Organisation and self-discipline are key qualities for teachers who want to balance school and personal life. Here, Fauzia Azami Zubair gives valuable tips on how to stay on top of things and shows that having a full home life and being a dedicated teacher need not be mutually exclusive.

Everyone has family and friends, and they were there before you and I started on a career. Family and friends are our springboard, our ever-present backbone and our supporters, as well as our critics. We use them and sometimes are unjust towards them, but they remain there for us in good times and bad.

For most people in the teaching profession in Pakistan, the decision to teach is not a choice that they made in high school when their other classmates were deciding to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects or planning careers in multinational companies with MBA degrees. Teaching, in Pakistan is often taken on as a profession because it does not require more than a graduate or postgraduate degree. You can start teaching at any time you deem suitable. You can start teaching when you need money, when you need a change, when you need to socialise, when you want to reinforce your self-esteem and when you feel you need to put your education to use. You learn the tricks of the trade on the job, and depending on the organisation, you can find gratification in many ways.

The first obstacle that often confronts many women is the family, which may not be supportive of her decision to step out and cause the household routine to change. Young married women often face this situation. On the other hand, there are husbands and in-laws who are very supportive.

No matter what the situation, women are the ones who have to perform a balancing act because of their primary role as homemakers and caregivers. The first and most important consideration for any woman who wants to take on a teaching job is to strike a balance, which allows her to do justice to her personal and professional duties. This is a commitment she has to make to herself. If she finds that she can do justice to the family as well as to her work, she will be a happier professional. Thankfully, women are excellent at multitasking – this is a scientifically studied fact. The secret to balancing the personal and the professional is multitasking.

1. Being organised
Being organised about all your responsibilities is an essential prerequisite, to going out to work. And organisation needs planning.

When you plan something, you follow organised steps to ensure that you have a certain outcome. When you organise you keep things in a certain order so you can find them later.

In every aspect of life you need a common-sense approach to responsibilities. Trying to keep track of tasks and deadlines in an already over-burdened mind is the quickest way to failure. However, when you see a well-considered plan being executed seamlessly, because all the necessary aids and ingredients were in place, it is very satisfying.

When it comes to organisation, if there is a lot to do you might end up feeling overwhelmed. It is better to start small and spend fifteen minutes organising a small area. This might be just the thing you need to bring order to your thoughts as well. 

Another way to stay organised it to keep updating your calendar. That way when you can see deadlines coming up, you are more likely to prepare ahead of time.

Unburden the mind by using a notepad, a small whiteboard, or a diary, which is a daily reminder or checklist that helps you to prioritise activities for the day, week or month. This checklist needs to be reviewed at the end of each day, and jobs done should be marked ‘done’ and new tasks should be added for the next day. Two columns titled “Work” and “Family” should help you stay focused on both responsibilities. Family should not intrude on work and work should not eat into family time. It is, of course, necessary to take paperwork home during certain times of the year, such as examination time, but that too can be managed if you are careful about when and where you work at home.

Teaching requires careful preparation. Objectives and activities have to be planned on an hourly, daily, and weekly basis. In addition, if teachers plan for the long-term they ensure that they can cover the curriculum during the academic year.

2. Being disciplined
A procrastinator is her own worst enemy, so the path to a stress-free day is to stay on top of your tasks. Jobs have a way of piling up and the crash happens when you find you just cannot deal with things anymore. Life was never meant to be a walk in the park; it is dynamic and exciting because of the fact that we are driven by our responsibilities and our satisfaction comes from having done justice to them.

Women make great teachers and if anyone fails at the job, it is either because of lack of sincere commitment, poor time-management or lack of self-discipline. Such individuals will find they can blame no one but themselves.

It is never a bad idea to leave some of your corrections in school to be attended to during a free period, but then you should not use that free period for any other activity. The key word here is self-discipline.

A happy and successful individual is one who has managed to establish a work-life balance, so that all of his or her responsibilities are attended to. Rest, exercise, and entertainment are all important, and denying yourself such refreshing breaks will make you feel like a workhorse – resentful, angry, frustrated, and disenchanted with what you have been blessed with. And eventually you will become poor company.

3. Knowing your limits
How you manage your time and your priorities is important because to maintain the required balance you will have to keep your workload and commitments manageable. If you allow yourself to bite off more than you can chew in any area, you will be floundering in another. Therefore it is sensible not to say yes to every ‘favour’ that is requested. In other words politely refuse to take on more work than you can comfortably handle. Similarly try to be considerate of others and do not ask favours that put others on the spot. Your paperwork is your paperwork, your planning is your planning and your time is your time and the same applies to your colleagues.

Managing close and extended family members is a little trickier. They can be more demanding at times, but, as in all matters, you have to prioritise according to the level of importance.

4. Maximising your time and not wasting it
Time is always in short supply. We never have enough of it. It cannot be paused, rewound or replayed. Here are some timesaving tips to help you get more work done in the same amount of time you had last year, but could never finish:

• A big time waster, according to many teachers, is ‘hunting and gathering.’ That is, looking for that missing lesson plan; collecting materials and equipment from students after completion of a project; searching for missing books or notes that you had so carefully stashed away somewhere.

The key is to become a master of organisation. There should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Start with one area at a time – your desk, then your cabinets, your cupboards and closets; throw out unused materials, and make space for materials you need. Make categories such as: ‘to do,’ ‘to check,’ ‘to file,’ ‘to read,’ ‘urgent,’ and ‘lesson plans’. Label these spaces for easy access.

• Instead of drafting documents from scratch, use Internet search engines for ready ideas, information, data, and plans, but do not plagiarise and use them intelligently so that they are meaningful and pertinent.

• Colour-code your files and other corresponding work documents.

• Use a daily planner: one for work and the other for personal tasks.

• Always do the more challenging tasks when you are rested. The easier ones can be handled even when you are tired.

• Give yourself a break: when your legs hurt or your shoulders feel stiff, it is a signal for you to give yourself a change of scene and your body a bit of exercise. Walk away from your seat, around the campus, or down a long corridor and back. Rejuvenate yourself.

• Stay focused: when you are at school, think of and do only that which is related to school; and when you are with your family, give them your complete attention.

• Review regularly: daily, weekly, bi-weekly and at spaced intervals, find alone time to just think.

The effective teacher prioritises instruction. Become an effective teacher and an effective individual who wins the admiration of colleagues at work and family members at home by adopting skills and styles that will bring greater harmony to all aspects of your life.

‘Time-saving Tips for Teachers’, by K.J.Wagner. (2004)

Fauzia Azami Zubair holds a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Karachi, and a Post-graduate Diploma in Advanced Professional Studies from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland. An experienced teacher, she started her career in 1973 and is currently between assignments. She has teaching as well as counselling experience in various leading schools in Karachi.

June 2013