NQT Special: Get a grip on workload


Year two brings with it more freedom, but more responsibility to manage your growing workload. Dorothy Lepkowska seeks some advice.

Darren Long thought he was coping well with the transition from his induction to second year of teaching.

The 30-year-old geography teacher, who works in a large secondary school in the North West of England, said he was “bumbling along merrily” getting on with his work until one day he became dizzy in a lesson and felt close to collapse.

“I asked one of the pupils to get help while I sat with my head between my knees,” he said. “I felt ridiculous and the pupils just stared at me not knowing what to do.”

A visit to his GP revealed Darren was suffering from stress: “I don’t know how I hadn’t realised it but I suppose it just caught up with me. The day I had my episode I had agreed to help out with an end-of-year concert, and this was on top of two other extra-curricular activities I was already doing. Unconsciously my body must have said ‘enough is enough’.

“I loved my job but realistically, looking back, I could not have coped with anything more. I was already working until 9pm most nights and most of either Saturday or Sunday. My social life had slowly gone out of the window and I hardly saw my friends. Something had to change.”

Darren’s experience is not unusual. The second year of teaching can be a difficult adjustment from the first, as expectations on teachers increase and they are left more in control of how they do their work, says Diane Norton, initial teacher training co-ordinator at The Grammar School in Leeds.

“Teachers going into their second year of teaching will find there is less paperwork and bureaucracy than they had in their first year in terms of their own progress and training, and recording things like detailed lesson plan preparation and evaluating their own lessons,” Ms Norton said.

“However, they will be more in control of the teaching process, with less input from others, so they will be better able to develop their own creativity in the classroom in terms of lesson planning and delivery.” 

This has its own challenges, she said, because it places more onus on teachers to consider what to do in the classroom, and how to do it.

Teachers entering their second year in post will continue to have a mentor who will help them to develop themselves professionally as their journey to becoming a teacher continues. But they will find they have increasing responsibilities, including doing parents’ evening on their own, writing reports and carrying out pupil assessment themselves, without the support and input from a more senior colleague.

“The support is unlikely to be as ‘hands-on’ as in the first year,” Ms Norton said. “There will still be lesson observations, though less than there were in the first year. These continue to be important and are needed for teachers to develop good practice. In my own school, teachers who are contemporaries will observe each other so there will be some cross-fertilisation and the learning process will continue to be discussed.”

One of the challenges is actually being more in control of your own teaching and the sense that the teacher is working on their own, albeit within a departmental or other team. They will be building confidence and consolidating the good practice of the first year.

“It is an opportunity to grow into your role and be open to new ideas,” Ms Norton added.

Workload can increase and a teacher entering their second year needs to start taking responsibility for how they manage this. “The best way to do so is to be organised,” Ms Norton added. “Write things down, make lists and prioritise your work. Organise your time at school well so you don’t waste time. I sometimes see colleagues reading the paper during free periods. If you use this time to do what needs to be done you will take less work home.

“You have to have a private life so make sure you have a home-life balance. Find time for relaxation and make sure you get enough sleep. Have a cut-off point every evening when you stop work. Mine is 10pm because after that I am no longer very productive. You have to set these boundaries otherwise the job takes over. The sooner you get into the habit of working like this, the better. Decide what needs to be done before you leave school for the day and aim towards that. In the evenings, and at weekends, give yourself permission to stop. You may find you have to be strong about this, but ask yourself ‘can this particular job wait?’”

If you have a family don’t neglect your home life. Make time for friends and try to pursue interests that have nothing to do with your work so that you switch off for a while.

There may be expectations from school that you take on more extra-curricular activities. If this happens, consider what your personal limits are so you are not over-worked and burned out. 

“Most schools have an expectation that all teachers will be involved in some extra-curricular activities and actually it is desirable to do so, because it is good for professional development,” Ms Norton added. 

“Try to do at least one thing, especially if it is something that is challenging and will take you out of your comfort zone. Teachers often expect their pupils to do this, but they need to understand themselves what it feels like.”

Teachers also need to learn to say ‘no’ if the situation demands it. It is advice Darren wishes he had considered when agreeing to everything that was asked of him at his school. 

“I now know what is reasonable for me to do, and when it’s just too much,” he said. “I was even told by one colleague that I was often asked to help because people knew I would say yes. 

“Now I say no more often, and it is fine. No-one puts any pressure on me, or thinks badly of me. But they know what I agree to do in terms of after-school activities I can do well, and dedicate myself to. This is surely better for my pupils, and for me, than spreading myself too thinly. I learned the hard way that it’s easy to get carried away and take on too much.”

Managing year two workload

  • Be organised. Write a list of what needs to be done so you don’t forget.

  • Plan ahead to make sure you meet deadlines.

  • Use your time well and don’t waste any free periods you have in school.

  • Prioritise your work and preparation.

  • Set boundaries for how long you work in the evening.

  • Have a life outside of work/school by spending time with family and friends.

  • Get plenty of sleep as this will help you cope day-to-day.

  • Make time to do things that you enjoy that don’t involve work.

  • Learn to say “no” if you think too much is expected of you.

  • Have a sense of humour about work. Problems are better tackled with a smile.

  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist.


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