It’s 3 years since I started my blog – aptly entitled 24/7 Teacher since I have found it almost impossible to find the time to write much since my initial blog in 2014. I’ve found that any spare time I have, once the teaching, planning, marking, assessing, meeting and analysing is done, is reserved for my family or just spent in a semi-coma state in front of the TV.
But this year something has changed. I’m in my 5th full year of teaching; my 4th in my present setting and I’m happy to say that things have gone well for me this year. I’m a now valued member of the SLT in my capacity as English lead, I was recently awarded SLE designation through a highly respected teaching alliance in the North of England; I received impossibly fabulous feedback in an LEA review (still can’t quite believe that it happened but I’m not making any apologies for that here – I work incredibly hard, I did my thing and the inspecting team loved it). Things are falling into place a little more. I am managing my time better than ever – perhaps it’s because this is now my third year teaching Year 6 so I just ‘know’ what I’m doing; perhaps it’s that as the years pass you learn what works and what doesn’t work – I ditch anything that has proved to be time-consuming and has little impact on pupil progress and embrace practice that has long-term, positive impact on both the pupils’ learning and my workload.
One other change for me is the fact that wellbeing has rightly featured highly on the agenda in the education world. I’ve made a conscious decision to put myself at the centre of my teaching rather than the pupils for a while. My thinking is that if I’m rested, relaxed and positive about my teaching then it will be nothing but beneficial for the pupils, my work colleagues and my family. Luckily, I have a new HT who very much supports work/life balance and so it’s time to see if I can make this switch from 24/7 teacher to something a little more reasonable. This of course will mean some minor changes to my daily practice:
- Ensuring I give as much verbal feedback to pupils as I can during lessons to limit the amount of marking I have after school (the most effective form of feedback anyway so it’s a win/win)
- Continuing to make use of my favourite innovation this year – using traffic light boxes to help me target my marking. Children colour code their books in one of our Gratnells plastic boxes in red/orange/green at the end of lessons, Maths mostly, depending on how much more practice/support they feel they need after the lesson. I always target the ‘red’ books first and this has proved to be a true game-changer this year. It means I can have a quick check on the ‘green’ books without having to do a deep mark each day. In our school, we have done alot of work on growth mindset so that children confidently put their book into the ‘red’ box without feeling ‘stupid’ or ’embarrassed’. I’ve been amazed at how accurate their self-assessment has been since the very first week.
- Marking during lunchtime but only for 30 minutes – the other 30 minutes will be spent in the staffroom away from the classroom eating my lunch, having a cuppa and enjoying some downtime.
- Continue with my ‘homework club’. I’m not sure why it’s called that as it’s essentially a ‘marking club’ for me and a colleague. We both grab a drink at 3.15pm and then sit in my classroom until around 5.15 and simply mark our books. The rule is that we limit talking and actually we sit mostly in silence. The benefit is that we both feel that we are not isolated in our classes at the end of the day with a pile of books and it also ensures that we don’t waste an hour chatting in the staff room after school. It’s very focused and has proved effective this year, in particular because we are both members of SLT so our opportunities to mark after school can be quite limited with staff meetings and SLT meetings each week.
- Don’t bring any more than 6 books (essentially one table of pupils) home per night if I’ve not managed to get through the books at school. I adopted this rule last half term as I was fed up of hauling up to 30 books home only to mark 4 or 5 before I was too tired/fed up/busy with the kids to do any more. So now I limit myself to just 6, try my best to mark at least 12-18 books in the lesson with pupils, my TA marks another 6 from her groups and the final 6 I work with next day or mark when I get to school. So far, so good.
- Have one night off a week during the week. I think Tom Sherrington mentioned this in a blog last year on effective time management. I tend to do it on the night I’ve had PPA in school. It’ s not always been possible due to the natural workload peaks and troughs during the school year and I have to be honest and say that I tend to feel overcome with guilt if I’m not doing ‘something’ work related every night (a very bad habit I must break!). I’m working on mastering this one.
- Try to do any planning on Friday after school or Friday evening when my brain is still in work-mode. I am feeling increasingly resentful at giving up Saturday or Sunday (mostly both) to plan/mark. I always, always feel better when I have had a weekend off; I think I teach better lessons too but only if I’ve organised myself on the Friday. I think I’ve cracked the marking now so now it’s a case of using the marking to plan using whatever format works for me. Sometimes this is just notes in a Pukka Pad. I’ll also stop feeling bad about using quality schemes of work (there are loads out there, why do I still guilty if I don’t create my own from scratch…?!).
- Carefully pick what Social Media I read. I have made a conscious move away from some groups on Facebook as last Summer I felt overwhelmed by the daily posts about amazing resources people had made, fabulous displays, gorgeous classrooms and frankly endless boast posts. I felt guilty and began to question my own ability because I wasn’t as productive as these bright, young things. Since then, I’ve moved more towards following positive bloggers and tweeters and quietly block those who make me feel anything less than good about myself.
So, here we go on the final push towards SATs, writing assessments, preparation for Year 7 Transition, (which always seems to take up more time than it should for Year 6 teachers I feel), leavers assembly, residential, enterprise project and beginning to get my head around next year’s Year 6. The question is this: can I become a 10/5 teacher? Can I make enough adjustments without compromising my effectiveness as a teacher to reduce my workload to 10 hours a day, no more than 5 days a week? Watch this space.