If you were to draw up a list of the most overworked professions of them all, teaching would surely be in the mix at the very top. But is the perfect work/life balance achievable in the world of teaching, and is there anything you can do to bring down those workload levels?
Much of the workload difficulties teachers face could be solved with increases in funding or real change to school policies. That way, we could reduce the timetable pressures on teachers and give them a breather. Ultimately, that can often be out of our hands – so what can we do to reduce workload stresses and get more done?
Keeping the above context in mind, this article lists 18 tips and strategies for bringing down the amount of work on your plate each day.
What is the typical teacher workload?
It can be a good idea to first get to grips with how overworked you are compared to the average teacher. We all know that the idea of a 9am-3:30pm working day is a total myth, but what is truly the typical teacher workload?
The Department of Education’s 2016 Teacher’s Working Time Survey gives us the clearest idea. That study showed that the average teacher works 54.4 hours a week, with 93% saying their workload was a problem. Another study, this time from TUC, showed that teachers work as much as 12.1 hours a week in unpaid overtime. Comparing professions, only the role of Chief Executive was found to have higher levels of unpaid overtime with 13.2 hours.
Tips to reduce teacher workload
- Use an organisational app
- Be sure to set goals
- Get into a routine
- If something comes in, something goes out
- Get some expert help
- Introduce some peer-to-peer assessment
- Ask for some smart marking tips
- Use the government’s resources
- Look at your intervention strategies
- Be firm with your feedback
- Will oral feedback suffice?
- Plan your lessons efficiently
- Cutdown meetings
- Treat yourself to the odd early (or on time) finish
- Sleep better
- Ditch the idea of perfectionism
- Sometimes, say no
1. Use an organisational app
There’s a load of technology out there that can help you be a little more organised, which could be a key facet of reducing your workload (especially if you are notoriously unorganised).
From to-do list creators like Microsoft To Do, to anti-procrastination and distraction blockers like Freedom, or classic productivity apps like Evernote, there is no shortage of options. Identify your weak spot and give some a try.
2. Be sure to set goals
If you don’t know where you’re going, it can sometimes be tough to have that get up and go each morning. Goal setting is important in all aspects of life, and your teaching career is no different.
Set yourself some long-term, medium-term and short-term goals, detailing exactly where you want to be and the things you need to do to achieve it. It could help give you a performance boost and get more done.
3. Get into a routine
This doesn’t work for us all, but applying some structure to your day can make some of us are more effective workers. If you have pre-set chunks of time for particular tasks, and remain strong and committed to keeping that time free for it, you’ll find you get more done, more of the time.
The only problem here is ensuring you do exactly that – stick to it. If you plan a routine and completely ignore it even once, it will become harder and harder to ever return to it. This can work really well with keeping your classroom organised too. Establishing a good classroom routine will keep it exactly how you want it, and stop you from having to do major cleanups every so often.
4. If something comes in, something goes out
Routines are great, but sometimes things happen that are out of our control. Flexibility is an important part of teaching, but you can apply simple rules to make sure you don’t suddenly become overloaded with new things to do.
For example, have a one-in-one-out rule for tasks. If something important crops up that has to be completed, do so only on the proviso that something else has to go. If nothing on your to-do list that day can go, then nothing else can come in.
Schools are some of the most helpful communities you’ll come across. Your fellow teachers are all too aware of your workload management struggles; in fact, they are almost certainly going through their own.
That’s why it’s so important for us all to work together. Lean on other members of school staff, teachers, or otherwise, and get the help you need to get things done. Always remember, you are not alone.
6. Get some expert help
Aside from this very article, there are plenty of ideas, tips, and strategies for reducing your workload and focusing on your work-life balance.
As just one of a million examples out there, give TED talks’ curated productivity playlist a look. It houses several videos tailored to working more effectively and boosting your career wellbeing.
Look at how your school operates
7. Introduce some peer-to-peer assessment
Undoubtedly, marking and assessments take up probably the largest proportion of your non-teaching time – so what can we do to reduce the amount of time you spend doing it?
One idea is to introduce peer-to-peer assessment. It might take some initial time, and it sure won’t be perfect from the off, but it’s sure to reduce your marking workload. For those who are capable, or for simple quizzes and straightforward tests, you could trust students to give self-assessment a go too.
8. Ask for some smart marking tips
Ask around your fellow teachers for a new way to approach marking. Is there someone in the school who has a reputation for flying through their marking? Pick their brains and see what they do differently.
Other things to consider include:
- Introducing feedback codes so you don’t have to write out long responses each time
- Use forms of feedback that aren’t written (more on that later)
- Setup a marking workshop with staff, where we can all assess techniques and share ideas for reducing workload
9. Use the government’s resources
The UK government’s Department for Education has created a great many resources which could help you to review where you’re especially strained and make improvements to workload. Head to this hub and you’ll find all sorts of resources, including:
- A school workload reduction toolkit
- Tips from school leaders on reducing teacher workload
- Reports and research from independent groups on the extent of teacher workload
10. Look at your intervention strategies
Gathering data for, and then working up, intervention strategies are a particularly time-consuming task for teachers. Periodically review your intervention strategies in schools, making sure you gather evidence on existing programmes to maximise how effectively they work.
Whenever you’re doing these intervention checks, consider how much time is taken, and evaluate its success based on the resources it needs.
11. Be firm with your feedback
You can make small tweaks and improvements here and there, but as we have already mentioned, sometimes significant structural changes are needed. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind to leadership and make them aware of the difficulties you’re having.
Strong leadership is required to reduce the workload of everyone. Don’t let your voice on this vital topic go unheard.
12. Will oral feedback suffice?
Look to introduce different types of feedback, helping you to reduce the amount of time-intensive written feedback you give. If it’s a common trend that’s affected a lot of the class, think about live class oral feedback.
Any way you can introduce verbal feedback, and therefore reduce written feedback, can be a great way to trim down one of the biggest drawers of time for any teacher.
13. Plan your lessons efficiently
Lesson planning is an incredibly important part of the job, but it’s important to be as efficient as possible over something that does take so much time. Much like our tips here for reviewing marking and feedback strategies, do the same with your lesson plans.
Get everyone together for a curriculum planning workshop, and critically analyse what is good and not so good about your existing plans. Work collaboratively and ensure you’re using the best quality resources you have available. In the long-run, it will save you plenty of time with a reduced need for interventions and better pupil attainment.
14. Cutdown meetings
This one is true of almost every workplace in the world. Meetings go on longer than they should and many of them occur when a simple email would have sufficed.
As a school, review the meetings you have in place and think about which ones you could lose. Removing a weekly half-hour meeting can suddenly free up two hours every month.
Rules to live by
15. Treat yourself to the odd early (or on time) finish
Your overall health and wellbeing are paramount and above all else in this job (and don’t forgot that’s exactly what this is – a job).
Every week or so, be sure to “treat” yourself to a day when you actually leave on time! You’ll often find you get just as much done, as the good vibes you get from knowing you’re leaving on time keeps spirits and productivity high through the day.
16. Sleep better
Sleep is a non-negotiable part of reducing your workload. If you feel fresher and fitter each day, you’ll get more work done and just generally have a more positive attitude about your work. Sleep has long been closely linked with better productivity, improved moods, and just generally increased health.
Don’t let your workload get in the way of a good night’s sleep.
17. Ditch the idea of perfectionism
Teachers are perfectionists. It’s one of the reasons why they’re so good at delivering outstanding education to children every day. Sadly, it’s also one of the reasons why our workloads quickly stack up.
Perfection is difficult to achieve in any profession, and knowing when something is good enough to succeed is a great trait to instil in your work. Sometimes, try and let go when you know that you’ve done enough.
18. Sometimes, say no
Plenty of teachers have a lot of trouble saying a two-letter word beginning with “n” and ending in “o”. But from time to time, no one is going to think less of you if you say enough is enough and you can’t take anything else on right now.
There’s only so much anyone individual can do. Being able to say no allows us to focus on our most important tasks and give them the time they deserve. Try it, just say no.