How do you manage your teaching schedule and lesson planning, with the added challenge of unsocial working hours? Melissa Thomson, a British Council teacher and trainer based in Bilbao, describes her top four approaches.
Keep a diary of your teaching week on paper or with an app
Noting your thoughts can help you to understand how your work and state of mind influence each other, and when you work more effectively.
For example, you might notice that you're tired after your classes each Wednesday, and that you are also less prepared for your classes on Thursday. Then, you can plan your work accordingly.
If you prefer an app to a paper diary, you could use Woebot. Woebot is a diary-like app that tracks your mood. It encourages users to re-frame their thoughts, understand subconscious biases and challenge negative messages. These are skills taken from cognitive behavioural therapy.
Be selective about how, and how much, you plan your lessons
At least twice a week, don't take any work home with you. In my experience, I plan more effectively if I keep work and my personal space separate.
Invest time in preparing an engaging lesson rather than attempting to save time by setting assignments or tests. Learners will have more chance to put language into practice, and you won't have extra marking to take home.
Prioritise preparing materials and activities for groups that need extra support to reach their academic objectives.
One way to reduce planning time is to involve your learners in the process. Give them realistic options, and ask them which activities and tasks they prefer. This will save you having to make all the decisions, and shows that you respect their time as well as your own.
You can also try an online wall planner app like Planboard. It is designed for teachers, and you can access it from your phone, tablet or desktop.
It's a practical tool for teachers, because it allows you to plan the academic year in semesters, organise content into personalised units for each group, add and reuse lesson plan templates and move classes to the following or previous day.
You can even download the class plans as templates and share them with colleagues.
Invest in time with other teachers, and choose conversations wisely
I used to spend a long time thinking about persistent problems in class, which wasn't productive.
I've found that spending ten minutes talking to a trusted colleague about particular issues is a much more efficient – and enjoyable – technique for dealing with work-related stress.
I also started using 15-minute coffee breaks with colleagues to share ideas for upcoming lessons. That helps me to find inspiration and reduce preparation time.
In the teachers' room, resist being drawn into negative conversations, especially if the speakers are not discreet about the information they share. These are usually not constructive.
One way to voice your concerns away from the teachers' room is by signing up to a virtual teachers' group on social media. The advice and coping mechanisms others offer can prove comforting, and you are reminded that you are not alone in your struggles.
Check if there is a community group on Facebook for teachers in the region where you work. If you are uncomfortable with disclosing personal problems, there are moderators who can authorise anonymous posts for you. Never publish photos or learners' work, or anything that could identify a learner, on social media.
Get professional assistance when you need it
At work, you should be able to talk to your manager or a health and well-being officer. If you are seriously concerned about your workload or stress, you should seek professional help.
You might be able to take advantage of an employee assistance programme. An employee assistance programme usually provides confidential phone support and individual sessions with a psychologist.
In 2018, the mental health charity Anna Freud found that mental health was not monitored in more than three quarters of schools in the UK. If your workplace falls into this category, then – depending on resources where you live – your general practitioner or another healthcare provider should be able to help.
We recommend that teachers use the 360safe online self-review tool for a whole-school approach to online safety.