Improve Your Paperwork Skills – A Guide For Classroom Teachers
Having worked both in the classroom and in ‘the office’, as a classroom teacher and Director of Studies, I thought it would be useful to explore why many teachers dislike paperwork, to explain what teachers’ paperwork is used for, and to suggest ways to make paperwork more manageable.
Why do teachers hate paperwork?
I wonder if you have ever voiced any of these common opinions: Why do I have to do all this paperwork? School bureaucracy is such a headache! I feel like I spend longer doing administration than actually teaching! What have my administrative abilities got to do with my teaching?! I’m drowning in paperwork! Help!
I know I definitely have.
In fact, 5 years into my teaching career I kicked myself for letting my frustrations get the better of me when I stated, ‘I am teacher not… a computer monkey!’ at the exact moment when the Assistant Director of Studies emerged from the management office, obviously having heard me loud and clear.
Looking back, I think that this little vent of outrage at having to do paperwork is symbolic of an ‘us and them’ mentality that I have seen in more than a couple of staffrooms.
Specifically, the ‘us’ being classroom teachers, who are doing the ‘real work’ and ‘them’ being the office who are often perceived as having ‘dumped unnecessary paperwork’ on ‘us.’
Is this valid? All emotions are valid, so yes.
Are the frustrations based on truth? No. Because in fact, your paperwork is extremely necessary and useful.
But the thing is, most teachers don’t really know what it is used for!
What is teachers’ paperwork used for?
What you are unlikely to hear in staffrooms of teachers drowning in paperwork is that this paperwork plays a vital role in the school at large.
Conversations with agents who re-book twice the number of students because of your feedback and reports often take place online.
The oral praise the British Council gives to the school for keeping excellent attendance records may not feature in their report.
The lesson records you meticulously completed and left on a shelf no one appears to look at can be used for the DOS plan a 121 course or write a letter to the parent of an ex-student.
Indeed, your paperwork is not going into a black hole!
It is there to be accessed by people you may not know or ever meet to improve the school’s reputation, relationships with its clients and ultimately to bring you more students to teach.
How to make teacher administration more manageable
Tip 1: Get training
If there is one thing that an employer cannot refuse, it is to train their staff to carry out a task they have employed them to do.
In other words, if they didn’t think you could do the job, they wouldn’t have employed you. Right?
And now you have the job it is their duty to support you to do it to the best of your ability.
Exactly! And this means that if you ask for training, you will likely get it. Yay!
There is also a psychological aspect to this. Some teachers may feel embarrassed that they don’t have the best computer skills, have never used Excel or have no idea how to fill out an invoice.
However, this is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Compare it to using a new school’s photocopier for the first time. No one would expect you to know how to load the paper if you have never used that machine before.
Likewise, no one can expect you to be a paperwork expert if you are a new member of staff.
So, ask for training.
If you are not a new member of staff, it may be the case that you have always struggled with certain paperwork and got a colleague to help you with it.
If you feel it is embarrassingly ‘too late’ to get training, this is not the case.
If you are struggling, others probably are too.
My suggestion is that you club together and ask for refresher training for a group of you.
Again, the school will be unlikely to say ‘no’ because training in groups is more financially efficient and if there are a few people requesting it there is obviously a justifiable need to spend school resources on this.
Moreover, requesting training will demonstrate awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and show your commitment to your Continual Professional Development (CPD).
So, it is a win-win all round!
Tip 2: Get in the right mind-set
Let’s imagine you have a long-distance drive ahead of you. But you are tired, and you don’t like driving.
Is it a good idea to go in the morning when you are fresh and can see the road?
Or at night when the cosy dark makes you even sleepier and resentful that you are on the road and not in your nice warm bed?
It is the same distance, on the same road, but the conditions you have chosen to embark on your journey make the difference between being a) almost bearable and b) awful.
Ask yourself: ‘What conditions would make this task less onerous for me?’ E.g. ‘Am I a morning person or a night owl?’ ‘When am I at my best during the day?’
In other words, doing a task you dislike when you are already mentally not at your best will make it even worse.
Tip 3: Manage your time effectively
People are motivated by different things. E.g. money, power, making a difference to the world, helping others.
If you are a teacher, it is unlikely that you are motivated by spreadsheets or invoices or report writing. (Nope, not on my list!)
Which means, it is often tempting to take the attitude of ‘I’m going to get this over and done with as quickly as possible.’
When it comes to time management, some people throw themselves headfirst into the unwanted but ‘have to do’ task, ploughing straight into it and hoping that this ‘attack’ strategy will make it go away quicker.
In my experience, this can lead to feelings of frustration if it takes longer than you anticipated, and exhaustion too, as you have spent a lot of energy trying to blitz the thing instead of pacing yourself. However,
Administration is a marathon not a sprint
I recommend that you approach it like you would teach a student to do an exam essay question, in a structured and thought-out manner:
Step 1: Make sure you fully understand the task
Do you need to use a particular format? Is there a template you can use? How many words is the report? Can you copy and paste previous students’ reports and personalise them a bit? Do you need to ask for clarification about anything from your manager? When is the deadline? Gather all the info you need so you don’t get halfway through and realise it is… all wrong! (Nightmare!)
Step 2: Plan
How long do you want to spend on this / how long can you spend on this without it eating into your free time? 1 hour? 30 minutes? Will 30 minutes after class for 2 days be suitable to meet the deadline? Think about how much time you want to spend on it and plan in advance accordingly.
Note: If you plan to work for 1 hour, take a 5-minute break in the middle as your concentration will start to wane after about 25 minutes (according to statistics).
Also, remember to look up from the computer every few minutes to give your eyes a break from screen-fatigue.
Step 3: Get to work
Now that you have a plan, stick to it. Don’t get up to make a cup of tea (make one before you start).
Don’t check your emails.
Put your phone on silent.
Apparently after a person gets distracted it takes them 20 minutes to re-focus.
So, get into the flow and get your administrative mojo on!
Step 4: Check
Just like any good student, you need to check your work. Check for content, then check for grammar.
Read it twice. If there are calculations involved, do them twice.
It would be embarrassing to be pulled up on an overlooked spelling or grammar mistake, especially as an English teacher!
And having spent maybe 50 minutes on this, spending the last 10 minutes checking is time well spent.
Step 5: Finish and reward yourself
You have finished this task for today! Fantastic! Now go reward yourself with whatever free time activity you wanted to do after your finished, safe in the knowledge that that task is done and dusted for today.
Tea? Gym? Yoga? The world is your oyster.
Go and enjoy it and forget about work.
I hope that you have found these insights, hints and tips useful.
Teacher administration will be here to stay but rest assured that it is extremely valuable and doesn’t have to be that awful if you approach it in a way that works best for you.
If you have any tips or tricks that you think would help other teachers with their paperwork, do leave your ideas in the box below.
Love Emma x
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