As I write these words, I think back to that final Friday of a long summer holiday, when my TV was stuck on The Jeremy Kyle Show after my dog decided to hide the remote control.
The daytime TV isn’t something I miss, having now returned to work, but I do miss the time spent with friends who I barely get to see between holidays, the opportunities I had to read books and feel relaxed, plus the ability to visit the doctor, dentist and other such services at my convenience – something I rarely get to do during term time.
With the start of a new term, I’m excited to see what the year will bring, particularly the new initiatives we have starting and the new pupil intake we’re supporting. Whether I can keep the ‘chilled out’ persona the summer holiday brings out in me seems unlikely, however, with the stress and true extent of my – and everyone else’s – workload now starting to unfold.
The work/life balance debate has been the focus of much discussion for a number of years at this point, with more and more teachers choosing to leave the profession because they’re unable to reconcile having a working life that allows them to spend quality time with their family and friends with the hard work involved in successfully helping children discover their talents while improving standards.
Is it actually possible for today’s teachers to manage both? Whether it is or not, the important thing to remember is that being a teacher is a privilege, but the job doesn’t define you. It’s a career path that many have chosen before and continue to pursue now – but with the increased expectations, larger volume of paperwork and constant pressure to reach set targets we’ve seen in recent years, none of us can overlook the need to keep ourselves sane, well looked after, rested and focused. It we don’t, we’ll bring nothing to the role other than our sense of exhaustion.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there are any easy wins and simple answers when it comes to coping with the pressures of the job, particularly when the start of each school year brings with it an increase in workload and changes in expectations with regards to parts of what we do.
Achieving a good work/life balance remains imperative, however. Everyone needs, and indeed has the right to switch off – to go to the gym, spend quality time with family, throw themselves into hobbies and enjoy rest and recreation time without thinking about an ever-swelling to do list.
There are, however, some practical ways of managing this. Plan out your weeks at work ahead of time, and do your best ensure that you complete as many of those tasks during work hours as possible, so that you won’t have to bring as much home with you each night. Learn some strategies for switching off, so that you can leave the stresses of the job at school.
It’s important to talk to colleagues when you’re feeling stressed, or when things seem to be getting too much. There’s no failure in sometimes feeling that the stress is overwhelming. There’s only success to be had in being able to admit this to others, and in finding ways to prevent the job from becoming all-consuming. Pursuing a rich life outside of school will ultimately enable you to keep things in perspective.
Sadly, however, the main challenge many schools now face is in coming up with practical solutions that can help their staff at a time when budgets are decreasing and more is continuing to be expected of everyone.
Beth Cubberley is assistant headteacher and SENCo at Grove Wood Primary School in Rayleigh, Essex.