, get on with the most important stuff: the ‘life’ part of it all.