How to avoid burnout: getting and staying organised

Teachers having a discussion with laptop .

Juggling workloads

The workload in teaching is overwhelming. All Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) will have more work to do than they did in their training, as you acquire new tasks and have to manage new expectations. NQTs who can quickly adapt to their new responsibilities often lose their label as “newly qualified” early on and quickly take on a heavier workload.

Whilst this can be perceived as being successful and capable, you might be just about keeping your head above water and there’s a fine line between being okay and being overloaded.

Workload is a huge issue in teaching and it is intense trying to fit everything into the school day, taking into account exam schedules and school holidays. The practicalities of organisation as a teacher are about investing in yourself and preparing in advance. It’s a way of shoring yourself up.

Establishing routine

Current retention difficulties have arisen amongst the newest teachers and those with 25 years of experience. They cite work-life balance as the main reason for leaving the profession. It is very difficult for teachers to achieve a balance so anything which prioritises your health and well-being is essential to survival.

Being a teacher is incredibly rewarding, but it’s also intense, demanding and your role in the classroom is one of giving constantly with students, colleagues and parents. This can be exhausting and tiring, physically, mentally and emotionally. 

Establishing a routine will help you to manage these demands, but it’s also important to remember that routine is tailored to individual needs and everybody has different organisational techniques. There isn’t a set way for NQTs to manage their professional and personal lives because our brains work differently. However, we need to remember that the bigger picture is about the retention of teachers and supporting people throughout their career.

Current school initiatives

All NQTs and RQTs (Recently Qualified Teachers) have a mentor to support them at the start of their teaching careers. NQTs also have a time allowance to facilitate their learning and adjusting to the demands of the job. However, financial pressures in school see NQTs assume roles as form tutors in their first year. This means that NQTs are faced with additional workloads such as extra lessons, tutoring after school and supporting year-specific activities. Sometimes they receive teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payments early on for taking on extra responsibility.

In terms of self-organisation, this is often left to the individual. Mentors can provide tips such as lists and colour coding but managing workload goes beyond this. When you’re new at anything maintaining a work-life balance is really challenging. Some schools employ restrictions, for example a cut-off point for teachers to access their emails, as well as site opening times to encourage teachers to leave school at a reasonable time. However, these initiatives come with loopholes, and could move work from a professional environment to the home environment – which isn’t healthy.

Busting myths

Managing the myths and negative media representation surrounding teaching can be tricky. It can be exhausting trying to explain your work-life balance to other people and you have to develop a thick skin when people pass judgement on the ‘long holidays’.

The outside world perceives teachers as leaving school at the same time as the students – they don’t see all the hidden work. You take work home – you are tired beyond belief. The hidden work is the reason teachers aren’t very well a lot of the time and you have this on/off demand of living. In term time it’s all or nothing and then you suddenly have six weeks. 

I think lack of understanding is unhelpful, especially when you start out, as your contemporaries are experiencing a different way of living as a young professional. Most people choose teaching because they value the profession and its challenges, but then once you’re in it you can be persuaded to take on more work for financial reasons to match your contemporaries in other professions.

Managing perception

I think perception is most important to NQTs themselves because you’ve got all the aforementioned stresses and challenges to face. They want to feel they’re getting it right and part of that notion will include people around them seeing them in a good light and think they’re doing well.

I think the notion of failing – or not being good enough is really stressful. A lot of people struggle to admit that. Positive and encouraging comments can go a long way towards making you feel better. Everyone makes mistakes and it’s about how you respond to them and progress.

Vanessa Mudd is a former teacher turned educational consultant, who last year ran a workshop on organisation at Leeds Trinity University's NQT and Early Career Teacher 'Career Illuminations' Conference. Taking place annually, the conference supports career progression, showcases invigorating ideas within the education landscape and provide NQTs with an opportunity to network with like-minded professionals.