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My journey of discovery

Stuart McGougan on how to make the most of your time and avoid being trapped by paperwork.

Technological Education Teacher, Kilmarnock Academy, East Ayrshire

In some staffrooms the mention of the word 'excellence' has been known to send shivers down the spines of otherwise confident individuals. As a fresh faced probationer teacher I had taken it as my duty to pursue and achieve excellence wherever the opportunity presented itself.

During teacher training, positive feedback from tutors, principal teachers and those teachers who occasionally handed over their reins, buoyed me with a sense of achievement. It made me wonder: was this excellence?

The same year provided shelter from numerous, less positive, things:

  • completing registers
  • course planning
  • credit removals
  • credits gained
  • chasing up punishment exercises
  • creating seating plans
  • collecting evidence for learning support
  • parents' evenings

I arrived for my first day brimming with confidence and awaiting initiation to my pursuit of excellence. Being presented with the sole responsibility for ten classes has led to the inevitable pursuit through, and I apologise for the cliche, mountains (and mountains) of paperwork.

Several strategies, tips and pieces of advice have helped me to manage the administrative duties associated with classroom teaching, thus preventing disruption to the effectiveness and enjoyment of my teaching.

Talk to people

I've had the fortune (and occasional misfortune) to be in a department where three quarters of the staff arrived as new to the school as me. This helped me feel less like a stranger and less conscious of asking for advice.

I found that I was being asked for advice or my opinion on certain subjects. There's nothing quite like the feeling you get when your principal teacher tells you that a suggestion you made at a departmental meeting was excellent.

Most of my key strategies for coping (especially with those admin mountains) are the products of discussions with my departmental colleagues. Make your voice heard, regardless of how 'set in their way' your department is.

Make the most of your (precious) time

The major downfall with time in school is that there isn't enough. There's a limit to the number of tests or homework jotters you can mark in a non contact period and only so many formative comments you can write.

Of course, someone else might have other plans for this precious period of your time. Preparing resources for your PT or running errands for the office staff have a habit of cropping up (and it's always best to remain on the right side of these people).

My organisational skills couldn't always cope with this and three or four non-contact periods would pass with hardly any completed work to show: a crime, looking back upon it.

Take note: the 'to do list' is a wonderful invention, offering clarity about what needs to be done. Find a pukka pad, a jotter, fold a bit of paper or use a post it. It may be used for prioritising or reminding, target setting or planning. Most importantly, crossing something off when completed is very satisfying.

Set clear, visible targets to be achieved during non contact time.

Routines, routines, routines

Routines are not confined to the four walls of the classroom. Make one stop to the school office every day, one to your mail box and one to the canteen, preferably all on the same run.

With the quantity of tasks I am often juggling it's little surprise that I occasionally forget one. Completing daily admin work at the same time every day (normally half past three) forges a routine that is quickly burned into the memory.

In the classroom, I attempt to issue and collect homework at the same time during every lesson, reminding myself and the pupils that homework is due. Leave a box out at the beginning of the period for pupils to drop their homework in as they enter the class. They soon make a habit of this and it saves having to remember to collect it during the period.

Become IT-friendly

Enjoy a more eco-friendly approach to file management (I shudder to think of the number of trees I have been presented with this year). File results in MS Excel, write memos in MS Word, encourage staff to email you.

I was shocked by the amount of paperwork sent my way and it seemed like a thankless task during those first few weeks to manage it. Most of it goes in the recycle bin now after being stored, filed and catalogued away on a PC (and backed up, of course).

It takes seconds to launch a file in Word or Excel as opposed to ten times this amount of time to rifle through bundles or folders of month-old papers glued together by the resultant coffee stains of another late night's marking.

Get involved

There are times that you may feel like the sky is falling in whilst you juggle your tasks. This shouldn't prevent you from becoming involved in whole school life.

Some of the most rewarding highlights of my year so far have been experienced outside of my own subject and, as such, I have met pupils and enjoyed activities that I would have no other way of experiencing.

Continuing the journey

I'd be lying if I laid claim to any achievement of excellence as yet. I've had lessons where I've left the room or workshop believing that I've witnessed excellence in my pupils. I've produced resources that the whole department have used, commenting upon how excellent they are.

I believe that I have contributed effectively to the work of the department and the life of the school, have learned successfully how to make learning fun and have taken my responsibilities seriously.

Hopefully, when I finally reach the peak of that mountain of paperwork at the end of the session, I shall have found the confidence to manage it and will be set to continue my journey in the world of teaching.