Work Life Balance

It’s been a funny old year. The press, and especially the satirists, will bemoan 2016 for Brexit, Trump, the death of every celebrity you ever loved and generally for being crap.

And most teachers would probably say that the workload has gotten worse, that balance has gotten further out of kilter, that DfE meddling has added more stress and I know that I’ve found it increasingly difficult to keep all the plates spinning.

I’ve not done as much CPD / CAS / outreach work as I’d have liked to, I’ve still not updated any of my YouTube revision videos for almost 4 years now(!) and my long term plans to tidy up and add to my various resource collections have utterly stalled. Not to mention the frequency of these blog posts.


In the last year I’ve been to France with my family (twice), seen performances of Mary Poppins (professional), Spamalot (amateur), Goodnight Mr. Tom and Blue Stockings (school), been to see racing cars, spent 3 awesome days at a music festival, attended a variety of gigs (the highlight being the Chili Peppers last night) and even run a successful Raspberry Jam for 10 months out of 12. I’ve had a great year. My daughter has started secondary, my son has flourished at college, I’ve had opportunities to spend time doing fantastic things with my fantastic family.

I’ve also lost a friend, had a health scare and am shortly to lose my eldest to university – all of which helps to add to the perspective.

Work life balance has never been so important to me. So while I struggle to get everything done, I’ve accepted that – despite being one of the good kids – I will occasionally miss deadlines. I will sometimes miss out entire tasks. I will prioritise what I can – but I will do my best by accepting my own limitations and not burning myself out.

So this Christmas I will take my to do list, I will take my marking and some of it will get done. And some of it, inevitably, won’t. But I will have a good Christmas.

And I hope you do too.


The Poke

Today I am not leaving teaching.

I’ve seen a lot of blog posts lately; from the secret teacher, primary teachers, secondary teachers, senior leaders and more. I even wrote one myself 4 years ago (and it has been by far my most read post). The stories are all heartfelt, familiar and somewhat painful. Education under the Tories has gone to hell in a handbasket, the levels of accountability have become oppressive, the pressure to hit targets can feel suffocating and autonomy feels like it has all but left the building.

But I am not leaving teaching.

Those who have left talk of having an actual work-life balance, better physical and emotional health and in conversation I’ve found not a single ex-teacher who tells me they feel they have to work as hard now as they used to do just to stand still.

And yet this is not a post about leaving teaching.

I have good days and bad days, but today I had some great fun with my Y10 class that involved a bit of winding them up, a bit of having a laugh and, by heck, it involved them producing a big chunk of work.

I had a difficult chat with a pupil – the details of which I can’t and won’t go into this morning. And this afternoon I got a subtle smile from said student as I passed by their classroom on my way to firefight 3 other issues.

My Y12s worked for almost an hour in near silence, producing work demonstrating that the lessons I spent last week trying to re-teach them about flow charts and IFDs had actually made a difference.

I could go on (and perhaps I should). The point is that even on those days where I feel totally ineffectual, fail to solve the problem I’m having with their progress and go home with a knotted ball of stress in my stomach and in my legs, there are still those moments where I’m making a difference.

Teaching is an awesome job, and it’s a privilege to have those moments. Moments that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t in education.

There is a cost, of course. I’m increasingly having to find ways to step back, accept my limitations (they can’t all make 5 levels of progress!) and switch off. Last weekend I didn’t mark a single piece of work. I did, however, take on a couple of extra dog walks, clear out a nest of super mutants, caught up with a couple of films and just generally tried to be a human rather than a teacher for a change.

So I’m trying to be positive. To rationalise the problems I find challenging, to decompose the difficulties and to be a supportive rather than whinging voice around my colleagues. With mixed success, of course, but then this is a career that can easily take the best of you and spit you out if you’re not careful.

And I’m staying a teacher for the foreseeable future.

Just say Yes!

I wonder how many times I’ve had a good idea (or a bad one) and managed to talk myself out of it. It’ll just make more work, I’ll look stupid when it falls through, I won’t pull it off, someone else would do it better than me.

I remember, some years ago, being invited down to the Emirates to do a 15 minute talk on collaborative technology. I think it was because I started a shared slideshow on Google Docs to collect and share ideas for non-techie teachers but I’m really not sure.

I’d never stood up in front of other teachers before, I was on sage or role model, I’d never even been to a conference. I read the email, read it again, thought for about 30 seconds and replied yes and hit send. I did it quick because I knew that if I thought about it I’d say no.

I didn’t know what I would say, what I would recommend or how it might be perceived. And I’d have to wangle the day out of work. But if I said yes quickly then what the hell, I’d just have to make it work. And I did.

15 tools in 15 minutes turned into a 10 minute rush through as they were running late by the time it was my turn, but it went down very well. It led to my first Teachmeet (where I further compressed it to a 7 minute version – mostly by skipping all the pauses to breathe I put into the original), a further series of sessions (including a visit to BAFTA) and ultimately, gave me the confidence to run all kinds of CPD sessions that have kept me sane.

At the same time, I’ve had lots of ideas for after school activities. I’ve bought sewable, wearable Lilypad kit, PicAXE robots, Arduino kits, Raspberry Pis and more. But my Y11s need coursework catchup time. It means more work when I am flooded with marking. It doesn’t provide ‘measurable impact’ for my appraisal. I’m tired!

However. In the same way that my CPD sessions, my CAS work and my other ‘extra’ stuff keeps me sane, running this kind of stuff is a big part of why I became a teacher in the first place. Not to get people through exams, or controlled assessment. Not to make sure my PP, SEND, Level 4, Most Able and other cohorts make the requisite demonstrations of progress according to their KS2 data. Not to convince students who ‘don’t like IT’ that they should engage for 60 minutes a week because I want them to. Those things are important, but the thing that really gets the blood flowing is working with enthusiastic people who want to know more about something.

I did that in passing before I was a teacher, and it was what made me look into a PGCE. It’s why I like running CPD for teachers. And it’s why, when I saw a tweet showing a wind speed graph at the Forth Bridge during a storm I decided I was buying a weather station, talking to the science department and doing something with students.

It’s early days, and I’m not sure I have a clear end goal – but then the end goal isn’t really the point. I’ll find some interested students, we’ll do some stuff, get lost along the way and we’ll all learn something. I don’t really know what I’m doing – so it may all go horribly wrong. It will undoubtedly cause more work for me. And I’m sure there are others (@tecoed) who could do it better. But if I don’t say yes quickly then it won’t happen. And that would be a great shame.

A fresh head and a new state of mind


I hate the whole ‘New Year’ thing. Calendar wise it’s completely arbitrary and it feels like a solution looking for a problem to have to generate a new resolution each January.

So it is completely coincidental that this January I find myself in need of a fresh start.

For the last two academic years I’ve been trying to steer a department through various challenges – new curricula, changes to exam structures, a shift towards computer science, having staff poached by other departments and an increasing pressure to be accountable for all things at all times (and the inevitable paper chase that goes with it).

I’ve noticed that my positive, jovial demeanour most of the time has been strained. I’ve become more cynical, pessimistic and generally unhappy. In the run up to Christmas I found myself trying to support a large group of students through ECDL, and I put myself under far too much pressure and that ultimately put strains on the strongest professional friendships I have as well as my personal life.

I have no scientific backing for what I’m about to say, no double blind studies or journal citations. What I do have is 11 years of experience at the front of the classroom and about 18 years at the back. A stressed, cynical, unhappy teacher makes for stressed, cynical, unhappy students. I’ve found myself snapping at students for not knowing something that I do or, worse, for not knowing the thing that I taught a different class last week.

So I’ve made a deliberate effort this Christmas to take a proper break. No school emails, no marking, no planning, no reports or even a stray thought for school work for about a week and a half. Yes, it means that I’m a bit behind now but, you know what? I will get done what I need to and the rest of it will just have to do. Ultimately I’ll return a happier, more productive teacher and middle leader – which I hope will lead to more interesting and engaging learning experiences for my charges. I’ll continue, in fact redouble, my efforts to teach them things ‘for the sake of learning it’ rather than because it might turn up on an exam paper. And I’ll trust that the results will bear out their learning rather than being the sole objective.

Ask me in a week how well it’s working…

Life moves pretty fast

F Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Originally uploaded by eddidit

Work-life balance is a funny thing (unlike a teacher banging on about work-life balance, which is neither funny nor original). As you might have gathered, my blogging has been suffering of late, as have many other things on my to-do list.

Revision videos for computer science, a unit of work on infographics, Mukoku courses, sorting out a new domain for Mukoku, Raspberry Pi stuff, a computing club, robotics & physical computing, Digital Badges, Digital Leaders and much more have all slipped and slipped.

Part of me feels guilty about all of that, but then part of me feels less guilty than it used to. A couple of months ago we lost Chris Allan (@infernaldepart). Suddenly, and without warning all the work-related things that Chris was concerned about stopped being important. And all the things I had been slipping behind with stopped being important, at least in relative terms. It’s impossible to do everything, and I accept that. But I find it too easy to focus on getting done as much as humanly possible.

That’s a really stupid thing to do.

The most that is humanly possible is more than is humanly sustainable, and if I don’t get the infographics unit written and I don’t update Mukoku as often as I should (currently around once annually!) then it doesn’t matter. Meeting up with @stevebunce, @simfin, @dominic_mcg and @hairysporan for a catch-up at Blakes is (frankly) more important. Occasional post-work visits to the pub next door to the school are more important. And with that balance comes the time and the frame of mind to start reflecting on things again.

So my infographics unit still isn’t written. Mukoku still remains domain-less and slightly out of date. But I’m looking after myself a bit more. Making sure I get some social downtime (even if it is mostly with other teachers). And I suspect my overall productivity might even rise as a result.

Work/Life Balance?

Balancing act

Originally uploaded by Brother O’Mara

Two students of mine missed a week of school to go on an army course. Which is fine.

The next lesson, they were due to catch up the filming work the rest of the class had done in their absence. Taking advantage of the opportunity to work unsupervised (as I was with the rest of the class), they mucked about, achieved literally nothing and damaged some expensive equipment.

They both had a session booked after school today to complete the filming under supervision. Neither bothered to turn up.

The only punishment I can realistically offer is to organise the equipment and the supervision for another night. Net loss to pupils – nothing. I can’t allow them to fail and I have to rise above any petulant desire to vent my frustration.

And so I find myself quietly seething, almost 5 hours after the end of my working day.

What balance?

Too much

Too much marking to do…

Too many resources to create…

Too many promises I don’t want to break…

Too many thoughts to pick one to write about…

Too much compulsion to maintain my work-life balance*…

I’m not whinging that I’m too busy. I’m not too busy. I’m damned busy, and blogging has dropped down the priority list, but in the grand scheme of things that’s OK.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this thought: KS4 should not be about passing exams, it should be about learning. A student that gets an E grade can be considered a success, if they have learned something and moved on. Sometimes teachers forget this. Sometimes parents forget this. Sometimes you meet a pupil who has never been told this. The latter is the one that makes me sad.

* which I seem to be managing pretty well right now.

Image attribution: Untitled, Originally uploaded by PatrickYHC

Good enough ?!?!

I’m writing this blog with stolen time (the best kind, IME).

My Thursday nights are normally spent painstakingly preparing a quiz for my form. We have a picture round with 15 pictures (spot the actor, name the TV show, etc.), 15 anagrams, 15 subject specific questions (English lit, English lang, Maths, Science, French, German…) and 15 news questions. It takes me a good hour, sometimes more – and all for a 15 minute registration period.

I’m proud of that quiz though. It has educational as well as entertainment value. It builds teamwork. It makes the registration time seem more worthwhile. It supports the rewards system as the top 2 teams get merits.

Tonight though, I’m tired. First week back after the Christmas break, jobs appearing on my desk quicker than I can shift them off it – you know what it’s like. So, I’ve nipped to onlinequizarea, sorted out 4 rounds from there and I’m writing this with the time instead.

Is that fair? Is that good enough? Is it as educational? Well, yes, yes and no, probably. But that’s OK.

I’ve told this story a number of times, but when I did my PGCE I was a year or so out of academia. My early assignments were drafted, redrafted, proofed, drafted and then submitted. I worked really hard on those assignments and put a lot into it. Then I started my teaching practice…

The assignments in the second half of the course were tackled slightly differently. They got done. Once. And then submitted. They were done in good time, they weren’t rushed, but they didn’t go through multiple drafts. I didn’t have the time and, frankly, they weren’t a priority for me.

Strangely, I got better marks on those assignments than I did on the first!

The lesson there? In this job (and, I’m sure, many others) there just isn’t time to do everything perfectly. And there really isn’t an advantage to doing so anyway. Do things properly, do them well, but sometimes you do need to prioritise, sometimes you do need to do something that’s merely ‘good enough’.

And that’s OK.

Image attribution: Good enough ?!?! Originally uploaded by AUSTIN_O

Finding time for the little things

I daren’t even look at this blog’s front end, I don’t want to think about when the last update was.

It would be very easy to abandon blogging – it’s narcissistic, time consuming, read by perhaps a handful at best. But I do find it a useful reflective process, and that;s something I’ve been struggling to find time for lately.

As is always the case, lots of stuff is happening – some in school, some out, some very good and some particularly bad.

I seem to recall that a number of my posts just before the summer were relating to me work-life balance, and as part of that I’ve benefitted from spending more time with family but I also feel like I’m trying to tread water – not that I’m not making progress, but that I’m only just keeping my head up and every now and again I get a mouthful of water that goes right up my nose and feels uncomfortable for ages. I don’t think the solution is to spend less time with family but I do think I need to prioritise things more carefully.

Hmm… a very reflective post this one, and not nearly as well edited or audience conscious as usual. Anyway, expect business to resume here shortly with an aspirational target of a post a week. It’s not that I don’t have things to talk about – it’s just about whether I find the time to do so!

Balancing Act

Image courtesy of cobalt

Image courtesy of Cobalt

The more observant amongst you will have noticed that I’ve not been posting on my blog much of late – in fact my last post was over 2 months ago!

A large part of the reason for that is my newfound version of a work-life balance. It wasn’t a conscious decision to cut back on the number of hours I spend tippy tapping away at a keyboard, but I have spent an awful lot of time in the past doing just that.

Instead, Im spending at least one day out of every weekend unplugged from my laptop and the only reason I do come back to it is to upload the (usually hundreds of) pictures I’ve taken of the day.

So – I am still here, I am still teaching, I am still creating and updating resources at Mukoku and I will carry on blogging. I’m just not going to guarantee it’ll be every week.