With the typical primary school teacher now putting in around sixty hours a week we’re up against it with workload.
Part of the problem is that we need to put in around thirty hours a week in front of our students and then knock off several hours a day of planning, preparation and assessment. It takes a lot to stay focused. In between, we also need to do everything else that life demands.
Things will only get truly better when the government and Ofsted start asking us to do less.
Adapting regular time management strategies to suit teachers can be hard. Our jobs are just so different from most professionals.
It might not be the first comparable job you think of, I believe we can learn a lot from novelists. A lot of them started out in life as teachers. They need to work independently for several hours a day, think creatively and keep their audience very happy.
Lots of novelists have written about how they organise their day to write as productively as possible. I’ve chosen some quotes from favourite authors to understand how the way they work might help teachers.
Nothing will work unless you do.
Most famous for her autobiographical work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou also worked as a dancer, actress, composer and chef. At one point she was a professor of literature despite not having a bachelor’s degree.Angelou achieved more in a few years than many people achieve in their entire lives. However, she didn’t work non-stop. Each morning she would sit down at her typewriter in a hotel room rented just for writing. She was then able to work completely without distraction.
Booking a hotel room just to mark in isn’t going to happen. But the importance of avoiding distractions is crucial.
Put your phone at the other side of the room, turn the television off. Set a timer for twenty minutes and when that time is up take a short break. By repeating this several times, you’ll have made a significant dent in your marking and preparation.
Maya Angelou’s early starts are also something to learn from. Unless we have PPA time we can’t start planning at 9am. What we can do instead is choose a fixed start time, be it six am or four pm, every day. If we always start working then, without exception, it will become a habit.
Positive habits that are so ingrained we no longer need to think about them give a massive boost to our effectiveness and productivity.
The scariest moment is always just before you start.
Like Maya Angelou, Stephen King is prolific in his writing and has also written about his work in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
King wrote Carrie whilst working as a high school teacher in Maine. At the same time, he supplemented his salary with short story writing.
I’d hazard a guess that an American teacher’s workload was less onerous in the early 1970s. Nonetheless, King’s main challenge was always getting the first sentence down on paper.
It’s the same for most of us – we procrastinate. If we’re worried that a task is going to be too difficult, too boring or too big, we find it more difficult to begin.
The answer, like King writing his first sentence, is to do a small chunk first. Once we’ve made a start, the whole task appears so much easier.
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
The club reference doesn’t sound so alarming when coming from Jack London; he wrote about survival in the harshest of environments.
Like writing, teaching is highly creative. But sitting waiting for imaginative teaching ideas to come to us when a deadline is approaching probably won’t work. Pressure can kill creativity.
Most novelists will carry a notebook or electronic equivalent and write down ideas as they pop up. This isn’t such a bad idea for a teacher too.
The thing about creativity is the more you use, the more you have. Try brainstorming sessions, either alone or with colleagues when you’re feeling focused and energetic. Write down everything you think of.
When you have a new topic coming up, go through TES Resources and Teachers Pay Teachers downloading whatever free resources you can and making a note of any paid ones. That way you’re being proactive not reactive. You’ll avoid panicking later when you’re under pressure.
When you’re excited about a series of lessons because you know they’re to be effective and exciting you’ll also plan them more quickly. More time saved.
Call to action: use the comments section to tell everyone any other writer tactics which benefit teachers.