Working Smarter

In a previous school (and a previous life) I can fully admit I ‘worked too hard’. I lived to work rather than worked to live … but was I happy? Not really.

I have always loved my job, and for some reason that annoys some people, but I don’t really care. I feel lucky to have a job that I enjoy, but can understand it can be a job that can take over your life if you’re not careful. Oh don’t get me wrong, I have a moan and a whinge and complain daily about being tired, and how much my apathetic year 11 class does my head in. But in the grand scheme of things, if I take a step back, I do thoroughly love what I do. I love the perks: the holidays, the early(ish) Fridays (if I’m planned for Monday) and the fact I get to impart my knowledge (and sarcasm) on (mostly) eager to learn students.

Since moving schools, I have definitely achieved a better work-life balance. Not just because of the change in school, but also because of a change in my attitude, and circumstance.

I’m lucky enough now to have a fiancé, who is also a teacher, with a firm belief in a good work-life balance. I used to go home armed with 30 books to trawl through which would take up most of a weekend. This caused a fair few arguments, but I saw the point of the marking and I could see no other option.

Since moving to Heathfield, where there is a much more manageable, efficient and effective marking policy, my work-life balance has shifted hugely. I no longer take books home, and when I do mark assessments, it takes a fraction of the time and can usually be completed within the hours between 7.15am and 4.15pm when I’m at school. Obviously, things like mocks take up more time and I do take assessments home, but it doesn’t control my life and take up all my free time.

I know look back and think how silly it was to invest all that time in something that in all honesty, made very little difference to the students. Who knew that doing less, but in a better way would be more effective? I now fully agree with the ‘work smarter not harder’ mantra.

There are a lot fewer arguments at home, and time at home is spent doing the stuff you are supposed to do at home, not continuing work. I still sneak onto Twitter during the rugby and save all the cool resources I come across. I still respond to a few emails over the weekend, brush up on A-level Maths and I still complete ‘to-do’ lists in my journal – but aside from that, planning and most marking takes place where it should do: at school.

With teaching, there is always more you can do. You can always improve a lesson, find a better resource or plan further ahead, but knowing when to stop is vital to maintain job satisfaction.

Some strategies I use for working smarter:

1.Co-plan where you can

Katharine Clarke and I taught A-Level for the first time last year. We taught the same units and planned these together which not only saved time and effort, but was really effective. We used the shared drive to add to folders and lessons and shared out jobs such as providing solutions to exercises etc.

2. Share resources and don’t be afraid to ask for them!

Although we have a shared drive in the department, we are all guilty of finding resources and forgetting to share them. Using the staff computer room however always helps me with this. I can simply ask, ‘Does anyone have anything good on ratio?’ and odds are that someone will and I can then adapt it for my teaching.

3. Make Lists and Trackers – I started a bullet journal last year. I had different areas and pages for work and home and found it really helps me organise myself, and keep my work and home-life separate.

This is a ‘work week’:

Bullet Journal

I also track my fortnightly assessments and data input by ticking off a tracker on my wall by my desk so that I know I have completed enough assessments per term. It’s so satisfying seeing a page of ticks at the end of the term!

Tracking

4. Plan ahead – I use the IDOCEO planner app to plan sequences of lessons and to decide where to give assessments so they all don’t crop up at once. I use faces to help me know which lessons I have planned and by how much and flags to represent where assessments take place.

Idoceo

I also use my favourite websites and Twitter people to find resources first, then I plan the sequence of lessons based around these.

5. Avoid repetition

Don’t give the same feedback to every student – write it once, scan and copy it – create group marking sheets or ‘moving on questions’ for groups of students with the same misconception.

Example for percentages – students are told which letter they need, then they use that question to consolidate and move on.

Avoid repetition

6. Give students responsibility for onerous tasks such as data input, I get students to call out scores in class, or get them to input marks onto google docs. This saves me trawling through books and reduces admin time. Peer marking and self marking is another good time saver.

Have a cut off point

Decide on a time of day to stop working. If you need to work during the holidays, limit yourself to one day or one afternoon and only work during this time.

If you have a partner who is also a teacher, having a cut off time when you decide to stop talking about work can also be really useful.

I am constantly trying to find new ways of saving time and working smarter. If anyone else has any handy tips, please share!

Harriet Lambert, Maths.

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