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How to be a student teacher and still have a life

Updated: Mar 13

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, a newly qualified teacher in London. She started The Teacher Diaries to share her experiences and capture her first year as a qualified teacher. She enjoys getting to know people in all stages of their careers and creating a community of supportive teachers. Below is her post on being a student teacher and still having a life! Yes, you can do it, my friends! Just read these tips!

I remember being asked in my PGCE interview what I do in my spare time. The interviewer then asked how I would ensure I maintained my hobbies during my studies. At the time, I thought it was an odd question, but fast-forward a few weeks, and the realities of teacher training have well and truly set in.

Teaching - work smarter not harder!

Training to be a teacher is tough. You can’t understand how much you must do unless you have done it yourself. First of all, there is the teaching itself. You are thrown into the deep end and need to quickly plan and deliver lessons that accommodate the huge range of abilities you find in every class. You must hastily adapt your behavior management before the children see you as someone they can mess about for. It would be best if you got to grips with the planning, the grading, the data, etc. In addition to this, you need to keep on top of your university work. If you did a PGCE like me, this includes master’s level work. You probably have a part-time job to ensure you can afford the luxury of eating.

So, I go back to the question… how do you ensure you still do the things that make 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, you will probably not have much of a social life at first. I think it’s something that you should expect and embrace for a few months. Concentrate on your new craft; eventually, things fall into place and become easier (promise).

Don't take too much work home - use your time wisely and set boundaries - NOW!

Please do not fall into the trap of taking too much work home. I was guilty; I would get home and work on my laptop until ten or eleven. 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 I have learned 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 when 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 lie in bed thinking about school the next day. I 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 think about school while 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 not to 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, run, paint, or do whatever 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 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 display, but after a week, your fabulous, Pinterest-inspired board will become wallpaper to the children, who will hardly notice that it’s there. But, my friends, if it will 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 need to please other adults. We mark for OFSTED, for parents, and SLT. However, research shows that written feedback does 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 that when I am stressed as a teacher, I will never complete my 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 realize you should update your literacy display or plan an intervention for your child struggling with his social skills. This is why we teachers experience such guilt! Our job affects real people, real lives. We make the difference EVERY DAY. This makes teaching the best and most stressful job – it means so much.

Make time for friends

A final tip is to get together with colleagues. Talking with your colleagues outside work does wonders for your well-being and helps you 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 leave the profession early 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

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