I trained in the UK (four years) and then taught there as a qualified teacher for a further three years. I’m sure that UK teachers will agree with me as they read this – the workload is horrendous! I worked every evening of the weekdays and every Sunday. As far as I know, this is the norm. I just had one day off per week, which I refused to give up! Holidays took the pressure off slightly, but these were usually filled with work too. My work/life balance was non-existent. I consciously describe it as ‘work’, because that’s what it was and what it felt like. I need to stress that I taught in two amazing primary schools in England. Leadership was constantly looking for ways to support us. The pressure was external, and they felt it as much as we did.
The workload was not why I left the UK. I actually assumed that it would be like that all over the world. In many places, including some schools in Hong Kong, I’m sure it is. But when I arrived at my new school, my new principal said this to me during induction (I remember it vividly because I didn’t believe her):
“If you work hard during school hours and stay for a while at the end of each day, evenings and weekends will be your own.”
She was right. They are.
In an effort to raise standards, it might seem logical to add more onto teachers’ plates. It might seem that removing this workload would have a negative impact on standards. On the contrary, having seen both sides, I strongly believe that students learn best when their teacher has a reasonable workload. Less is more. Here are ten reasons why workload should be reduced in places such as the UK:
- Professional reading
Since university, I can’t recall a single time when anyone encouraged me to do any professional reading. This seems crazy now! Teaching is a profession that is constantly evolving and we need to keep up with research and ideas for the benefit of our students. Teachers should be reading and sharing on an ongoing basis, learning from best practice and research-informed pedagogy… but we need time for this.
This seems like the most obvious one, and yet people don’t seem to care about it. Even if we ignore the fact that teachers deserve a life, students will learn best from adults who are well-rested, energetic and enthusiastic about being with them. We tell our students to enjoy down-time and to come to school well-rested. The effects of rest on brain activity has been proven time and time again. This applies to teachers as much as it does students.
- Adult learning
The IB states that we are all lifelong learners, and that we should demonstrate this and model it. Whatever you want to learn, connected to teaching or not, you should have time for it. It’s unacceptable for your workload to interfere with your life and your goals.
- Focus on students
Without the extra pressures, teachers remain focused on what’s important – the teaching and learning. My priority has shifted from ‘getting things done’, to the students and their needs.
I am so much more reflective now. I am more aware of my own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. On a daily basis, I think deeply about successes and things that didn’t work. I am constantly thinking about my teaching and rethinking it. My practice has changed so much in the last year, for the better.
This should go hand-in-hand with reflection. Sharing is caring, and teachers should learn from each other. The sharing and discussions (even debates) extend all of our thinking and keep the focus on learning and improving. I have written many times about how much I value my professional learning network (PLN). Teachers all over the world help me to develop my practice on a daily basis via Twitter, Google+, etc. I hope that I similarly help my colleagues around the world. Again, we need time for this.
- Special events
Teachers give up their own time for occasional special events outside of school hours. These are positive experiences that build the whole school community. Students and parents appreciate it. However, teachers can be reluctant when they do not have a work/life balance to begin with, and when other pressures are mounting up.
- Quality feedback
A huge part of a teacher’s workload is providing feedback to students. I have no complaints about this because, when done well, it has a positive impact on student learning. The more time teachers have, the higher quality the feedback will be, and the more the students will benefit.
- Family life
I don’t have children and I lived on my own in the UK. In terms of responsibility, I had an easy ride. I have no idea how parent teachers balance work with family life. No idea! I have the utmost respect for anyone who does it. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be. I can assume that there are many parent teachers struggling with the plate-spinning and this is not their fault. There should be plenty of time in your life for both your students and your own children.
(Teachers in England)
87% know at least one person who has left the profession due to workload in the last two years.
90% have considered leaving the profession themselves in the last two years.
96% say that workload has a negative impact on personal life.
(National Union of Teachers, 2014)
I don’t know how accurate these statistics are. It could be argued that this was just one survey by one union, or that the union has their own political agenda. However, a quick Google search will show countless other articles and statistics, all equally shocking. The UK needs to learn from more successful education systems and respect its dedicated, hardworking and passionate professionals in such a vital profession. The future looks bleak! Not just for UK teachers, but for UK children. If these statistics are anywhere near accurate, then it is a disgrace and shouldn’t be allowed to continue.