Workaholic Teachers

Reading time: 3

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
Read more about John Dabell

Are you a workaholic?

Silly question really. All teachers are workaholics although many not out of choice.

Here are some more silly questions:

  1. Do you find yourself tossing and turning all night long worrying about school stuff?
  2. Do you find it difficult to relax and do nothing?
  3. Do you work every evening and every weekend?
  4. Do you get a knot in your stomach from 11am on a Sunday?
  5. Do you feel like you are on a hamster wheel?

If you are a teacher then you are permanently busting a gut, not getting enough sleep, struggling to keep up and very often going to work unwell. Despite all this, you live and breathe teaching and you talk about leaving but know deep down that you won’t.

This is what a recent survey of 1,500 teachers by recruitment consultancy Randstad found. Their infographic makes for interesting reading:

Image: Randstad

Teachers have a hard time switching off because of their punishing workloads and there is never really a finishing line to flop over. Weekends and holidays are destinations and milestones but they don’t always allow for a complete rest because there is always a teacher job to do. The rhythm of teaching is satisfying but the baggage that goes with it is very heavy.

Managing workloads is crucial to mental health and we know that overworked people are less productive as well as less healthy. Too much work can make us emotionally unstable leading to breakdowns and physical illness. Workaholic or overworked,  every teacher has to decompress, unwind and hit the release valve – no rest, no rewards.

Whilst many teachers would love to get off the treadmill for five minutes, there are some teachers who are helplessly addicted to their work. They are teaching addicts.

Teaching Addiction

Teaching is an addiction with positive and negative characteristics. You teach, you get a thrill from doing it, you have strong self-doubts and experience cold-turkey. You are intense and withdrawn, energetic and lethargic, driven and bewildered. You put work before your leisure time and feel guilty if you are resting and easily slip back into doing something teacher related. If this sounds like you then you are an addict.

A teacher addict who is ‘in the zone’ won’t be bothered by the long hours and long days because teaching is their passion and life and they are their element. They won’t be eyeing up the exit. But they are still doing far too much and need help to unplug and relax.

Are you a workhaholic teaching addict or a hard working, exhausted and diligent teacher paddling like hell underneath just to stay afloat?

Either way, strategies are needed to cope and some good advice comes from Professor Adrian Furnham’s book The Psychology Of Behaviour At Work in which he cites the work of Marilyn Machlowitz who shares ideas for managing our workaholic tendencies.

I’ve adapted a few of her suggestions:


1. Find the job that fits

We could be teaching something else to help us manage our workload more effectively. You might be the PE coordinator with little or no experience. So many primary subject ‘specialists’ are doing a job they have been asked to do but don’t have the expertise in – this puts an incredible burden and workload on someone.

2. Find the place that fits

You might be in a school that isn’t for you. Leaving and finding a new position is easier said than done but not impossible. Don’t stay in a place that isn’t ticking your boxes as it is the surest way of being miserable and getting bogged down. Start looking.

3. Learn to say ‘stop’

There comes a point when enough is enough and even 72 hours in a day wouldn’t cover what you need to get done. Impose a finishing line and make sure you cross it without running round the track again.

4. Use your time, don’t let it use you

Prioritise what needs doing and follow the Eisenhower Matrix to better manage your time

5. Let others do things for you and delegate

Why are you still marking every piece of work? Get the children to mark some of it and share planning – don’t agree to everything and be a ‘Yes’ teacher.

6. Make time for what matters

Always find time to pursue an outside interest, spend time with your family and don’t feel guilty for leaving school work.

More Help

Teacher Toolkit have recently added other blogs that can help you:

Become A Time Stealer will help you gain more control and provide ideas for coping more effectively.

The Toyota Way offers guidance on how adopting the ‘5S approach’ will help you become more efficient and productive.

No Pressure contains further ideas for being stress free and why we should aim to be hardy teachers.

Our Secret Weapon provides ideas for getting a better night’s sleep.

In the grand scheme of things, how important is that marking?


Become a chocaholic instead.

5 thoughts on “Workaholic Teachers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.