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A teacher's journal

Work-life balance

balance

Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

The third half-term has been very positive on my teaching journey. I am finally getting used to this job: its demands, workload and expectations. I am also a more confident and positive teacher who does not stress out as much as before.

I am glad of having left behind the days when I worked late either at school or at home. Part of this improvement has been due to the normal course of life: the more one does something, the easier it gets. However, there are a few things people told me but I had to try myself in order to take them in. For example:

Good enough is good enough:

I stopped spending a significant amount of time (outside my working hours) trying to adapt a lesson that was ready. I know that students will need some scaffolding or challenge, so I add these elements. Although this is ideal, it can be detrimental for a teacher because it increases the workload significantly. Ultimately, a teacher who has rested properly and can deliver the content with confidence and high quality is invaluable; a beautiful PPT presentation cannot compete with that!

One day after a parents’ evening, I got home at almost 21:00 and did not have time to adapt a Year 9 lesson about the Perfect Tense in Spanish. I was worried because the students had been learning other tenses and I thought they would struggle. I contemplated doing some revision on those tenses instead but… I would need to plan a revision lesson and this was not happening that evening.

With some resignation and frustration I said to myself “just use that lesson and let it be”. What a surprise when I saw that students were very interested in this new tense (I am not lying!), they took it in immediately and were very productive. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I was definitely underestimating my students and slowing down based on false assumptions. The lesson was good enough, actually it was better than it looked at first. Additionally, I had rested and could give them the best of me that day. This was a win-win situation that helped me to realise that I need to be more humble in a way and use what I am being given.  Whenever possible I can add my own touch but I must accept that I will not always have time and that there are other duties to fulfil. I could use any spare time to create new resources using authentic texts for example, which is a target that our department needs to meet and some input would be appreciated.

A task that I need to do more than 3 times needs a system

I had heard this one but I did not pay attention to it just as I did with other pieces of great advice that would save me time…

This happened a lot when marking student work and giving feedback. I used to write lots of notes on the first papers and customised feedback but then I realised I had more than 200 things to mark. Would I ever finish that monumental task? No. Ironically, most students only looked at their total marks while my many comments are suggestions were not as relevant. There is a minority who pays attention to this and asks further questions… although this is not a complete waste of time, it is not worth it either.

In order to last in this job and to go home at some point, I needed to refrain from my super feedback. I began following the advice I got at the beginning, this consisted of using some literacy codes, making notes of the trends, common mistakes or misconceptions. Then, providing a general feedback where I covered what I had decided to prioritise and that provided elements for students to reflect on their work and improve it.

I also made a list of students whose work could be praised and presented as a model. I made a separate list  of the students who were struggling so that I could support them in the future.

Doing this saved me time and made the dreadful marking process bearable and useful. Students benefited much more with this type of feedback and were happy when they received some praise for their good effort and work.

The same is true for setting homework, printing, reading emails, answering emails… Doing things in bulk is much better than jumping from task to task.

Final thoughts

This was the “I told you so” half-term but I think it is only natural to try to be a perfectionist at first. After all, people’s eyes are on you as an Early Career Teacher and you want to show some competence and good performance.

I hope you had a happy and restful half-term. I did my best to rest and to keep my mind away from work although I did some marking for 5-6 hours. This would allow me to have a better start next week and I didn’t mind it too much. The good ideas (literature, revision booklets, challenges etc) are written down in my journal and will resume next Monday at 8:00 and not a minute before. In the mean time, I need to make sure the other aspects of my life are taken care of, I have had some health setbacks and this week was a blessing, I was able to get some medical advice and I will surely be recharged and smiley next week.

This post is day 11 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit 100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.

 

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A teacher's journal

What a term!

Today teachers and students breathe a sigh of relief because it is the last day of term and the Christmas holidays begin. Schools around this time get a funny vibe, people carry on because they have to, there is some excitement about the holidays and nobody cares about things in the same way they did back in September.

This is interesting because I thought I would never be “that person”…what I mean is, a person counting the weeks and days to the end of term. However. I shamelessly began counting  towards the end of November when I piles or student work to mark and also when I kept hearing: “this is the longest and most difficult term for teachers”, “it is cold and dark”, “it is the flu season plus there is a pandemic” etc.

I usually ignored comments like those and just got on with my life, I did not want to get into that mindset. Nonetheless, at some point this crept in and I longed for the end of term like never in my life. Part of the problem was that I worked many extra hours just marking and really struggled managing my workload.

Part of this was expected as it is my first term as a qualified teacher and I have 90% of the responsibility a teacher has. Compared to my training year, this is an increase of almost 50%.

I am currently on the Early Career Framework and I have a lot of support and continuous training. However, the best thing that has happened to me has been to share my experiences with colleagues who have been in the same situation before and to be open about my weaknesses/areas of development. On the conversations and a couple of workshops I attended, I learned strategies to be more efficient with the things that take the longest in this profession: marking, feedback and student reports.

Although I heard this over and over since the beginning of my training, it took me a while to implement it and to get my head around it.

  • Being systematic: if I need to repeat a task or if something takes too long, I need a system. For example, when marking a writing activity, I can write a code that relates to a specific action (sp = spelling mistake). When students get their feedback, they will be given examples of these common mistakes, check against their text and improve it. They will do the thinking!
  • Begin with the end in mind: Planning a sequence or even a whole term in advance. My friend Adeline, who is an early teaching career mentor calls it “retro-planning” and held a brilliant workshop on this. If I know where my students must be at the end of term or what the assessment is about, I will consider that into each lesson and provide them with all the knowledge and practice they need.
  • Just ask for help: this is the most obvious one but as a new teacher I wanted to give the best of myself and show that I could do it. But in just a term I had days in which I suddenly disliked teaching, I had no patience for my students and was unwell. I had a cold for about a month, my voice weakened a lot and I had to teach some lessons whispering or using Spanish audios.

I knew this but I had to learn the hard way anyway… When marking, I fell into the trap of correcting every single error and wrote the correction in another colour myself. Students spent about one minute looking at it and very few actually cared about improving what they had done.

I also began teaching without really checking where I was heading. I had to look at the assessments eventually and realised I did not have enough time to teach all the content. I had to modify assessments or rush teaching and kind of hope for the best. At the end of the day this created a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Did you not feel betrayed at school when the test included topics you barely covered in class? I did! My students coped with all this but it should not happen again.

Finally, I did not need to strain my voice, lose my appetite or sleep less. I did not do a good job at taking care of myself and this impacted my mood and health to some extent.

Well, today is the end of term and I am glad. I joined the many countdowns and who knows, I might do it again. However, I have decided to set sustainable systems and to get my workload under control with retrospective planning which tells me where I am going and keeps me on track. Most importantly, I am going to take care of myself, after all, I love teaching but this is just a job, I have a family, friends and a purpose in life which is strongly linked to my Christian faith.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV

Learning takes time and the only way to learn is by doing, finding out where we failed and correcting it. I am ready to rest but also to have a great 2022 in the classroom!

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Merry Christmas and a Happy new year!

This post is day 9 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit 100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.

 

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A teacher's journal

I got my QTS!

This was my first half-term as a qualified teacher in England. Although everything was new and fast-paced, a new persona emerged in the classroom and this was a positive experience.

When I was a trainee teacher last year, I always felt like an impostor in front of my students. I had butterflies in my stomach before every lesson until about June 2021 when the year was almost ending

Unfortunately,  my lack of experience was always in my mind and I have no doubt this permeated my lessons and influenced the way I taught or behaved at school. No matter how much I prepared or rehearsed whatever I was going to do in my lesson, I was often uncomfortable and a bit apprehensive.

Several people observed my lessons and provided weekly feedback. This was constructive and it helped me to improve. However, people usually pointed out at my lack of confidence and presence in the classroom. I did my best every day but I felt inadequate most of the time.

At the end of my training year, I was ready for a new experience. One of the last and most valuable things my mentor said to me was that leaving would give me the opportunity to have a fresh start and to reinvent myself as a teacher. I could begin a new year with no preconceptions from myself or others.

On my first day, I decided to walk into the new school as a new person and left my previous modesty about myself at home. I met new colleagues and new students and just decided to present myself as a confident, straight forward person who (at least outwardly) knows what to do. To my surprise, this has had an incredibly positive impact in myself and also in my students, it is like a brand new world opened up for me.

I have been able to walk into my classroom with confidence and have set my expectations and main routines. My students are lovely and I am getting really well with my classes and building relationships with both students and colleagues.

I am really glad to see how things fall in place day by day and to look back and see how valuable my teacher training was. What made it  outstanding though was not the school or the training provider (although they were very good), it was the people around me. My colleagues were key to my development and I am very grateful for all the things they taught me. I would not be where I am without their support.

The quote below appears in my welcome postcard which my mentor  gave me. When I began my training, the journey seemed endless and things were very unpredictable.

Photo by Hester Qiang on Unsplash

Nonetheless, my professional and personal life improved as a result of the daily journey as a “teacher to be”. I am grateful to look back and see how far God has allowed me to come. The journey continues day by day and it just gets better and better!

This post is day 8 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit 100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.