Last year I survived; this year… thrive?

I made it through my first school year as a teacher-mummy, although at times I honestly didn’t think that was going to happen. But it was definitely a year about surviving and little else: some books took longer to mark than the policy-stated 2 weeks; some lessons were planned & created during break and taught immediately after; some balls were dropped (some of them even rolled away never to be seen again!)

But I got through it and I learnt a lot of lessons that I am taking in to this year:

How to survive homework.

Homework became a real problem for me. I often fell behind in my marking; my little one sometimes refused to recognise that I had work to do or I was shattered from being overwhelmed. Frequently, I had to hand books back with only part of the class having had their books marked. And even though the classes were really understanding the guilt grew and really started to take its toll.

So, this year I will be using booklets for KS4. I trialled it with a Y11 class last year and it worked well:

  • They could peer mark,
  • I could mark during lessons,
  • I didn’t have to worry about taking 30 books home and having to mark them in time for the next lesson (my son didn’t always play ball with going to sleep on time on the evenings I absolutely had to get my marking finished),
  • They liked them (some of them voluntarily told their tutor, who happens to be head of English 👌🏻)
  • They were uploaded to the learning platform so students could type, if they wanted, and reprint if they lost them.
  • It helped with my organisation as I didn’t forget what I’d set and when the deadline was (a common problem during my first months back. It takes a bloody long time for ‘baby brain’ to go away!)

The kindness of teachers on TES, LitDrive and Twitter can not be underestimated and has made my life so much easier. And taking (and editing for my classes) resources from others has given me back the time to make my own poetry booklet, which I will share once it’s been tested by my classes. And, most importantly, a little more time to spend with my son.

How to survive marking.

All homework will be done on paper. No negotiations! Yes, this will mean sticking in time at the start of lessons. And some books will look scrappy for a few weeks. And some students will stick it in the wrong place, or upside down, or back to front. But if I keep my standards up, they’ll work it out.

Paper is the answer. It’s easier to carry. It means I don’t have the pressure to mark a whole set by a certain period, so any mummy-emergencies which crop up can be dealt with without any ‘teacher-guilt’ creeping in.

I’ve also made DIRT task sheets for my GCSE Literature classes to stick in their books. This speeds up my marking as I don’t end up writing the same response tasks on the majority of mark slips, just a number code.

dirt tasks – higher

dirt-tasks-lower.docx

And my inner teacher-geek leapt to the front in Lidl when I saw a stamp kit. So, after playing with teenytiny letters one evening, I’ve now got a Language marking stamper. Just a quick stamp and a ‘delete as appropriate’ target for each Section B response should reduce the marking time for my largest class.

Obviously, I’ll still add anything else that’s needed, but, hopefully, this will save me a few more minutes.

Even if I only manage to save 5 minutes per class, that’s 40 minutes per fortnight I’ve reclaimed. If I can keep finding ways to make each job at least 5 minutes faster, that’s a lot of time back with my family.

How to survive planning.

Don’t reinvent the wheel! I used to rewrite whole schemes of work (because I enjoyed it and thought that I should) but now I see that as just work for works sake. Or time away from my family. I’m using the prewritten resources without guilt or second thought. A quick pre-read and pre-lesson tweak is all I need to do now. This is so much quicker! And it’s given me time to create some, in my opinion, pretty decent lessons for Y10 lower set poetry, which I’ve shared with the department (so, no teacher guilt for me!) and will upload to TES, once they’ve been pupil-tested.

Go to bed 20 minutes later.

I know it sounds weird, but it’s the best thing I’m doing at the moment.

Because in those 20 minutes, I’m making my lunch or having a shower. I used to squeeze these in in the morning and often end up running late which would create a stressful start to my day. Or worse still, mean I didn’t get to make a cup of tea until break! (Even writing it makes me feel a little stressed out) I’m not getting more sleep, I’m just getting better sleep as I’m not worrying or working out how much I’ve left myself to do in the morning.

Embrace the slow cooker / freezer.

Monday’s are always awful. It’s the first day away from my boy after the weekend. And it’s meeting day, so I’m always late back. Cuddles and play time would often be sacrificed for making dinner. Or I’d play and dinner would be late and Oliver would get hangry! But a decent slow cooker recipe book has helped with that. Set up to finish at dinner time, all that had to be done was put on a pan of rice once I got home. First day back after summer and I got in both cuddle and play time with dinner served on time. I felt like a winner that day! Today was defrosted leftovers reheated and next Monday will be the slow cooker again.

Talk.

This year, I’m going to tell people as soon as I feel it getting harder I start to feel overwhelmed. To often we feel we have to suffer in silence because everyone’s stressed or everyone’s busy. But that’s rubbish!

We work in an profession that takes student wellbeing very seriously. We will bend over backwards to ensure our students can cope, can thrive, can be happy. But we don’t think we should ask for the same things? Madness!

Our heads of department, our line managers, our SLT have a duty of care for us as well. Not only is it in their best interests to help and support us, but they want to (at least all the ones I’ve work with have). But they’re not mind readers. Don’t be afraid to say you can’t cope or that you need someone to help or that you just can’t see how you will meet that deadline. If they know, they can help. And if they help, you feel so much better.

Make time for me.

No matter how much time you can carve out for yourself, do it! You can’t spend your whole life just being mummy or Miss. Or at least I couldn’t. Towards the end of last year, I started to miss myself; I needed time to be me again. So now, every day I take 10 minutes out to learn Portuguese (I’d started before the pregnancy, but hadn’t gotten back in to it) and in a few weeks, I’ll start playing netball again.

I’ve accepted that I’ll probably make an arse of myself on the court: it has been 4 years since I last played. But I’ve been chatting with my new team and it turns out that we all feel the same and we’re all just up for having a giggle and seeing what happens. And if we’re really lucky we may even win a game… hopefully.

I’m only a week in and I have no idea if any of this will keep working, but I’m going to give it my best shot. This year I’m determined to thrive.

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I’ve sunk.

No lies.
Cards on the table.
Truth time.

I’m struggling. I’m no longer sinking; I’ve sunk. I’m lying on the bottom of the ocean weighed down by my marking, my planning, the admin, my housework and most of all, my guilt.

I have never been in this position before, at least not to this degree. I’ve suffered the back log of 50 Controlled Assessments needing to be marked on top of everything else and the comeback of daring to have a social life on a weekend and the back log of marking and admin which that creates. But this is different. This time I threw a big ole spanner in the works…

I had a baby.

And now I have new priorities and new drains on my time and energy. I can no longer stay at work until 6 to get everything done. And there’s no way I can dedicate hours in the evenings and weekends to books, essays and power points. Currently, I’m in a position where I need to get the majority of my work done in the 5 hours of non-contact time that I have each week. It’s physically impossible. I simply cannot do it.

I am lost. I don’t know how to solve this problem. And the person I reached out to doesn’t really know either. The solution I’ve been offered is to not worry about marking anything completed before half term. And whilst this is a good short term fix, it does nothing to fix the issue in the long run. Once all of this term’s work is marked more will have been generated; lessons will still need to be planned and resources will still need to be made. Not to mention the reports and emails and mentoring comments.

Logically, I know that I just need to work more. I just need to find the extra hours; these will, most likely, come from the ones assigned to sleeping as I refuse to take them from time with my boy and if I take any more time from my husband I fear I may not have one for much longer (or at least one that I can pick out of a line up!)

But if I do this, am I not adding to the problem? Am I not suggesting to my head of department and head teacher that my work load is suddenly manageable and that I’m coping, when in reality I’m not? I’ve always said that it’s not a good idea to kill yourself marking books specifically for an observation or book audit as it appears that the work load SLT ask of us is manageable when the truth is different: suggesting everything is rosy when it isn’t won’t make things improve. Now, I have to live that on a much larger scale. I don’t want to lose my TLR (and financially, I can’t. We’re already struggling with my husband’s reduced hours and the additional costs. And babies contribute nothing financially. Such spongers!) But equally, I don’t want to stay weighted down on the ocean floor – it’s cold, lonely and very sad down here.

I’m meeting with the head this week and have more meetings coming up about this. And I have to be honest. I have to explain that I will catch up – that was always my plan – but I need a long term solution as otherwise this will just keep happening. And that has got to be a flaw in the system. Doesn’t it? I cannot be the only new mother who struggles with full time teaching. Heck, I cannot be the only human being who struggles with full time teaching. The system where we all merrily work for free in evenings, weekends and holidays has to stop being the norm. It has to start to be recognised for what it is: the system is broken. The problem is, it was this way when we started so we never really realised what we were doing. It just appeared to be normal and necessary so we never questioned it. However, a few years ago I tentatively raised my hand and whispered a question at the system. I wondered if this was the right way to do things. I started to try different ways to speed up my marking and planning; ways to claw back a few more hours for ‘me time’. But now, I’m yelling. I’m stamping my feet and screaming that I need more time; I deserve more time; I’m allowed more time. I’m scrutinising my contract and demanding to know where it says I have to work evenings and weekends for free; where it says I have to choose between time with my husband and time with my mark schemes. And the most comforting thing is that I’m finding a few people raising their hands, both tentatively and vigorously, on Twitter and in person. These past few weeks, where I’ve felt like a failure as a teacher, mother and wife I’ve stalked, and occasionally interacted, on Twitter. I’ve seen people confess to being over loaded, to falling behind, to feeling like they can’t cope. You’ve offered me hope. You’ve made me feel less alone. You’ve made me feel better. So, this is my offering to you: my honesty.

I love teaching. I love my students and I love my subject.
But the system is killing me. And I don’t know what to do about it.

I think about leaving, but I know in my heart that I can’t do it. I love teaching too much. The system may be broken, but I’m right in the heart of this system and I want to see it change for the better; I don’t want to abandon it. I want to help it change, but I’m not sure if I’m strong enough to take that on. I need to find my strength to change it for me at the moment. But if we all find a little bit of strength to say that we need help; to say that we’re struggling; to say that this can’t go on…

Or perhaps it’s not about that right now. Perhaps it’s about solidarity? Maybe the first steps towards a big change are little ones: taking a cup of tea to a colleague who seems stressed? Offering a hug to someone who looks like they need it? Offering a compliment when the teacher in the room next door can’t see how good they are? Or just stopping in to see if they’re alright?

I don’t know… These are just the musings of a tired, struggling, procrastinating teacher.

New teacher-parent blues

The end of the Easter holidays signifies the start of my first full term after returning from maternity leave (I did 3 weeks before the start of the holidays). 

As expected I struggled in my first weeks back. I found creating a balance between being a good teacher and spending quality time with my little man challenging and much more emotionally painful than I had anticipated. 

Don’t get me wrong, I have been supported by both my department and SLT but there’s only so much they can do. Based on my own experiences the following have been the biggest problems and, if they are nationwide, must be leaving a large amount of exhausted and emotional new mothers struggling and feeling like there is no real solution. 

Isolation

Firstly, I’m still feeding Oliver and it’s important to me that he has a bottle of expressed milk along with his formula bottles whilst I’m at work. And this means I have to express at work. My school was great at giving me options of which room I wanted to use, but it’s much more complicated than that. To keep my body in a routine and prevent mastitis I need to express at a regular time and, as you know, the only regular time teachers have is lunchtime. I’m happy to do this and want to do this for Oliver, but it’s quite isolating. I miss out on the social time with the department. This just makes the other issues seem worse. 

In addition to this, I’ve had a weird experience of feeling like a new member of a department I’ve worked in for 3 years. There are people I don’t know and references I’m unfamiliar with. In my weaker moments these can leave me feeling a little left out. 

Workload 

As expected workload has become a problem. Three weeks in and I’m already behind. It’s so depressing to look at my marking pile up and not see any way of catching up. PPA does not give anyone enough time to get everything done and I’m now choosing to come in later and leave earlier than I used to. Both of these factors mean I’m behind already and can’t see how to catch back up. To make matters worse, I have picked up 6 exam classes so nearly all my marking is equally important and urgent. 

Teacher-guilt

I’ve always felt this in one way or another, but now on top of my standard teacher-guilt is the guilt that comes from knowing that last year I would have put more time in. Or I would have agreed to revision sessions without a second thought. 

I’m no longer the teacher I used to be. And that’s fine because now I’m a mummy and that makes me so happy. But I’ve got to find a way to get closer to the teacher I used to be while still being the mummy I want to be. Problem is, that takes time and, as always, I don’t have enough of that. 

Moaning

I’m finding myself resorting to a default “I’m fine” or avoiding answering if people ask how I’m doing / coping as I don’t want to come across as moaning. This feeling is made worse by the knowledge that everyone is busy and stressed and falling behind in our usual run up to exams chaos. 

Self doubt 

I’ve often had moments where I’ve expected someone to walk into my room and ‘out’ me as a fraud; to be honest I was beginning to learn to ignore them. But having not taught since July (timetable-less in September) this feeling came back with a vengeance. I felt rusty and uncertain about finishing unfamiliar units with unfamiliar classes. But, again, I’m working through that. But it’s the self doubt about being a mother which is most crippling. Especially when I’m also worried about whether I can be a good teacher and a good mother. 
I honestly don’t know if others have felt like this on returning to work or the best ways to solve these problems. But, I know what would have helped ease my return to work:

  • A return to work meeting. I have really appreciated all the offers of help, but with everyone being busy and me working in my room the majority of the time, it can feel hard to ask for help or to have time to off load. A scheduled meeting with a LM or SLT member would have made it easier to voice my worries, even if there was nothing that could really be done. 
  • A phased return to my timetable. Due to staff absence, I wasn’t able to properly find out where my classes were in the unit or what they were like. It would have been really helpful to have shadowed some of my classes first. Not only would this have allowed me to better get to grips with what I was inheriting, but it would have also given me more planning time. 

    I love teaching and I’ve really enjoyed being back in front of my students. And most have been really understanding and patient with me while I’ve tried to find my feet with texts I don’t know and delivering lessons they’ve already been taught. But I still left for Easter exhausted and wondering if teaching was the job that would allow me to be the mummy I want to be. 

    In all truth, I do know it’ll end up being ok: I’ll find my new way of working and create a new work / life balance. And the upcoming gained time will help that. I just wish there was a way that I could do that without beating myself up as both a mother and a teacher.