At the moment, nearly half of the world’s population is living under lockdown. Millions of people are unable to go to work, and many are working from home for the first time. For some, working online comes with some benefits: there’s more flexibility, and many people are getting to spend more time connecting with loved ones. But for many teachers, who are used to spending their days standing in front of a class, working at home is a foreign concept – and it can be easy to fall into bad habits.
So what are some common pitfalls of teaching from home? And what’s the best way to avoid them?
1. Blurring the lines between work and leisure
Teaching is hard work. Beyond the contact time with students, there’s planning, marking and paperwork to be done, and many teachers find themselves at school late into the evening.
However, when you’re working from home it can be even more tempting to work nights and weekends, especially when your whole routine has suddenly been turned upside down. When your home is your workplace, there’s a danger that you’ll never feel like you’re off duty.
Working too much can lead to burnout, so it’s important to make a clear distinction between working hours and the rest of your life. Here are a few strategies:
- Get dressed for work in the morning. You don’t need to put on a suit, but working in your pyjamas is bad for your morale and motivation.
- If you have the space at home, create a workspace for yourself. You don’t need a dedicated office space for this – one end of the kitchen table will work just fine. If you work in the same space every day, when you sit down there, you’ll be in working mode.
- If you use your laptop in the evenings to watch TV or talk to friends, close down all your work-related tabs. That way, you won’t end up responding to emails after you’ve finished for the day.
- Try to differentiate weekends from weekdays. Plan things on your weekends you don’t have time to do during the week – like doing an exercise class, listening to a podcast or reading a great book. Whatever the activity, try to fill your weekend with a bit of fun, so that on Monday you’ll feel refreshed, stimulated and ready for the week.
2. Balancing work and childcare
Working from home in a quiet, distraction-free environment would be ideal. However, for many teachers who are parents, the reality is very different – and trying to teach online with children at home comes with a range of challenges.
If your children are school-age, they will also be learning remotely. It can be difficult to manage their work, as well as your own. But, now is a great time to help children strengthen their ability to work independently. Here are some tips:
- Stick to a strict routine. Try to make sure everyone starts work at the same time, eats lunch as a family, and finishes for the day together, if possible.
- Avoid constant interruptions by setting aside a few times a day when your children can come to you with questions about their school work.
- Try to model self-discipline. If you waste time scrolling through Instagram mid-morning, it will be difficult to tell your children off for doing the same.
- Keep your kids busy. If they’re finished their school work, there are lots of other interesting things for them to do. Indulge their creative side with some arts and crafts, encourage them to help with cooking, get them learning a new language, or doing some gardening – there are plenty of ideas online.
If you have babies or toddlers at home, it can be even more difficult to balance childcare and work. But there are some ways to make it easier:
- Zone your home. Create an area where your toddler can safely play and explore, and make sure that you have a separate work zone for yourself.
- If you have a partner, try working in shifts. Save any routine administrative tasks for when you’re on childcare duty. That way, you can take advantage of naps and periods of independent play to get some extra work done.
3. Dealing with isolation
If you’re on your own during lockdown, you might be the envy of your friends and colleagues with children. But isolation can come with its own set of difficulties.
Teachers are used to spending their work days with students and colleagues, and the drastic change of working at home might leave you feeling lonely. But even if you’re working on your own, you’re still part of a community – and it’s important to connect with that community.
So how can you make sure you’re getting enough interaction?
- If you need to speak to a colleague or manager, pick up the phone or suggest a Skype call instead of sending an email. Speaking to people directly can be more efficient than the endless back-and-forth of email, and it helps you connect with others while working.
- Make dates with your friends and family to talk in the evenings and at weekends. Have dinner over Skype with your family, or arrange a Friday night hangout with your friends.
- Get to know your neighbours. Saying hello (from a safe distance) or even giving them a wave will help you to feel less isolated.
4. Being too sedentary
As a teacher, you’re on your feet all day – moving around the classroom to check on students’ work, walking around the school, and going between the staffroom and your classroom. Working from home is a lot more sedentary, and while your shoes won’t wear out as fast, you might notice a big difference in how energised you feel.
If you feel your energy levels dropping, then it’s time to get moving! But how can you stay active when you’re trapped behind a computer all day long?
- Start the day off with an exercise video. It doesn’t need to be a long video – you’ll feel the benefits by doing even fifteen minutes of cardio. And if you’re in lockdown with children, encourage them to join in – it’ll burn off some of their energy!
- Make sure you get up and move once an hour. Walk to a different room, do some stretches. You could even create your own standing desk by putting your laptop on a chest of drawers or a bookcase, as a way of alternating your position.
- If you’re talking to your boss or colleagues on the phone, take the opportunity to get up and walk around the room.
- Make time for movement in the evenings and at weekends. Even if you’re tired at the end of your working day, make an effort to do some light housework or gentle yoga – anything that gets you moving!