On the Physical Challenge of Teaching

“Take a day off once every half term to restore your energy levels – everyone does it”.

I was given this advice in my first year of teaching.  I didn’t follow it then, and I don’t agree now, but perhaps we could support teachers by being more honest about the sheer physical challenge of the job, and how to handle it?

Teachers are on their feet all day, and for most of that time they’re on high alert, making split second decisions and trying to think a few steps ahead.  In my experience, school leaders don’t have it much easier.  At my last school someone in SLT handed out pedometers one morning.  By the end of the day we had all covered between 5 and 10km, pounding the corridors and playgrounds.

I enjoyed Daisy’s recent blog about what teachers can learn from high performance sport, but I wonder if there was any need for analogies and metaphors when teaching itself is so strenuous.

So here’s my advice on confronting the physical challenge of teaching:

  1. Invest in your butterflies.  Read this excellent blog from Joe Kirby and gradually invest in your own renewable resources (or steal with pride from someone who has already done this).  These might include course guides for students, multiple choice tests and lists of key vocabulary for the stuff you teach.
  2. Plan and mark to the clock. Is that lesson you spent an hour planning really better than one you could have prepped with 30 minutes of focused thought?  Set a timer when planning and marking.
  3. Know your impact. Constantly question whether the work you do has any impact, and gradually do less of the stuff that doesn’t.
  4. Set your red lines.   Decide on the hours that you are happy to dedicate to your job, and accept that you will not get everything done within these hours.   The fact that there is always more to do is an occupational hazard.
  5. Learn how to look after yourself.  Whether it’s Berocca, yoga, or a healthy sleep routine, get to know what your body needs.  Regular exercise is known to be as effective as some anti-depressants.
  6. Go easy on canteen food.
  7. Don’t suffer on the central line. Make your commute enjoyable with podcasts and books.
  8. Write short emails.  It’s great that Microsoft now remind us when we’ve forgotten to attach a document. If only they did the same when we write more than 100 words.  Keep them short.

Government, academy sponsors and school leaders all have a vital role to play in tackling excessive workload (I think Ofsted deserves credit for its myth-busting ‘clarification for schools’), but perhaps the most powerful solutions will emerge from teachers themselves?


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