Early career teacher blog: managing the workload and not feeling guilty

This is the fifth posting from our busy physics teacher who is now in his second year after qualifying (read his previous post here).

“It has been a difficult half term and I am sure I am not the only one feeling it. There are continuing pressures in this career and the big question is: how to deal with them? Unfortunately, the answer is: you can’t. I find myself being pulled in many directions with parents evenings, marking, lesson planning, trips, CPD, revision, being a form tutor and being a mentor (yes, I’m already mentoring NQTs a year after completing my own induction).

I feel guilty if I drop the ball on even one of these responsibilities but at the same time I know there is not enough time to be able to do every facet of my job to the best of my ability. Whilst I don’t think there is a simple answer, I do think we ourselves are part of the problem.

We pile on the pressure, feeling that unless we get those books marked that week or if that lesson hasn’t gone quite to plan because we didn’t have enough time to plan it, then in some way we have failed. This isn’t fair. Some people say that if we love our jobs we shouldn’t mind working longer days and have shorter holidays, but this is simply not true. I love my job, but I cannot possibly work any harder than I currently do without it massively affecting my life and indeed my health.

I have tried to stop this cycle, but I admit I can be my own worst enemy. I take on responsibility after responsibility and watch it impacting my life, to the point where friends and family become concerned when yet again I use the excuse, “Sorry, not this weekend, I have some work to do!”

One way I aim to tackle this is to work ‘smarter’. By this I mean putting the emphasis back on the students: get them to peer assess each other’s homework, mark their own test papers, get them to take parts of the lesson, run revision sessions where each student has their own topic to present.  In fact all of these ideas are seen as aspects of ‘good practice’, but too often we worry that the students won’t do it quite right and end up putting the emphasis back on ourselves.

The other thing to do is to prioritise. At the moment, thinking about exams is high on my agenda. I am sure we’re not the only science department assessing the recent exam results and I was asked by my head of department to lead a group to see how we could try to improve results for the upcoming chemistry and physics modular exams. At the same time, the government’s new linear exam format means that it is no longer good enough for students to just know the science. As students seem to compartmentalise each subject and seem unable to transfer key skills, we now find ourselves teaching them maths and English. This is going to become a huge challenge. What’s the solution? I don’t know (answers on a postcard!), but again, I feel that we need to pass more responsibility to our students.

Another action I took was to get involved in my school’s re-writing of the homework policy, so that I could get my point of view across. We should not be working ourselves into the ground so we spend half term in bed either ill or physically – and mentally – exhausted!

I know haven’t imparted any quick fixes in this blog, but the important thing to remember is that you are not super human (especially as wearing your pants on the outside of your clothes may not be appreciated by the SLT).  At times this job can seem very lonely, but it is important to remember you are not alone and if you’re feeling down about the pressures of work I can guarantee there are others who are feeling exactly the same, so don’t be afraid to talk about it.

Ask for help – it is not an admission that you are weak or unable to cope, but instead just making it known that it is too much at this point.  Talk to your mentor, line manager, union rep or just a friend at work.

And remember that every day you are doing an amazing job and making a huge difference to a lot of lives.”