How to find the right work/life balance as a teacher

Here at TELLAL, we know all too well how hard it can be to find a good work/life balance.  As passionate educators, you can find yourself enveloped in commitments and extra curricula activities, as well as the desire to reach out to students who you might feel need a helping hand.

Unfortunately this is a combination that can mean you could miss out on key essentials in your own lives.  To help you navigate the nuances of giving your best to your students and your outside-school life, we enlisted the advice of some great teachers who have some useful advice.  This week, we sat down with Matthew Alan Thomas, the Teaching and Learning Coordinator at GEMS Wellington Academy in Silicon Oasis to find out how his experience has helped him get the balance right.

Hi Matthew!  Thank you so much for talking to us, can you tell us a little bit about your career?

I actually started as a community sports coach/ rugby club mascot. After doing my PGCE in Bangor, Wales, I have taught in two independent schools one in York and one in London before deciding to embark on my latest challenge in the UAE.

What got you into education?

My two uncles, Jeff and Ian.  Ian passed away from Multiple Sclerosis and Jeff Alzheimer’s disease. It happened in my late teens/early twenties. I decided from then on to do something with my life that was purposeful, fun and inspired positive change. PE teaching is my perfect vocation!

What do you like most about being a teacher?

Every day being different; whether it’s the lessons that we teach or focus for the year.   It could be anything from improving the quality of physical education for the children of determination, healthy eating or utilizing the Dubai Sports Council events to plan trips.

What do you find the most challenging?

Simultaneously meeting the needs of all stakeholders in the school.  Whether that is teaching children with a range of abilities, communicating with parents and staff or outside providers. However, with the correct procedures these tasks become a lot simpler. When you get it all right, it can be very rewarding!

What is the biggest misconception about teaching?

Probably that it has to take place inside the classroom; these days we know so much more about how children can, and should, learn.  As long as we create safe and stimulating environment, we can find more productive solutions to assisting learning, including the outdoors.   That way we can create excellent learning experiences for our children that will serve them well into the future.

What are the unique attributes of teaching in the UAE?

Flexibility is key; you never know what might be coming around the corner and with the innovations in education and stakeholder needs, you need to be ready for anything. You also need to foster a good understanding for the needs of all students, their religious beliefs, cultural identity and ability levels.  

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

I actually read this book,  Do Breathe: Calm your Mind. Find Focus. Get Stuff Done and one of the key tips was to condense your day into just one post-it-note.   It helps me prioritise my day, as well as fitting neatly in my pocket, and keeps my task list manageable instead of overwhelming.  At home to save time, I subscribe to a meal order delivery service “Hello Chef” that brings in the raw meats, vegetables and spices, all in the correct portions to keep my energy levels up throughout the day.  This means I can relax while cooking and eat healthy without having to worry about how much time it will take after a long day.  I also use the app Headspace to prepare for a busy day at work. This helps me reset my mind and generally helps me to become more creative, less reactive, gives me more energy in my day-to-day life.   If I am really in need of a zen-like pick me up, I visit Point Zero and use one of their float tanks for an hour.

What do you like to do most with your off time?

I like to volunteer my time, mainly around sports in the UAE. This term I am coaching with Middle East Touch Rugby in their preparations for the Junior Touch Championships in Paris. I play touch rugby, mixed netball, and recently a sport called Spikeball.  Playing sport/ putting your body under stress goes a long way to refocusing the mind and relieving anxiety – even just a walk can get your mind on a better track.

What tips would you give new teachers for setting a balance from the start?

  1. Be useful and dependable in certain situations.
  2. To think not just of your subject but also of the whole school implications of your actions.
  3. Remember this phrase “In the joy of others lies your own”. They say altruism keeps you happy and healthy.

What advice would you give teachers who might find themselves struggling with their workload or disconnecting?

Ask for help! “The brain is for having ideas not for keeping them”. Teachers are naturally quite empathic people. They can normally understand any situation you are in and most often can guide you to a greater path.

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