I have now taught for over twenty years and I still find the first half-term exhausting and I am reminded of this as I sit here today - only a week in. There never seems to be enough hours in the day and there are always more jobs to be done.
In my first few years, I would become stressed early on in September, sick by the end of the month and by the time half-term came I would be on my knees. Many years on, the workload hasn’t decreased but my ability to manage it and the many demands placed upon me have grown. I'm writing this to remind myself of all that I have learnt but my hope is that if you read on, some of the lessons that I have learnt might help you.
1. You are not alone. When I started teaching I felt that I should create, make and plan everything myself. However, over the years I have learnt that sharing is a wonderful thing and eases the workload for all involved. Before you create that label, marksheet or resource ask your colleagues if they have already done so. In meetings, see if there are ways to collaborate so that you aren’t all doing the same things multiple times. Pop into other classrooms and see how you can work together to ease your workloads. Go on Twitter and ask if others have the resource that you are looking for – use educators around the world and not just in your school.
2. You are a human being not a human doing. Again, when I started teaching I was always doing and I would do that 24/7. I feared stopping before I got to the end of my job list and I never got to the end of my job list. I wouldn’t go to the staff room for lunch and I would stay in school for as long as I was allowed. Don’t do what I did, instead stop for lunch, go to the staff room and socialise, prioritise your physical and mental wellbeing.
3. You will never finish your job list. Yes, I know that this is thoroughly depressing but it is the reality of teaching. Think about how you can make that work for you. I know some teachers who put their jobs under different headings e.g. quick jobs, high priority jobs and if I have time jobs. I know others who create spreadsheets and move the jobs around depending on the level of importance. One of my favourite lists I have seen though is by my headteacher and she calls it the ‘ta da’ list. Rather than a list of what needs done, this is a list of what has been done. You do so much every day – focus on that and not on what is still left.
4. Don’t make home an extension of work. All too often we take home the jobs that we haven’t finished, only to find that we are always working. In order to be at our best, we need to rest. This means that we need to ensure that we have time at home where we aren’t working. Where possible, I try not to bring work home in the evening now and I give myself one full day off every weekend. I find that making myself do this in the first-half term enables me to feel better mentally and physically.
5. You are not perfect. When I started teaching, I wanted to be the best teacher who had ever taught. I would become so frustrated if the brilliant lessons I planned weren’t so brilliant when I taught them. I felt like a failure, a fraud and that teaching wasn’t right for me. The reality is that I teach for many hours each week and in truth, not every minute is going to be perfect and that is okay. I want to do my best and I work hard for the children in my care but I am not going to be perfect all the time – no one is. Over the years, I have learnt to be kind to myself and accept that I am human and fallible. Ooo, that is hard to write.
6. Keep learning and ask others. Teaching is one of those jobs that is ever evolving and that means that teachers need to continue to develop professionally. I have found that one of the best ways of doing this is by being on social media. I have met educators from all around the world, attended online conferences, learnt about educational podcasts (I have one of those too) and have found out about new and current research. Yes, my children benefit from the time that I spend on Twitter. The connections that I have made have given me new people to ask questions of and I have learnt so much. Facebook groups are also incredibly beneficial for connecting with others in our profession and asking for help. I go back to point 1 – you are not alone.
7. Worrying doesn’t help. I used to worry about everything including how much I was worrying! I have discovered that no amount of worrying gets things done and that things always get done in the end. If you are worried however, write down what is bothering you and highlight them in three colours. One colour for things you can control. Another colour for things that you could control with help and the final colour for the things that are outside of your control. You can’t control everything but doing a simple exercise like this can help you to see what you have control over and will hopefully ease the worrying.
8. Enjoy getting to know your young people. I know it is strange that I haven’t mentioned children until now, but that seems to be what happens in the first half-term. We become so overwhelmed by everything else that we forget to enjoy meeting our new class(es). The first half-term is a period of getting to know our new children and how they interact with one another and with the adults in the classroom. Familiarising ourselves with each young person we teach is not a quick process. It takes time. Give it time. By the end of October, you will know each of them so well, just enjoy the process.
9. Run don’t sprint – walk if you need to. The school year is made up of six half-terms and each of them is busy for a variety of reasons. You have a whole year to get through, so like a marathon runner, take it easy at the start of the race. Whilst I am not a marathon runner myself, my friends that are tell me that it is about a steady pace and finding their groove. Find your groove and stick to it.
10. Focus on your why. Sometimes you will have days that make you question why you are teaching. Days when everything feels hard – rather like walking through treacle. On those days remember why you are a teacher and find the golden nugget in that day. Write it down in a notebook, a diary or keep a note of it on your phone. There will have been a golden nugget and it will usually be tied to your why. Remembering why you teach will keep you going until half-term and the golden nuggets will fuel you.
I hope some of the things that I have learnt help you too. If you want to connect with myself and other educators then join the #TinyVoiceTalks thread on Twitter each Tuesday – we are always there and will remind you that you are not alone and that you are amazing!
The ‘Tiny Voices Talk’ book is out at the end of October – find out more here.
On the Tiny Voice Talks podcast, I am always chatting to amazing educators about how we can make a difference to our children and keep our heads above water - tune in.