Work Life Balance? I’m Having a Me Party

English and Media specialist Paul Brand extols the benefits of making time for yourself.


Those with a high cultural cache might recognise the movie reference in this blog post title. For those in the dark, The Muppets. That’s the answer, not an insult by the way.

In this modern-day masterpiece (believe me, it’s second only to A Christmas Carol in the muppet canon), Amy Adams duets with Miss Piggy on Me Party, a thematic rehash of Sisters Are Doin’ it for Themselves belted out by characters whose man/frog have shamefully neglected them. The character played by Ms Adams is actually a small-town teacher. The film’s utopian vision of pedagogy shows her effortlessly tune a car’s engine in front of enraptured kindergarteners. (How much planning must have gone into that? The risk assessment! And in the last lesson before holidays when any self-respecting teacher has resorted to DVDs!) Back in the real world, harassed teachers of both sexes are far more likely to be the guilty parties when it comes to neglecting loved ones and, more pertinently, themselves.

Liberated from the teaching treadmill by a freak accident that left me physically and mentally impaired, I am now having a “me” party. Don’t get me wrong, my chance mishap didn’t unleash an egotistical party animal; mine is the most muted merrymaking you’re ever likely to behold. However, for the first time since beginning teacher training (because, ironically, I wanted to be busier and more challenged) I have been able to make time for myself. And that in a period when my family has grown, thereby demanding more of my time. Indeed, I am only familiar with Kermit and co.’s latest adventures because I sat down to watch with my eldest pre-schooler, an hour and a half of relatively mindless pleasure that might previously have been scraped into a weekend but would have been unthinkable on a working day when I’d often be fortunate to see daylight, never mind my infant child.

As a paid-up member of the profession, I know full well that the sage advice to make time for yourself routinely falls on deaf ears. And my own observations are certainly not intended to guilt-trip those still juggling the insane teacher workload with parenthood – it’s tricky enough coping with one of your own, managing a hundred plus of other people’s children practically makes you superhuman.

I know too that the pressure to be the best teacher you can be and to cater for the needs of others means that your own hobbies, interests and dreams are cast aside. With hindsight I also know that this can be self-defeating. I was a Media teacher who viewed all social media platforms as luxuries I could ill afford. If it wasn’t on the syllabus, it didn’t exist to me. My professional development was stunted by the very system I was supposed to be serving. It is paradoxical that I am now trying to communicate this message via a medium that I’d never have found time for, so fingers crossed that a disregarded family member or an enlightened colleague has thrust this between you and your school planner and insisted that you read!

Blogging is a creative avenue that the teenage me, brimming with stories, would have strolled leisurely along. The adult me, burdened by an unhealthy work-life balance, found it blockaded. Once the workload barrier was lifted, the words flowed: a blog tipped over into children’s literature which cascaded into screenplays and play scripts. There’s still not enough time in the day to empty out everything that’s in my head but it sure feels good to get just some of it down after several years of personal inertia.

As well as not writing, I have to confess that I was rarely reading. An English teacher that doesn’t read sounds like a pathetic figure but an alarming number have confided that reading for pleasure is a distant memory. With the first page turned, the first line written, I was able to recapture the essence of me. The fire lit in my own school days, snuffed out by the daily grind of teaching life, reignited given a little oxygen. When teaching now (albeit in a supply or tutoring capacity), I can practise what I preach. Because what is an English teacher if not somebody who loves reading and writing?

But how, I hear you ask, is a dedicated full time teacher supposed to find the headspace that you currently enjoy? My Twinkl colleague Sam recently posted the blog Twinkl Secondary – What’s the Point? The point, in short, is to help you get your life back and indulge in some quality “me” time.

Here’s the maths (we’ve got that and other subjects covered too, so spread the word to co-workers you want to socialise with)…

A GCSE text has a good term of teaching in it. That equates to approximately fifty hours of class time. My ratio for a well-researched, well-prepared and well-resourced lesson was 1:1 (planning:teaching time) which is of course unsustainable. Some resources could carry over from one year to the next, other lessons were, quite frankly, delivered on the hoof, all of which brought planning and preparation time down but let’s for argument’s sake say that a unit of work typically requires a minimum of ten hours planning.

Now imagine that was all done for you, complete with whizzy PowerPoints, differentiated worksheets, links to NC and AOs and a host of revision and assessment materials. Need something to supplement that viewing of A Muppet Christmas Carol? Twinkl’s stocking contains twenty sequential lessons topped up with other assorted goodies. Not really sure what Charlotte Mew’s Fin de Fête is all about? There are lesson packs for every poem from every exam board, plus KS3 poetry units galore. Busy creating mock exams because of the limited number of past papers? Let Twinkl take care of that.

No conscientious teacher would take somebody else’s planning and deliver it blind so there’s still preparation to be done and maybe tweaks to be made for particular classes or pupils thanks to the brilliance of editable resources. Let’s say that takes three hours rather than ten, that gives you back seven hours per unit which is the length of a working day in the average office. You do with that time whatever you like, be it more time with your children or more time with your Xbox. You can spend some of it browsing the website to see where else you can save time, just promise me you won’t spend it on alternative planning or paperwork!

Twinkl are the ultimate party planners. Let them take the slack and you can take this festive season as the perfect time to begin a “me” party all of your own.

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