Halfway to half-term. Halfway to an empty tank. How can we avoid burning out as teachers?

We’re approaching the halfway point of the first Autumn half term. The long one. The dark one. The wet one…

The weather is closing in. The light is fading fast, and now after a good few weeks with our classes, they’re probably going to start testing your boundaries a bit more. They become tired, and fed up with being stuck inside if it rains. They’re probably also fed up with you telling them to put their coat on when they go out to play – it’s getting chillier, but they’re kids and don’t feel the cold as much. Also, some of those really great behaviour rules or systems you put in place at the start of the year might have started crumbling a little bit, or becoming a little less effective. Or you might not be using them as consistently as you were to start with as you juggle teaching children of different needs and abilities. And all of this whilst you’re balancing the planning, the marking and  sorting out work for the supply of your partner teacher who has got a nasty case of the flu (it happens to us all – especially in a job like ours).

It’s a tough old half-term. But how do we stop ourselves burning out when we’ve still got half the half-term to go? How do we ensure we can still teach effectively? Make sure our children are making progress? And most importantly look after ourselves, and maintain some sort of work-life balance.

This week I’m going to offer up a few little tips that I think might just help you reach the first half-term break not feeling like you’ve just run a marathon (I’ve run a marathon, and can tell you it hurts a lot, and is not something i’d want to repeat every 6-8 weeks).

  1. Plan your marking nights: If you know you have a staff meeting after school, make that day easier for yourself. Plan a lesson which doesn’t require marking – say taking photos or do a speaking and listening lesson. Don’t do an extended piece of writing, and or lots of complicated worded maths problems which you have to work out before you mark them. Also, there’s no harm in using some of your afternoon time to mark. If you set the children on an independent task, say an art based one or finishing off bits of work. Once they’re settled, give yourself 15-30 minutes to start some marking. Trust me, all teachers have done it. You can’t do it every day, but why can’t you do it sometimes?
  2. Get in earlier; leave earlier: I have always been one for getting into school earlier in the morning. It means you can relax and get yourself ready for the day in good time. Also, it means you’re not thrown if faced with an unexpected event in the morning, like a briefing you forget there was, or a parent that wants to come in and talk to you. Leaving earlier, means you get to spend more quality time at home to relax and unwind, rather than arriving home like a zombie after having stayed in school until 6:30pm. I know some days you might have to, but don’t make it everyday!
  3. Friday is Friyay!: I’m a strong believer in the weekend meaning exactly that – THE WEEK’S END. Don’t give yourself lots to do on a Friday evening. Don’t use Friday as the night to catch up on your marking, or to overly prepare for the next week. Do use Friday as a chance to leave school in good time. Yes, be ready for the next week, but if you’ve had PPA time, or have work to carry on from Friday, then you probably are ready. Moreover, take into account that you can come in early on Monday and sort stuff out. The weekend is for relaxing and it starts with Friday.
  4. School books are called school books for a reason: The reason being that they are designed to stay in school, not to be taken home. There is no excuse for taking books home. Your home is your home. Your school is your school. You have to keep the two separate if you want to get your work-life balance right. Out of sight is out of mind. You’re much more likely to mark quickly and effectively if you leave your books in school, and use your time in school to mark them. At home there are too many distractions! I have yet to hear a teacher say, “yeah I’m watching Netflix and marking the English books tonight” and really been convinced they’re going to give the English books their full focus. We all know the focus is going to be too much on the Netflix, too little on the English books. Then it’s 11pm before you know it, and you still have 5 to mark. Leave them at school! Plus it avoids that horrible moment when you realise you’ve left one student’s book on the sofa.
  5. Not every lesson has to be outstanding: To be an outstanding teacher you do not have to teach an outstanding lesson in every single lesson. It’s not humanly possible. Accept that sometimes things won’t go to plan. You will sometimes teach poorly. In these moments you have to really look at yourself and use it as a learning experience, especially when you’re new to the profession. The odd wow lesson is fantastic, and grabs your students’ attention. Be innovative, but not to the extent that you’re cutting up resources and preparing for one lesson for 3 hours every night. What students need is a good teacher everyday. A fresh teacher everyday. They’re not expecting to be blown away and wowed in every lesson. But what they are expecting is to learn, and you have to learn that this happens in all lessons if you can be there 100% in tip-top (or as near as can be) condition.
  6. Being sick is not a sign of weakness: You’re working with lots of children, and it is inevitable that you will get sick. Being sick is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign from your body that you’re sick. Yes, you can still go in with a cold and a sore throat. But if you feel unable to get out of bed, or that you are not going to be able to function at anywhere near your full capacity, then what’s the point? You’ll go in, feel worse and then be off for 2 days instead of 1. I’m not saying you should call in sick anytime you feel a cough coming on: I have always been reluctant to call in sick. However, we have to listen to our bodies, and most importantly we have to accept that our class is not going to fall into disarray if we are off for one day.
  7. Make time for yourself during the day: Staff rooms can be wonderful places, and can be a truly great place to escape for even a few minutes from the all-action world of a school. Try and make an effort to go in and be social. Even if it’s for 5 minutes at break, and only 15 minutes at lunch. We need to get out of our classrooms sometimes as teachers, to blow off some steam, and we need to be able to have some time for ourselves during the day. Our students do, so why shouldn’t we?
  8. We are teachers; we are also human beings: It’s a unique position we find ourselves in as teachers. We get to educate and shape future minds. It’s a real privilege, but also a burden. Don’t ever forget that you’re doing something truly incredible. You are spending your days educating. However, also remember that you are also a human being. We’re error prone; we’re imperfect. We do sometimes get it wrong. What we have to do though is accept when this happens and move on from it. All jobs have pressure, yes in teaching you could argue slightly more than your average job, but I would say we also get well above average in terms of job satisfaction. Enjoy what you’re doing, but don’t let it interfere too much with your life outside of the classroom. I know that sounds so hard, but you can learn to do it, and it will help you develop, learn and evolve more as a teacher if you allow yourself to.

I hope you might take some of what I’ve written on board. You might even have some ideas of your own. Just remember you as the teacher are the most important person that you must look after. If you do that, then you can be confident that you can look after the students in your care, and give them the kind of education they deserve.

Half empty as we reach the halfway point of the half-term? Or are we still half full? Only you know that, and only you can influence that.

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If you have any questions, or comments please feel free to get in touch here through the contact page or @teachn4teachers on twitter.





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