Wednesday, January 27, 2010

They say hard work never killed anyone but...

Whenever two or more teachers gather together, the talk invariably revolves around how much work they do, how late into the night they stay up planning things and how they slave away at weekends and during the holidays as well.

This is all very good if you are managing a hedge fund and looking to retire to Barbados by the time you are 29, but not really worth it when your salary is less than £30k.

It won't surprise you to learn that I never did very much work at all, as I had a wide range of interests outside school to devote my evenings, weekends and holidays to. It may surprise you that the exam results my pupils got were around average for my department. This was partly because I knew about my subject, partly because I knew what was important to pass exams and partly because the department was rubbish.

Most of the work that teachers do is a complete waste of time. Ticking boxes, target setting, elaborate schemes to follow the latest fad, whether it is differentiated learning, group mind mapping or whatever. None of it inspires the kids or helps them get a job. Get yourself an interesting hobby instead.

Working too hard and getting stressed simply isn't worth the effects to your health (and it also makes you a thoroughly boring person). Overdoing it and taking two weeks off sick every year is no better for the pupils than my approach of doing very little but turning up every day.

It is an old adage that nobody ever says on their deathbed "I wish I'd spent more time in the office!" Take this to heart, write it on your classroom wall and make it your aim this week to ignore at least one supposedly vital task that has been set by those above you. Use the time saved to do something you enjoy and if you do get pulled up about it, just say that you were too busy doing (insert fashionable phrase or buzzword) and look a bit flustered. Next time, try and persuade a few others to do the same.

(Remember, the Martyr Ethos that is so prevalent in teaching nowadays just helps you die earlier)


Anonymous said...

Such wise words.

If only more teachers took your advice and ignored the pointless schemes/paperwork then maybe someone somewhere would get the idea and stop pushing them through.

I am a new teacher. Have you got any advice for employing your tactics myself? I am really struggling at the moment and would like some of my life back.

Rich said...

Spot on! And not just for teachers (though it may be more important for teachers to take it seriously than the rest of us).

One of the things I've managed to learn outside of school is, "Management is 90% what you can get away with" and, indeed, things often become less important when you challenge them.

Keep it up, Frank.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. My new years resolution was to gradually cut back on all the crap form filling and just shrug off the complaints.

So far it's worked a treat.

Mossey said...

The teachers who work every evening and weekend simply don't have anything better to do.

They are the same ones who say they get bored in the Summer holidays.

Northern Teacher said...

Once upon a time I used to cart heavy books home and back to work without having done my lesson planning! I'd have to get up extra early to sort myself out the next day.

I finally decided to make an 'executive decision' (terminology from a previous life in an office)and get the lesson plan, photocopying, iwb stuff sorted before leaving the place. It worked a treat and stopped my back killing me.

Go on - make that executive decision that you know will make your life easier!

Anonymous said...


This should be tattooed onto the faces of everyone who works for an LEA or the DCFS.

And all those teachers who disagree should be lynched by the rest of us.


James G said...

Once again Sir, you've said what so many think, but do not dare to say.

The number of teachers who waste all their time churning out utter rubbish is very depressing. What does it say about our profession?

Anonymous said...

so true. I taught for 10 years, I never even had a bag. If it didn't fit in my pockets then it didn't come home with me.

I worked my directed hours and then I went home. Like yourself my exam results were comparable to others in my dept.

I left teaching , but I do miss the holidays :0


Anonymous said...

Sadly there are some of the many meaningless add-ons that are a battle to avoid as they're using PM targets/threshold as a cosh. I've asked to drop my threshold bullshit but apparently you can't without quitting and reapplying for the job, that true?

I thought it was meant to keep good teachers in the classroom rather than them being promoted out of it, but now it's being used to lumber you with a plethora of utter crap that does no one any good, least of all you.

I refuse to do anything that's not relevant to my teaching. I start early and work late as/when I have to. I don't work at the weekends/in the holidays. If they want the rest done they can hire me an admin assistant. Otherwise, sack me. I'll go back to my previous private sector career which was less rewarding but a f**k of a lot easier (and better paid). No skin off my nose.

Lilyofthefield said...

If you want to scramble up the greasy pole before you're thirty, then box-ticking and enthusiastic adoption of initiatives is the only way.

For the rest of us, I offer the advice offered to me when I returned to teaching after a break during which it turned into the crap job it is today, don't do anything until you've been asked at least twice for it. Do the stuff your immediate line manager asks you for and ignore the rest.

Even being not a career teacher and observing the advice provided me with several occasions on which I had to throw a sickie just to catch up with paperwork.

MarkUK said...

Never a teacher, but I understand the situation. I ended up taking nearly a year off work (in two bits) because of trying to live up to a set of standards the company appeared to want.

Never again!

I'm now more laid-back, but appear to get at least as much, and probably more done than I used to.

Anonymous said...

Some wise words said there. I start at 7.30 and leave at 4. I don't bring any work home because I'm not being paid for it. This is my third year out and it's amazing how fast you can work when you want to get home. Love the idea of using the buzzword and looking flustered! Will definately be trying that one out!

Anonymous said...

My god! You could be me. I agree with all of this. There is so much rubbish we are expected to do. When I started it was Plan, Teach, Mark, Record. How simple. It was quite effective. Then when all the other requirements came, I was not able to follow my simple plan so bits of the four basics had to go. Brilliant! How to turn an effective teacher into an ineffective one.

Anonymous said...

Chalk, for god's sake get back into teaching immediately. We are desperate for straight talking, non gullible people!

(especially in Senior management)

Nickynockynoonoo said...

My dad was a headmaster. He always said "One hand for yourself and one for the ship." Very much your philosophy.
He always put in extra hours, as all teachers do but made time for his hobbies and family.
He was an embarrassment on holidays as he would never admit to being in teaching. He said he was a professional water diviner. That always stopped the conversation dead instead of hearing about little Johnny's O'level results.

marion said...

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Anonymous said...

Frank, never a truer word spoken. Could have been written by me in fact. I never took work home if I could avoid it, at least not physical work although I used to spend far too much time worrying about the job.

To poster no. 1 my survival tactics:
1. Don't take work home if avoidable. Get in earlier or leave later but do it at school.

2. If you must then dedicate the last week of the summer holiday to prep for September. The rest of the holiday is yours. Because you're worth it.

3. Extracurricular paperwork. If important then you will be asked three times for it. If vital then your HoD should have done it for you anyway.

4. As quickly as you can learn to say "no". Don't agree to do take on tasks that noone else has the energy to do. You are unlikely to be thanked for it.

5. Don't set homework unnecessarily. The kids will resent you for it and you will run yourself ragged chasing them for it and then marking it.

6. The pupils are not your friends.

donna o said...

Here in the States we have a thing called "No Child Left Behind". On paper that looks pretty good. Every child gets an equal education. In practice it means that teachers need to spend more time accomplishing "benchmarks" and providing test prep than actually teaching the kids or giving them a chance to learn to LOVE learning. An encouraging word to all you teachers out there--ignore the crap work and find some way to enjoy teaching and ignore all the crap/waste of time stuff. If you like teaching and make it interesting to the students and ignore the bureaucratic nonsense, your days may be nicer. Kids pick up of if you hate what you are doing and then they make your life even more miserable than some office knucklehead that wants you to fill out oodles on useless surveys and paperwork. Teaching can be an awesome thing---but lest you think I am a "school" teacher---I will admit, I am not. Not in a school anyway. I am one of those "home schoolers" EEEEK! Don't hate me because I didn't complete my certification! I found that all the paperwork and nonsense referred to in the awesome post was too much for me and I wanted my kids to actually LIKE learning, so we kept 'em home and taught 'em here. They love learning, read, are well adjusted and respectful. they have friends and at the moment none have been incarcerated---they still have some time though! My only point here though was the encourage all you teachers---in UK or the States. Make it fun, don't get lost in the sauce and then end up hating what you do.

Lilyofthefield said...

If your HT wants boxes ticked so he either covers his ass or gets a bone from the LA for being a good doggy, then you will fail your obs and your performance management if you don't look as if you buy into all the crap. I can't remember the last time I NEEDED a starter or plenary of the complexity required by my last school but there they had to be, in the lesson plan, planned.

Trying to LOOK as if you're Queen Of The Scheme is nearly as tiring as actually doing it.

Andy Morgan said...

You are right. But sometimes working hard is the only solution. Teachers who are worried about the future of the students will always push them hard. But these old tactic needs to be changed we are entering into a new era of technology.

But it seems that teaching standards and techniques will never change.

The TEFL Tradesman said...

What! Even "Plan, Teach, Mark, Record" seems a bit excessive to me. I prefer to just focus on the second item, and do it as well as I can.

I can remember in one school I worked at, many years ago, all the teachers were busy writing up their monthly plans for the year by filling out spreadsheets and word documents, etc. "Too much wasteful effort" I thought to myself, and then just photocopied the contents page of the course book, wrote a month next to the relevant unit headings, and left that on my boss's desk.

He wasn't too impressed, but I told him that if he found it too difficult to follow, I'd do an even simpler version. I think he got the message straight away!

Anonymous said...

I just wonder if overloading teachers is some clandestine government plot to burn us out so completely that we die soon after retirement thus saving a fortune in pension payouts. I have known or heard about many teachers who die within a few years of hanging up their mortar boards.

Ambulance amateur said...

An ex-colleague of mine (we were being made redundant) said that he was going into teaching. His wife was already a teacher.

I mentioned the bit about bringing work home. He told me that his wife never did. Also, she never worked more than about 7 days during the summer hols.

She went into work at 8.00 every morning and left at 17.00 latest. She took only 30 minutes for lunch and worked during her "free" periods.

In other words, she treated it as an office job.

This gave her every evening free and the vast majority of the holidays.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the coppers are trialling less paperwork and targets in favour of customer satisfaction scores. Think it will catch on in teaching?

PS. Do you have many parents turn up to school in their pyjamas?

Anonymous said...

No, but I have recurring nightmares about turning up to teach naked from the waist down...

Urban School Teacher said...

Written with the usual dry wit but absolutely correct. Some staff at my current school are literally killing themselves with work but it is mostly paperwork that ultimately has no impact on their students's performance.

I work hard and do the important things that need to get done but, as time goes by, I am making decisions to pursue my own interests, my own life, outside of the school building more and more because otherwise there is no point.

My exam results are usually quite good because I focus my energies on teaching things that are worth learning and not ticking boxes and replicating data.

Ambulance Amateur said...

Urban School Teacher; I take it you don't teach English.

Students's FGS!

Anonymous said...

Hard work used to kill people in droves Frank. In the first factory I worked in blokes were dropping on the shop floor in their 40s.
I suspect the stress stuff is biological social - a form of control such as that show by the 'king' of social mice communities.