Why TES is my best friend – reducing teacher workload


As teachers, our role encompasses so many different aspects. It isn’t just about planning and delivering lessons; we are also expected to provide a safe space for pupils, fulfil our pastoral duties, analyse data, set targets, give good feedback, undertake our own CPD, mentor other teachers and all the while document everything and keep on top of the associated admin to ensure we have evidence should OFSTED turn up.

Like many others, I am a teacher because I am passionate about learning. Imparting knowledge on others and helping them to understand is, for me, the most rewarding part of the job. However, in today’s schools, it feels like it plays such a small part of the profession.

As much as I hate to say it, we all know that lesson planning time is limited, we need to use it efficiently and make lessons that we can deliver as well as possible in as short a time as possible.

This is why I befriended TES. I know that if I sit down and think for long enough, I can come up with a creative, innovative idea for a good (sometimes amazing) lesson but it is unfortunately at detriment to either my wider professional roles or my personal/social life.  So now I turn to TES; there are so many talented teachers creating amazing lessons and a quick search is nearly always fruitful.  For those that don’t know, TES is a platform for sharing lessons and resources: teachers upload resources they have created for other to either buy or download for free. It is testimony to the good nature of teachers that there are so many willing to put up resources for free.

So many teachers have good ideas and often very similar ideas to my own, it’s always worth checking to see what is already out there. I do go through the lessons and alter them where needed; there is nothing worse than being in the middle of teaching a lesson and having no idea what is coming next. I also often merge lessons together to make one that suits me.

However, TES is not just good for finding lessons to teach. It is also great for checking you are teaching the right content – especially if you are a new teacher!

Having been in several roles right from the start of my career where I was thrown into the deep end and was responsible for the development/teaching of various GCSE curriculums: I have found it a great way to develop my own subject knowledge. Looking over other people’s lessons and ways of explaining concepts is a great way of getting myself to understand them. Furthermore, it acts as a sort of regulatory service, providing me with standards as to what needs to be covered.

At a time when teacher workload is high and can often feel impossible to maintain, it is important that, we do what we can to reduce our own ‘to do’ list. There are lots of aspects that we have no control over; the number of times books need to be marked, the number of lessons we have to teach, data drops, interventions etc. So where possible we must take control and find quick ‘hacks’ – anything to save a bit of time.


How I survived the first few years

We’ve all felt like this – but what can we do to minimise it?

Notoriously I’ve not been the most resilient or emotionally stable of personalities. I had a tough time at school, have often suffered from low self-esteem and at university I had full on melt downs when deadlines came about.

Starting my teaching journey was scary, I had lots of people telling me it was going to be the hardest few years of my life due to the ridiculous workload coupled with the emotionally draining aspects of the job: meeting pupils with the most horrendous life circumstances, being verbally abused on a regular basis, to name just a few. I spent the few months leading up to starting TeachFirst wondering whether I’d made a really stupid decision given my tendency to be emotionally volatile.

Over the holidays, while I was, for the first summer since starting teaching, properly relaxing (cocktail by the pool style) I was thinking about the last few years and it was the first time I properly realised that I have been – wait for it – ABSOLUTELY FINE. Looking at the circumstances, it does feel like a bit of a miracle. Over 3 years I have been required to change and teach in 3 different and very challenging schools, write PGCE assignments while teaching full time, fulfil the notorious NQT year and change my teaching subject.

Ok, being absolutely fine might be an exaggeration. Don’t get me wrong, there have been tears, stress and a lot of challenges, but at no point has it spiralled out of control and left me wondering what on earth I am doing with my life. Considering past life events that have caused such crisis – I must have changed something in the way I manage my life. When I look at other new teachers around me, I do think that I have fared better over the first few years than average and my mental wellbeing has a lot to thank for it.

The next step of this realisation was to formalise what it is I have been doing to look after my mental wellbeing to ensure I continue to do my job as well as possible while living and loving my life outside the classroom.

So here it is, my methods for staying sane:

1. Exercise
I’ve never really been sporty but I try to fit physical activity into my daily routine wherever I can. If I can factor it into my commute in order to leave as much time to keep on top of workload/myself then that is ideal but no matter what – I try to do something about 4 times a week. There are lots of studies which show how beneficial exercise is, not just to our physical but, with more and more evidence, our mental health as well. Studies suggest that physical activity can reduce depressive symptoms (see study), protect against depressive episodes (see study) and therefore almost definitely helps to reduce reoccurrence.


2. Sleep
I always try to get at least 8 hours 30 every night and I try to keep bedtimes regular. On the days where this has meant leaving a lesson unfinished then so be it – you will manage. Turning up to teach on 4 hours kip is much harder than winging a lesson.


3. I am now the most organised person ever
I started my teacher training as I meant to go on. I always plan in advance, sometimes I am a week ahead of myself, this means that every night I go to bed knowing that my lessons for the next day are ready and I can sleep easy. Asking me how I keep on top of this is a more difficult question to answer, I’ve not always been so organised, it is definitely something you can learn and cultivate. Take a bit of time to think about how you are going to set yourself goals and hold yourself accountable. It might help to work out how many lessons you need to plan each day or ask your head of department/mentor to check your lesson planning progression and support you in meeting your targets.

4. To begin I would work one day at the weekend
There is a lot of work when you start teaching, it does get easier but to begin with you need to manage and accept it. Embrace the fact that you will be planning at the weekend but that it is in order to make your life considerably easier during the week and you will reap the benefits.

I have spent a while trying to decide whether this was beneficial or not. On the one hand, there was a lot of teacher talk and it was difficult to switch off, but on the other, we were all going through the same experience. It is much easier to work at the weekends when your house mates are as well, you always have someone understanding to rant to and you have people to ask for inspiration when your creativity has run dry.

So there we have it, my top tips for staying sane through teacher training. Now I have identified them, I am going to make sure that I myself keep sticking to them. Teacher stress, anxiety and workload is a big issue that dominates the education news feeds. I am optimistic that it is an area that will be addressed, slowly but surely. In the meantime however, if we love the job, we need to do what we to manage the issue individually.