Tackling teacher shortages: Coping with increased workloads
With yet further disruption still a possibility in September given that some teachers may vote against the proposed government offer and go on strike, the demand for supply teachers is only likely to increase. And if you factor in ongoing skill shortages and a lack of teachers, schools and trusts will come to rely on flexible resources even more. While this will create many opportunities for supply teachers, there is a danger of greater stress and even burnout. In this article, we look at ways in which supply teachers can best mitigate the extra pressures of increasing workloads.
Organisation and teaching go hand in hand and being efficient with time is key. And while the summer holidays are a period to unwind, supply teachers also need to dedicate some time to lesson plans and student management strategies ahead of the new school year. This is important to ensure that they can hit the ground running to deliver the best teaching. Getting to know their pupils quickly and earning their trust is critical as is organising the classroom space. All these factors will not only make learning more effective for students but also help alleviate stress for the teacher.
One of the most important areas of focus should always be behaviour management strategies. There will inevitably be situations that will challenge and test the teacher’s patience so they must be ready with a plan of action when disruptive behaviour does occur. Using firm but calming language is important as is praising good behaviour to acknowledge when a student has listened and followed instructions. Laying out ground rules and expectations at the outset is vital as is building relationships with students to get to know their circumstances and make them feel valued.
But relationship building shouldn’t just be limited to students. Collaborating with other teachers to share best practices can also help with work concerns. Whether it helps with lesson plans, resources for learning and development or general advice about the school, students and systems, talking to fellow teachers can make a huge difference. And given the demands of the job, having that sense of community will help significantly with work, make it more enjoyable and lift the mood. Being seen to be a collaborative team player can also lead to a longer placement at the school.
Asking for help and learning to say ‘no’
While marking can’t be avoided for some tasks, such as set written homework, there are different ways to reduce the burden. Supply teachers can for example use verbal assessments to test the quick thinking of their students. And as long as the school’s policy allows, peer-to-peer assessment, in which you get students to mark their own and each other’s work under supervision, can also help save considerable time. Technology is also an enabler, allowing teachers to send feedback as voice notes instead of written comments. Reducing marking time can also help free up time for learning.
Teaching assistants (TAs) and support workers can also be a huge help in lightening the load. TAs can provide that needed one-on-one attention to work on the specific needs of an individual student. They can help with a range of different tasks, from the more clerical and administrative to the organisational aspects of the classroom. Having a TA alongside you also provides that personal support from a fellow colleague – you have someone there you can discuss issues as they arise. They can also help with the management of student behaviour and minimise disruption.
This brings us to perhaps one of the most important points, which is to not be afraid to ask for help! There’s nothing worse than being swamped with work and feeling you have no one to turn to. You must never let things get out of hand, so always be aware of your mental health and wellbeing. Be sure you speak to someone if things are getting on top of you and you are not coping well. Never forget that schools have a duty to support, so reach out to a colleague or the headteacher if you’re struggling with the workload. To teach to the best of your abilities, you need to be on top of your game after all!
Building softer skills such as communication, both with pupils and fellow colleagues, is also very important, not just for your ongoing development but it will also help you better navigate situations. Particularly in dealing with increased workloads, the ability to say no, whether to your recruitment agency or school, is vital to help you manage your time and work effectively. And finally, never neglect your own wellbeing, so take some time out to recalibrate and reset when you need to.