I still remember the first time I planned a lesson: I sat in my kitchen, and it took me the whole morning to plan a 30-minute activity and plenary. Now, thankfully, the process is much more straightforward. Trying to unpick something that becomes second nature after a few years is tough, but that’s what I’m going to attempt here.
If there’s one thing I’d say to anyone starting out in teaching, it’s that there is a difference between loving your job and being defined by it. In other words, don’t be the ‘Hero Teacher’ that stays up marking until midnight every day: it will only make you less effective in the classroom. If your school celebrates this kind of behaviour, rather than providing space and solutions to make workload more tolerable, then I’d suggest it needs to have a good, long hard look at itself.
I’ve learned about workload the hard way. My own issues stemmed from an obsession with ‘doing’ things all the time. I remember being observed by a deputy head and an Ofsted inspector years ago. Apparently, the inspector said, “Goodness, he’s working so hard I’m tired just watching him.” The lesson was actually distinctly average, and everything going on in it was defined by me. My planning, my teaching and the way I was feeding back were taking the onus completely away from the students and placing it on me.
Schools are often obsessed with evidence and extrinsic measures as an indication that things are as they should be. Learning walks and work scrutinies are a means of continually measuring that everyone is up to scratch, and we’ve lost any sense of intrinsic measures. By implication, a good teacher has densely planned lesson and exercise books with a sea of green or red pen. In truth, busyness is no more than a distraction from what really matters, and we need to be able to step back and see teaching and learning as something with lots of moving parts. It takes real credibility to know when to step back and know when input from you is less essential. With experience comes a greater ability to predict and manage the ebbs and flows of workload.
In the meantime, the key is to think of teaching as part of a process; a process consisting of planning, teaching and marking. It’s a continuous process that should never stop, and the biggest benefit to seeing things this way is that it will help you to manage your workload. In terms of planning and marking – the two things which influence your time outside of the classroom – the intensity will vary according to what you want the students to achieve.
The resource below will hopefully form the basis of a template for you to begin thinking about your own teaching cycle.