When I find myself in times of trouble…let it be

This blog is about workload. At the moment this is a hot topic at my school. Everyone is tired, we’ve got new curriculum to plan, essays are stacking up and then to add to this fun Year 11 have just sat their mocks.

Teaching is a busy old job, but (blasphemy alert) so are other jobs despite what teachers say! I think it’s just a case of cracking it. I think that after 8 years I might have just done that.

Here are some of my tips. I am not claiming to be a great guru,  nor I am trying to patronise, they may not work for you but they work for me. They have genuinely changed my work life balance. I actually have the second bit now. Lots of this involves marking but is not exclusively about marking.

So in no particular order:

1.) Cut yourself some slack – it’s only a job. Teachers are paid well but not well enough to lose bloody sleep over it. You can only do so much. It’s ok to say enough is enough.

2.) Don’t replan everything all the time. Sometimes I look at one of my lessons from last year and remember it didn’t work particularly well. Now I could replan it and it would take me an hour but for how much impact? If the answer is minimal don’t do it. Focus on what you do in the lesson instead, think of some ace questions or how you’re going to give really extensive verbal feedback to one kid in particular. I’m not being lazy, I am being pragmatic.

3.) Forward plan. Look at the whole term and work out the crunch points. For example this week is Year 11 mocks, next week is Year 13 parents evening. I need to mark things for both. As a result I marked Key Stage 3 like a demon at the start of the term in full knowledge I’d do less at the end. That’s ok.

4.) Mark in lessons. Those bits of my lesson where the kids are working it’s tempting to check your email and sometimes I do this but I am trying not to. Instead now I try to mark a few kids books whilst sat with the kid in question. You can’t do many but if I can sit down with five kids in one lesson and give them verbal feedback and write something in their books in front of them it has a great impact with them and means five less when I do a whole set.

5.) Don’t mark everything. If kids are just making notes, I am thinking of GCSE in particular, why bother marking it? It’ll have no impact on their progress don’t bother. OK for a few little ratbags who do less work you might want to check they’ve done it, but the vast majority will have done the notes so don’t bother. Instead focus on the bits that do matter. For GCSE I now only mark exam questions. At KS3 I only mark extended bits or often plenaries where they are wrapping up all their learning. It also helps to mark more regularly. Don’t take the books in once a term and then try to mark the last six weeks. It’s madness. Instead pick something really worthwhile to mark and do it every other lesson. I promise it will take less time.

6.) A-level. I have six lessons a fortnight. At both Year 12 and Year 13 we now have one hour of just note taking. I make a list of what I want them to do and they note take knowing I’ll go through it next lesson. I leave the door open and sit in the corridor with a desk and call the kids out one by one to mark their essays with them. I can’t do everyone in a hour (I teach 22 in each class) but I note down who I’ve seen and rotate each fortnight. In an hour I can do ten kids leaving only twelve essays left to mark which takes less time.

7.) GCSE. I am sure like you I have at least one double lesson per fortnight with my GCSE class. It’s this double that I expect them to hand in their homework. Their homework is always an exam question. In the double I plan my lessons with less direct input from me and in two hours I can nearly always whip around the entire class and mark their work.

8.) Homework doesn’t have to be extensive. I agree with the principle of homework but setting pieces that require marking all the time is exhausting. Instead set them preparation for the next lesson, e.g. research or an essay plan they use. I don’t do this all the time but at crunch points it helps.

9.) Videos are ok. I am not talking about shoving on some crap Hollywood turd of a movie that is irrelevant but showing the kids a decent documentary now and again is fine. I showed mine a Channel 4 one about the Dambusters today which was great. Kids shouldn’t sit their passively but give them something simple to do – mine was framed around the difference between WW1 and WW2 today. It’s fine now and again and gives you breathing space.

10.) Plan time so that your assessments follow each other, e.g. plan for Year 9 to do their assessment after Year 10 have just finished theirs.This may sound mad as you get everything at once. But you also gain some time as they are working in silence so you can mark Year 10 whilst Year 9 are working.

11.) Be honest with the kids. Kids hate it when they’ve put effort in on a piece of work and it isn’t marked. They are right to be annoyed. But if you know you are going to take longer than usual just be honest and explain why. “Sorry Year 8 it’s going to be a fortnight til I get to that as Year 11 have to be my priority at the moment”. Being honest is better than just hoping they won’t notice.

12.) Don’t write blogs. They take up precious time you can spend on teaching and learning. Whoops.