How to be a student teacher and still have a life
Updated: Apr 9, 2019
Hi friends, this week I bring a guest post from a future teacher in graduate school studying from across the pond, in London. Let me introduce you to NQT Diaries, who
a newly qualified teacher working in London. She started The Teacher Diaries as a way to share her experiences and capture her first year as a qualified teacher. She enjoys getting to know people who are in all stages of their career and creating a community of supportive teachers. Below you will find her post all about how to be a student teacher and still have a life! Yes you can do it, my friends! Just read these tips!
I remember being asked in my PGCE interview what it is that I do in my spare time. The interviewer preceded to ask how I will ensure that I maintain my hobbies during my studies. At the time I thought it was a bit of an odd question, but fast forward a few weeks and the realities of teacher training well and truly set in.
Teaching - work smarter not harder!
Training to be a teacher is tough. Unless you have done it yourself you just can’t understand the amount of stuff you have to do. First of all, there is the teaching itself. You are thrown into the deep end and need to quickly plan and deliver lessons which accommodate the huge range of abilities that you find in every class. You need to hastily adapt your behavior management before the children see you as someone they can mess about for. You need to get to grips with the planning, the grading, the data, and so on. As well as this, you need to keep on top of your University work. If, like me, you did a PGCE, this includes master’s level work. You probably have a part-time job on the side too, just to make sure you can afford the luxury of eating.
So, I go back to the question… how do you ensure that you still do the things that make you you? How do you make sure that you see your friends and loved ones? It’s a hard balance. It took me a long time to get to grips with it and my mental health suffered due to my poor work-life balance.
The trick is to find ways to work smarter, not harder. This takes time and, if I am brutally honest with you, at first you will probably not have much of a social life. I think it’s something that you should expect and just embrace for a few months. Really concentrate on your new craft and eventually things do fall into place and it becomes easier (promise).
Don't take too much work home - use your time wisely and set boundaries - NOW!
Please do not fall into a trap of taking too much work home. I used to be guilty of this; I would get home and work on my laptop until ten or eleven o’clock at night. I would spend weekends doing work and I saw the holidays as ‘catch-up time’, rather than time to chill out and recharge. An important lesson that I have learnt is that I am the most important resource in the classroom. If I am exhausted, it doesn’t matter how fab that PowerPoint is, or how much I differentiated and color coordinated those worksheets, the children’s learning will suffer. You cannot pour from an empty cup.
Give yourself a time, say 8:00 pm, where you stop doing work and do something for yourself. That may be having a bath, doing some yoga, or catching up on that new crime series you’ve been dying to watch! It is SO important to have time off before you sleep. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself lying in bed thinking about school the next day. I now turn off my phone at 9:00 pm and am in bed by 10:00 pm. I am very strict about this and I usually wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the new day. I am more productive and get the same amount of work done but faster and better because I am not completely drained. If, like me, you find yourself thinking about school when you are lying in bed, keep a notepad and pen nearby and note down your thoughts and worries.
Set yourself boundaries. I know it’s hard right now to not do any work at home. Therefore, you could schedule a day or half a day at the weekend to do some work. Write a list and tick it off as you go, but leave the other day completely free. Plan to see some friends, go running, paint, whatever it is that makes you feel like you. With time, you will get your weekends back.
Really ask yourself, is this activity/project/ classroom design going to help my students?
When you are working on a task for school, constantly ask yourself if this particular job is worth it. Will this help the children? You can spend hours on a display, but after a week your fabulous, Pinterest-inspired board will become wallpaper to the children and they will hardly notice that it’s there. But, my friends if it is going to benefit your students then by all means go forth and be awesome!
Grading…. Oh grading.
Who are we doing it for? Especially if you are a Key Stage 1 teacher like me, are your kids even reading your comments? Do you give them time to go back, read and then edit appropriately? I do very occasionally, but most of the time we are too busy so we are straight onto the next learning objective. In my opinion, we mark to please other adults. We mark for OFSTED, for parents, for SLT. But research shows that written feedback does very little to progress the child’s learning. I know that you have to follow your school’s marking policy but this isn’t something that you should spend hours and hours on.
The to do list - don't just check off the boxes
My wonderful colleague tells me all of the time when I am stressed that as a teacher you will never ever complete your to-do list and she is so right. I have never experienced a day of teaching where I have ticked everything off. Even if you think you have reached the end you then realize you should really update your literacy display, or you really should plan that intervention for your child who is struggling with his social skills. This is why us teachers experience such guilt! Our job affects real people, real lives. We make the difference EVERY DAY. This is what makes teaching both the best and most stressful job there is – it means so much.
Make time for friends
A final tip for you is that you need to get together with colleagues, it does wonders for your well being to talk with your colleagues outside of the work setting. It also helps you to switch off for the weekend.
Being a student teacher often feels like jumping through hoops, but if you get into good habits as a student, your life as a teacher will be much easier. So many teachers experience burnout and many leave the profession early on in their careers. Take steps to protect yourself now and if you ever feel like it is all getting a bit too much, talk to someone. Know that you are doing an amazing, important, life-changing job.
Over and out x