In an extract from the outstanding Managing Teacher Workload, Joe Pardoe discusses the workload issues for new teachers in one of the chapters and how it is best to overcome them.
I recently stood watching a student who I have known since she was 11, now 16, deliver an excellent speech and answer audience questions with confident ease. I couldn’t have been more proud of her. I recently stood on the sunny school playground while the students played football and had seemingly random and interesting conversations with students who stopped to tell me about their weekends. I recently saw a student sing and perform in a school musical and was honoured to think that I have played a part, however small, in this student’s life. I genuinely believe that teaching is one of the best and most noble jobs in the world.
It can be easily forgotten, but we should remind ourselves more often that schools are undoubtedly exciting and inspiring places to work. We should remember the numerous times in a day students and colleagues make us laugh. We should remember the music concerts, drama performances and art exhibitions in which students surprise us with their brilliance. We should remind ourselves that being a part of a child’s life is a privilege and honour – how many jobs in the world allow us to help shape and develop a child and watch as he or she grows into adulthood? We should remember the ‘thank- yous’ from grateful students and parents, the hardworking student who gets the results they absolutely deserve and the emails from students who have gone on to get a place in university or the job that they really want. I could go on.
I once heard Vanessa Ogden, a hugely successful headteacher, give a speech in which she implored the audience, mostly non-teachers, to get into teaching. Her passionate plea concluded there is no better working environment than classrooms. Schools are the crucible in which culture and civilisation is created. Who would not want to be a teacher?
However this is only part of the story. Teaching is undoubtedly a stressful and high pressure job. This is highlighted by the statistics; there is simultaneously a shortage of teachers nationally and an increasing number of teachers leaving the profession. Stress and workload is, sadly, one of the top reasons cited for leaving classroom teaching21. As much as I love teaching, it is impossible to deny there are many things which can cause enormous amounts of stress and worry. We are trying our hardest to deliver lessons, plan lessons, mark work, attend meetings, speak to parents and deal with colleagues. While there are many ways teachers, schools and government can, and should, reduce the unnecessary pressure on teachers, we should also confront head on the fact that teaching will always be a stressful job. Any profession which deals with humans and emotion will put enormous pressure on individuals. However, Initial Teacher Training could play an important role in improving the wellbeing of teachers.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
A key component in solving this problem is not only reducing stress and workload pressures but also developing strategies to deal and cope with the inevitable pressure teachers will face in the course of carrying out the job. I was lucky enough to have some fantastic, and realistic, mentors during my early years of teaching. As I naively once explained my new strategy for dealing with workload, one of my mentors (a teacher of 20 years) explained to me that I should stop looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, and instead learn to enjoy living in the tunnel.
He also brought up Parkinson’s Law that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This advice made me realise that I should not only focus on reducing the stress, workload and pressure I face, I should also focus on strategies for coping and dealing with the pressure that I face.
This chapter will focus on both of these aspects and explore some of the ways teacher training routes and schools can better prepare and support new teachers in reducing their workload and stress, while also dealing more effectively with the inevitable stresses and pressures of the job. However, before exploring these tools, techniques and strategies, it is important to look at the role ITT could play in leading the change, rather than simply coping with it.
New Thinking: Initial Teacher Training as a driver of change
Albert Einstein once said (apparently), “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them”. In my experience of teacher training, we were encouraged to work long hours to reflect the demands of the job. This is fine for some, not fine for others. We all have different views about what constitutes a positive work life balance, which is a good thing; being told to work long hours as a blanket statement is not. In addition, teacher training routes, in an attempt to help prepare teachers for the stresses they may face, may actually be contributing to the problem.
As a career changer, I was shocked to hear on my teacher training route how stressful the job will be and how many ‘valleys of despair’ I would pass through, without any techniques to get out of them (other than wait for it to pass!). Yes, teaching is a stressful profession, but in my opinion it is no more uniquely stressful than other professions which deal with humans.
Joe Pardoe is a humanities and PBL leader at School 21 in Stratford, London. He is also a Teach First ambassador and has previously worked at English First in Shanghai, China.
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