Many think that the last half term of the school year is teacher’s winding down time. ‘Behind the Smile’ discusses how this is not the case as more often than not, teachers have extra work on top of their usual classes. She gives practical ideas how to cope with the last few weeks!
How many times do ‘non-school people’ say to you ‘you must be on the wind down now before the summer holidays’ ERRRR they couldn’t be MORE wrong! ‘Oh yeah all I’m doing with the children is colouring, watching films and playing games’ I reply… YEAH RIGHT!
Teacher workload is pretty horrendous throughout the year to be honest but there are some terms that are worse than others. The last half term has got to be up there as one of the worst. In a matter of weeks I am faced with…
Reports x30 (does your school give you any time to write them? With an hour per report that is potentially 30 hours to find)
Data – last minute gathering of evidence, assessing, scrutinising and internally moderating for the last data checkpoint
External moderation – for those of you lucky enough to have this. Prepping, gathering and presenting evidence.
IEP Reviews – assessing, updating and reworking targets on IEPs, meeting with parents, transition planning for SEND children moving into new year group and transition visits with new teacher, compiling transition books.
Move up Day – planning, organising move up day for new class for next academic year
Next year – beginning to get head into next year with a new class, prepping resources (peg names, tray labels, display visuals… the list goes on), transition meetings with their current teacher and transition meetings with the teacher you are taking over from, transition visits
EYFS teachers – even more transition workload – nursery/preschool/home visits, new parents meeting/presentation, handbooks, family events
Performance management – final evidence gathering to justify pay, reflecting, feedback, targets, observations, learning walks
School trips – who put this in the last term? Letters to parents, planning timetable, sorting food, risk assessment, staff/parent helpers
Year 1 teachers – phonics screening – say no more
Sports Day – which takes more practise than parents/careers realise so there isn’t complete carnage on the field! Constant weather watch – aahhh rain potential postpone, sun oohh too hot sun burn – pray for cloudy.
Class assembly – practise practise practise eating into valuable teaching and evidence gathering time (it is lovely though – just maybe not in the last term!)
Book scrutiny and pupil progress may also fall into this term for some.
Oh yeah and of course that is all on top of our normal workload! Planning lessons, assessing, marking, grouping, resourcing, tidying, setting up, displays etc!
So how do we tackle this insane and relentless last term?
Priority list – this may be overwhelming at first but it is helpful to list everything that needs to be done with deadline dates. I love a bit of colour coding so this is the perfect place to go crazy (red for high priority etc) I have also been known to categorize my lists too e.g. tasks for class, subject/area(s) I lead on, performance management tasks etc.
Tick boxes – it sounds silly but ticking things off your list can be sooooo satisfying and you can see that you are achieving something! I have been known to add things to the list I have already done or tiny things just so I can tick them off!!! Feels good! (and by no means procrastination! Ha!)
Term calendar overview – it can be helpful to have a week by week overview of the term to see the deadlines for work at a glance. It is then easier to allocate time to work on each thing and identify any potential clashes (It may be worth highlighting these to SLT if there is anything major and unmanageable to see if anything can be done to help – SLT are human too and may not have picked up on it)
Balance – the hardest thing in teaching to get right – work life balance (sigh). It’s one of those things you really have to work hard at and keep reassessing because it’s easy to slip back into workaholic mode. The best thing you can do is organise your time – give yourself particular nights off and stick to them! Choose the nights you find the hardest to get motivated. Give yourself a curfew so that there is a time limit and you don’t plough on through the night (I am terrible for going to bed on the odd night at 1:00 or 2:00am eek). No matter what – when the time is up – shut that lid and don’t feel guilty! Have some me time one night a week – a hobby, gym, weekly fitness class, book club etc. This also helps to force you to have a night off! And it feels good to have something you enjoy to break up the work, eat, sleep repeat routine.
Support – Make sure you know who your ‘people’ are.
At school – make sure you have support at school as well as at home. Who can you go to and offload? For advice and comfort? Also consider – do you need ‘safe’ people to rant to and a different person (maybe a middle leader) to confide in if you need help talking to SLT about an issue?
At home – do family understand the pressures of being a teacher? Do they know how to best support you? Help you to enforce your curfew etc and give cuddles when needed. This has been a hard learning curve for my husband and he is still learning the best ways to support me and he can’t understand how we can be expected to do so much work at home so we have to try and work together to make it work. We have even found that if we plan time in for me to work during half terms then we are both ok with that because we can fully relax on the other days.
Mindfulness – there are huge benefits of using mindfulness techniques to reduce stress, depression and anxiety:
Focus on your breathing – which sounds simple but it can be tricky if your mind is buzzing with all the things you have got to do. Breathing will help you to be present and gradually you will learn to let the thoughts that pop into your head float away. Exist in the here and now. Doing yoga can be great for grounding.
Meditation – can really help to lower stress and anxiety. They don’t have to be long and deep, you can do mini exercises which just give you the space to focus and clear your head. There are lots of apps out there with exercises as short as 1 minute (e.g. Headspace). Using an app or youtube video (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6p_yaNFSYao) can also be helpful if you want someone else to guide you through it (I don’t think I could do it on my own).
Gratitude – count your blessings each day and start positively. It is a very simple act of expressing thanks for the things you have in your life even if you are feeling low or have a horrible day there are always things to be grateful for and we should use them to boost us. If you are a visual person like me you could use images to record your gratitude by using social media to post daily pics of what you are grateful for or if you are more private a secret pinterest board or phone photo album. Or go old school with good old paper and pen and write a gratitude diary. Or create a gratitude jar and even get the kids involved and when you feel down pick out one to read.
Stop and take in the world – literally stop and smell the flowers. Slow down and take in everything around you, notice what you can see, smell, hear and touch. Take some time to just do nothing… forget about the reports, data etc… it can wait – just 10 minutes a day (or more!) and do nothing. Sit in the garden and just observe the sky, the sounds, the animals, the birds flying past. Or sit in a cafe or in a park and just people watch. Watch them going about their daily lives and imagine who they are, where they are going, who with. Take a step outside of your life, your stresses and relax.
Of course I am not procrastinating at all by writing this blog! It is a productive use of my time to stop for 10 minutes and reflect. It is good to remind myself of all the strategies I can use to get myself through this term and hopefully help others who are struggling. This job can be so all consuming, it can take over your life if you let it. Every so often just stop… take a breath… we… can… do… this… together. Remember if those around you look like they have got everything under control they most likely haven’t – they just present well! It is ok not to be ok and we need to talk about it – we need to tell each other. I guarantee if you confide in someone they will let out a huge sigh of relief that they are not alone! Please reach out to me if you are struggling, I will always reply. We can do this, we can get through it together. Only a few weeks left. Enjoy those lovely smiles on those children’s faces we don’t have much time left together.