If your half term is going to be catching up on mountains of marking and lesson planning rather than a week of rest and reflection, now’s the time to take a step back and see what you can do to try to bring your life back in to balance.
1) Remember That You’re Not Alone
There are no easy fixes – your first year was always going to be tough, but remember that you’re not alone. If you feel like you’re struggling to cope that doesn’t make you a bad teacher, most people feel like that at some point in their career. The trick is to not get too despondent about it and try to make some changes to make life easier for you.
2) Keep Some Time Sacred
Even if you’re completely overburdened try to make some time sacred when you never work. Maybe it’s vegging out in front of X-Factor on a Saturday night or taking your kids to the park Sunday morning, but giving yourself some guaranteed rest time will help clear your head. Remember that the more stressed you get the less you’ll be able to manage, so making some time for yourself is important.
3) Draw a Line Between Work and Home
In an ideal world you’d only work at school (even if that meant staying later) and just relaxed at home, but practically this isn’t always possible. If it isn’t then try and make yourself a space in your home where you do your work. That way once you’re done you can switch off.
4) Budget Your Time
Works well with a stopwatch. Be strict about the time you’re allowed to spend on an activity. Treat it like an exam where you have a limited amount of time to get everything completed. This will help you fight that urge to go into too much unnecessary depth and give you at least part of an evening to enjoy.
5) Observe the 80:20 Rule
There’s no-one reading this who won’t have had this advice thrown at them at some point – the tricky part is actually observing it in your day to day life. Instead of asking why you should do something (there will always be reasons) why not start asking what would happen if you didn’t do something? Of course it would be better to generate your own resource for the activity – but what would happen if you just found a suitable one from the web? Combining this and budgeting your time can be a powerful way to eliminate the ‘nice to do’ jobs whilst giving the ‘must do jobs’ intact.
6) A Little, Often
If you can try not to let the work build up. You’ll get through it much quicker if you’re able to do it regularly rather than all in one go. The more regularly you do things the more they become routine and the easier they become.
7) Don’t Take On More Than You Have To
Lots of NQTs when they first start out have the urge to get their feet on the career ladder as soon as possible – which means taking on things like school trips and extra responsibilities. If you can cope with the extra work then that’s fine, but your first task in your NQT year is to be an excellent teacher. That’s what will stand you in thebest stead for career progression – and if extra activities are endangering that you should think carefully about them.
8) Don’t Be Too Proud to Seek Advice
As an NQT nobody expects you not to have issues and questions – so don’t be afraid to ask. Whatever the issue, whether it be lesson planning, behaviour or assessment most teachers you speak to will have faced it at some point or another. Why kill yourself learning it again on your own when you can use the benefit of their own experience.
9) Share Ideas and Resources with Others
Some prefer not to ask people they work with – which is where networks like Twitter or the TES forums can be incredibly helpful. People are often more honest online about the problems they face (and the solutions) and you’ll find an active community of NQTs on there ready to share experiences. It’s not just advice – they can also be great ways to share resources and lighten the burden on your lesson planning.
10) Make the Most of Your Leisure Time
If your social and family life is getting squeezed by work – be honest with them about the difficulties you’re facing. The last thing you want is for people to think you’re avoiding them. Then when you do get the time, make sure you do something with your family or friends that you’ll really enjoy and can look forward to. Yes, going out after an exhausting week is a big ask but if you don’t make a real effort to have a satisfying social life as well you’ll find those long hours during the week even more of a drag.
I’d love to hear your tips and advice on how to get through your NQT year – whether you’re doing it at the moment and have useful tips to share or you’re an old war horse who wants to share their hard won insights.
I’m particularly interested in any advice you have on how to maintain strong relationships (in the broadest sense) outside school when the pressure’s on. So much of the advice out there about work-life balance that I’ve read seems to be about essentially time management, but if your work and life rally are going to be in balance then that means you need a strong social-family life to complement your busy work schedule.