Trainee Tip #5: Sleep your way to success

Note: I am talking about genuine shut eye…!

Teach First is tough. You receive your minimal training (which, upon reflection, prepared me much more than I thought 6 weeks could…) and then are chucked into an 80%ish timetable. Sink or swim.

Many newbies find that they can flounder around okay for the first few weeks whilst the students are in their “honeymoon period” of an exciting new term. After that, the metaphorical tide takes you and you are swept closer and closer to the waterfall of DOOM. (OTT? Sorry…).

I found that I was facing some really tough classes and their behaviour and seriously low ability was crippling. It led to the physical exhaustion of running around the classroom trying to keep everyone working and the mental exhaustion of students seemingly being constantly disengaged. As a perfectionist, my natural response was to analyse each lesson in great detail and try and work out how I can adapt the next lesson so that they are focused and progressing. This resulted in some really great outputs (see my previous blogs!) and also set me firmly on the path to the successful end to the year that I have just experienced. However, it was highly unsustainable and made the bad times so much worse. Here’s why:

I’m struggling. Therefore, I must spend more time planning so that I can improve. NO!
In my first term, it was the norm for me to work long hours every day and then spend both days working on the weekend. This meant no free time unless I had “booked it in” way in advance. When I was doing okay, this was fine as I could see a direct correlation between my efforts and the success I was enjoying. However, when the students started to return to their old ways, it meant that my stress from them struggling was massively intensified by the fact that:
A) I was annoyed that I had “wasted” all this time on ineffective practice
B) I was becoming an emotional wreck because I was massively over tired.

I’m struggling. Therefore, I need to stop, step back, re-charge and attack from a different direction. YES.
The best thing I ever did was wean myself off working 7 days a week. In my opinion (and this tends to be echoed by everyone I know), if you give yourself all weekend to do a task, it will take all weekend. If you give yourself one day to do a task, it will take one day. If you give yourself just Sunday afternoon, you will still get it done in time for XFactor or any other mindless stuff that you need to do to relax. Now, with a few tweaks to my weekday schedule, I can occasionally have all weekend off and still have lessons planned, books marked and a social life during the week. (Theoretically, I could do this more but choose to have the earlier home times as I don’t mind a Sunday afternoon session).

Moreover, since I stopped allowing teaching to take over my life, I am not disheartened by students misbehaving as I feel that I have planned the lessons well, I am rested, thinking logically and I am confident enough to back myself by thinking “there is nothing more I could have done in terms of behaviour and planning”. Obviously, I do occasionally have lessons where I can see that I have pitched too high, for example. However, I feel that, due to the fact I am rested, I can think better on my feet rather than feeling that the walls are closing in on me.

Surely it’s not as simple as that?
This naturally does come with a lot of caveats:
– You need to know how to plan and how to manage behaviour for this to work. There is no point giving yourself a short period of time to plan, for example, if your planning/pitching genuinely is the reason that you are struggling. However, your ITT mentors will be able to help with this. For me, once I had learnt my craft to a manageable standard, I then progressed more in terms of my own development (and the students progressed more as a result) by stepping back and “enjoying” it,rather than forcing myself, because I wasn’t dreading work.
– I am a TF trainee. Thus, I naturally have one of the heaviest timetables out of any ITT route and it has worked well for me. However, I am not fully qualified so I do not doubt that the teaching load and extra add ons that a teacher must do to merely survive will test this. However, hopefully, because I am not burnt out in my training year, I can strategically adapt my schedule to cope with more of a workload rather than sinking and becoming another statistic for leaving the profession. I’m sure the seasoned pros of Twitter will say I’m naively optimistic!

Bottom line?
I drove myself into the ground by being overly critical of my teaching. Despite observations coming back incredibly positive, I saw bad behaviour (for example) and could not step out of the mindset that my inexperience was the cause. Upon reflection, devoting more of my life to the minority of “notorious” kids was the worst thing I could have done. Therefore, if you’re doing okay, step back and wean yourself off. I have peers who still work “ridiculous” hours because they are not smart with their time. They give themselves too long for tasks, work all weekend and don’t have evenings either. No wonder that when their school goes through massive change (as is normal for TF schools) they panic about how they can cope as they are still only just ticking along.

If I had not learned how to work smart (doing work at work -apart from a couple of hours on a Sunday, marking in free periods, developing effective peer assessment, planning lesson sequences based on pedagogy that can then just be applied to each assessment), I don’t think I would be here today… Let alone facing a very successful end to my PGCE.

Moreover, in my PGCE “exam” process and the external examination(PGCE moderation) process I went through, the compliments were great but were followed by: “Keep an eye on her…Her quality of work is unsustainable and she will burn out”. Little do they know that I have been there, done that and have now reached a point where I feel guilty for leaving school “early”.

My sights are now set on additional responsibility and completing a masters. This does not disturb me in terms of workload as everything is ticking over as it is and I have the time to deal with any unexpected events. If you had asked me to create a departmental marking policy in November, I probably would have drowned. Now, bring it on!

Please drop me a comment below or follow me on Twitter @miss_trainee 🙂

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