Comment trouver un équilibre entre l'enseignement et la vraie vie

"Tu ne devrais pas travailler plus fort que tes élèves."

C'est un conseil donné par mon directeur adjoint lors de ma première année d'enseignement. Après avoir reçu une plainte d'un parent pour un résultat de test, j'étais allée le voir et il avait vite remarqué que j'étais en train de me brûler.

Je me répète encore cette phrase de temps en temps pour garder les choses en perspective. En effet, les études démontrent même que les élèves apprennent mieux lorsqu'ils sont investis dans leur apprentissage, lorsqu'ils sont impliqués dans la préparation de la leçon.

Un article de 2011 a récemment été partagé à nouveau via la page Facebook de We Are Teachers. Elle explique ce que mon cher directeur adjoint m'avait conseillé : Laissons nos élèves faire une partie du travail. Ils en sortiront gagnants et nous serons plus reposés (en théorie).

Can teachers ever have a work-life balance?

Sean Reid is a PGCE tutor for the University of Buckingham.
The Guardian / Teacher Network

Teaching is stressful, but it's not unprofessional to have a life

Teachers are, at times, a much-maligned and misunderstood community. Your friends will rib you about knocking off at 3 o'clock. "Oh, and you get all those holidays don't you?" they will quip. "How hard can it really be?"

To cut to the chase, teaching is a stressful profession. Many of those friends of yours who jest about your extended holidays will not understand the complexities and strains of being in the profession.

I will only pick upon one of the litany of examples that no doubt are popping into your minds to exemplify the point. If a businessman or woman is presenting to a client in any given week, how long do they spend preparing, even rehearsing their number? Hours of time is the answer, potentially even days. Yet as teachers we present like this every single day of term, with limited preparation time, with many of these presentations within one day, often consecutively. Add in the difficulty of managing an audience who are often sprightly, and sometimes uninterested, and you have a burdensome task in not just delivering your material but also stimulating your audience. Easy work it is not.

So I start this blog in defence of teachers, and particularly new or young teachers. I aim to hopefully reassure those entering the profession or indeed more experienced practitioners about why looking after teachers is as important as looking after children.

While some might argue that it is worth staying up all night preparing lessons, I would argue against this. Teachers' health matters, as does longevity in the profession. This is something I try and stress to young teachers. Yes – it's great to be enthusiastic. And yes – you can stay up until 2am designing that fireworks lesson or marking the books til they're dripping with red. But is that sustainable for more than a year? Is it of benefit to the youth of today having a horrific turnover of new teachers who burn out quickly in a Coach Carter-esque sermon of saving the kids? And will your lesson actually be as effective if you're so knackered you can't function properly?

There has been fascinating research produced lately showing that the most important thing that produces effective therapy in a counsellor-patient relationship is not actually what the counsellor does, but rather the strength of the relationship between the two individuals in helping the patient deal with their problems. I feel this is certainly the case with teaching too.

Numerous studies have shown that, above all other factors, it's the teacher in the classroom who inspires, cultivates and enthuses learning. How can you do that when you're surviving on four hours of sleep a night and on the verge of despair? You matter. A great deal.

Research by David Dinges at the University of Pennsylvania has found that adults need eight hours of sleep a night – we do not adapt. We just perform at a far lower level than if fully rested. And his research shows that if you have six hours of sleep a night for just two weeks in a row, you become the equivalent of being cognitively drunk. Do you think it's a good idea going to school drunk?!

Teaching is therefore not the profession for a perfectionist. There is always something more you can do. Don't get me wrong – I am not undermining thorough, dedicated, inventive and innovative planning. I'm not in favour of teachers who cut corners. But I also hate seeing people who come into the profession and start destroying their health and their personal life. It's all about balance.

So how do you achieve this balance? A fascinating book has been published in the last few years by Jim Smith and Ian Gilbert, called "The Lazy Teacher's Handbook: how your pupils learn more when you teach less".

This book is not excusing hard work; far from it actually. But it throws up fascinating ideas: why should you be the one up all night working when it's pupils who actually need to do the learning? By throwing the onus onto pupils, you actually increase their learning. So to put this into practice, instead of you producing a question sheet why not ask the pupils to make the questions themselves? They can then trade sheets after they've been constructed and advise each other on areas for development on any key topics missed. And you are therefore freed up to do what you're paid to do – advise, guide and promote learning by intervening with all pupils – opposed to being a performing monkey at the front of the class talking for the whole lesson.

The message I hope any new entrant to the profession gains from reading this piece is this: it's not unprofessional to have a life. It's not cutting corners to go out for dinner midweek with a friend instead of planning everything to the last T.

It's not irresponsible to look after your own health. As a teacher, you are the most important person in the room and resource in the school. You cannot perform optimally if you are ill, stressed or unhappy.

A study 10 years ago in Warwickshire found that 25% of head teachers had an alcohol problem. That is a shocking and scary statistic. So to avoid you turning to jelly, have a normal life. Plan evenings out. Decide you will have at least two nights a week when you finish working by 6 or 7 o'clock. And once these dates are in the diary, stick to them.

From personal experience, I had booked to go for dinner with a relative when a test date was changed at the last minute, meaning I found myself in possession of twelve Lower Sixth essays – and my next class with them first thing the next morning. Guilt started to seep in – should I cancel my long-standing dinner arrangement to spend three hours marking? Should I be doing it for the kids? Or do I have a life? I decided on the latter. And to my amazement, the pupils didn't bat an eyelid as I explained I wanted to take enough time to mark their essays thoroughly. And from this episode I learnt a really important lesson in teaching: look after yourself.

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