A couple of years ago, I published Teacher workload: why less is more. I maintain that a lighter teacher workload is better for students. I encourage you to revisit that post to see my list of reasons. I reshared that post on Facebook this week and, through reflection and discussions with fellow teachers, something occurred to me: I am working harder than ever, but there’s a key difference to when I was in England.
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.”
If you ask teachers in England (or other places where workload is an ongoing issue), they’ll tell you that the issue is caused by pointless paperwork, excessive data tracking, unrealistic marking expectations and the ongoing pressure to be “outstanding” (among many other things). These drain teachers and suck the life out of them. Many teachers work relentlessly and reluctantly in evenings and on weekends in order to chase these demands. Furthermore, I always felt that too much of my workload was about “covering my back” or gathering evidence for demanding Ofsted inspections.
When you stop telling teachers what they have to do, they can focus on what they want to do. Without pressure, teachers will continue to work hard on things that matter because of their passion. We care deeply about our students and this drives us to be the very best that we can be. When pressure doesn’t crush us, passion drives us.
Unlike when I taught in England, I could go most of the school year without working too much outside school hours (if that’s what I wanted). Teachers should be able to enjoy downtime, relax and sleep! These things alone will increase their effectiveness. In reality, however, we don’t usually clock out at 4pm and we don’t usually switch off from school for the whole weekend. Teaching isn’t a standard 9-5 job and we wouldn’t want it to be. Wherever you teach and whatever the workload, there’s no ‘finish’ button in teaching, there’s only ‘stop’ (to quote a former colleague). We can never finish because there are always new things to learn and ways that we can improve our practice.
“Teaching is such a complex craft that one lifetime is not enough to master it.”
Don’t get me wrong, teaching and learning expectations are higher than ever where I am (a bilingual PYP school in Hong Kong). Likewise, the whole school is as accountable as ever. We actually have an inspection coming up (IB, not Ofsted). We just seem to focus on things that actually matter and everything that we do is for the kids. As a result, I work with teachers who thoroughly enjoy teaching and remain enthusiastic about it. Like all teachers, they work hard and go the “extra mile”. It’s not just my school; this seems apparent across all Hong Kong private/international schools (I’m less familiar with the local system).
So, how do I CHOOSE to use my evenings and weekends? On my own terms, I love nothing more than to continue thinking about my kids and my practice. I love reading professional texts and benefit from them immensely (in my three years of teaching in England, not one teacher or senior ever encouraged me to read). I am constantly reflecting. I enjoy learning about new teaching approaches. I develop my skillset through optional and readily available PD. I have recently started studying for a master’s degree in educational leadership. I have discovered blogging which has become my favourite and most beneficial pastime. I also have time to connect, learn and share with inspirational educators all over the world through social media (in particular, Twitter is an exceptional platform for teachers) and casual face-to-face events such as TeachMeets and PubPD. I could go on! All of the above develop me as a teacher and influence my classroom practice. Importantly, they actually impact my students. I didn’t have time for any of these things in the UK because I was bogged down by tasks that were significantly less beneficial.
Crucially though, I can switch off whenever I like. None of this work is done reluctantly. If I’m tired, want to watch a movie or crave a pint, I simply press the ‘stop’ button. But considering all of the above, the hours spent working on my profession is probably about the same as when I was under pressure, drained and overworked. However, this new style of work fuels my passion instead of stamping it out.
To conclude, I wish to highlight the irony once again. With less pressure to work harder and harder… I’m working harder and harder. I’m no exception. For teachers, our profession is more than just a job. We want to be the very best that we can be for the benefit of our all-important kids. This is what gets us out of bed each morning. My message to inspectors and policymakers is this: the same passion that you’re crushing through unrealistic expectations and hoop-jumping is the same passion that accelerates student learning and promotes a lifelong love of learning. Passion raises standards.
“Skills are cheap. Passion is priceless.”
To read more about passion, I recommend Teach Like a PIRATE by Dave Burgess. Passion is the ‘P’ in PIRATE. The book also contains an extensive and invaluable list of lesson hooks that I constantly refer to. It’s definitely worth a read (as are the other books in the PIRATE series).
To receive blog updates, find the ‘Follow’ icon (below or in the sidebar) or ‘Like’ my Facebook page. Your ongoing support and encouragement are very much appreciated.