It’s not the workload in teaching that’s the problem, it’s how you filter it. Teaching is a caring profession. By very definition you are a teacher because you care but caring is what can kill it for you. All around us we are surrounded by ways to be better at our job and because we care we listen, we strive, we set ourselves ridiculously high standards. Education is, after all, consumed with the search for bettering knowledge, understanding and skills and we fall into that trap over and over again with our own work, caring relentlessly about our outputs as teachers and chastising ourselves with guilt when things are unfinished or when we’ve not managed to complete a given task to the same standard our level of caring suggests is acceptable. Managers I have worked under have called it ‘being a perfectionist’, ‘being dedicated’, ‘caring too much’ and ‘having too much time on my hands’ but it wasn’t until I came to work at my current school that I really understood what it all meant.
In teaching there is an enormous amount of work but it isn’t the amount it is how urgent and Important it all feels that makes it seem unmanageable and it feels this way because you care. So many Sunday nights I have said the words ‘because I have to’, ‘because I can’t go into school without this done’ and I genuinely believed it, but over the last year I have found myself questioning myself more and more. Instead I rate every single thing on my to do list by the impact it will have on the children in my class. (I should stress I’m very lucky to have a management who support this). What I have found is that by directing my care towards the children and away from the standard of my work I have found my workload much easier to manage. There’s no less of it, I’m still expected to do lots of work that is administrative but by redirecting my caring I have reduced the stress that comes with the work. If I have completed a task, which has minimal impact, to a standard that my ‘perfectionist’ self would previously be ashamed of, I alleviate the guilt by looking at the impact I am having in class. In the past I worked hours and hours to prove my own performance and for self preservation, to protect myself from the criticism that might occur if something wasn’t done or wasn’t perfect. Now I know that I can always justify my performance if I’ve prioritised the children and their learning.
It takes brave managers to support this and brave teachers to stand up to managers who don’t. Young teachers must be given an environment in which patience, trust and thorough organisation helps grow their self esteem enough that they never feel that their work output or a completed to do list is a measure of their success. We spend so long fostering Growth Mindset in our children but neglect it in our teachers. We must grow the self esteem of teachers so that they can self affirm through the growth and learning that takes place in their classrooms otherwise the pressures of unfinished work will always make them feel like failures and retention will be impossible.