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Don't Let Your Teaching Career Become Your Entire Identity

A young woman kayaking near a coastal town.

A teaching career can be all-consuming. I've seen colleagues' entire identities taken over by the profession many times. They eat, sleep, and think school. It even happened to me.

Boundaries between home and school can easily blur because of the amount of work many teachers need to take home and their personal investment in their students' growth. But knowing the warning signs that your teaching career is taking over your life can help you identify the trend and stop it in its tracks. Here's how you can work toward positive change.

Further Reading: The Truth About the Wonderful, Excruciating Life of a Teacher

Know the Warning Signs

The Harvard Business Review suggests asking yourself several questions to determine whether your career has become your identity. Here's what they look like within the context of a teacher's life:

  1. Do you think about your job outside of school? Are you consumed with school-related thoughts? Do you have difficulty having conversations that aren't about school?
  2. How do you describe yourself and how would others describe you? Do you tell people you just met that you're a teacher?
  3. Do you spend most of your time at school? Do others say you spend too much time at school?
  4. Do you have interests and hobbies outside of school that don't involve your school-related abilities? Do you consistently exercise other parts of your brain?
  5. If you could no longer be a teacher, how would you feel? How distressing would not having a teaching career be for you?

How to Separate Your Identity from Teaching

If your responses to these questions worry you, don't fear. There are some things you can do to mitigate the situation, so you can achieve a healthier work-life balance.

1. Identify Your Purpose

Psychology Today urges those who have lost their identity to their jobs to identify their own personal purpose. This purpose drives your work, personal, and family goals. It will help you stay centered because it is self-driven, not work-driven, and it includes facets of your life outside of your teaching career.

2. Find a Hobby

The same Harvard Business Review article suggests starting small and exploring hobbies outside of work that might interest you. It's not necessary to make a long-term commitment or spend thousands of dollars on surfing lessons and equipment (although that'd be cool). Just find one thing you enjoy doing and spend a small part of your day or week doing it.

For me, that change was riding my e-bike a couple of miles a few days a week. For another friend, it's quilting. For yet another, it's playing in a band. Whatever it is that excites you or scratches a creative itch, go do it!

3. Invest in Your Social Life

Schools are so insular that it can be easy to lose your friend network beyond school, so be sure to keep in touch with friends and family who exist outside of your workplace. Reach out through emails or phone calls and make plans to hang out so you can strengthen those relationships.

I recently reconnected with old friends who were part of a music scene I was heavily involved with in my early twenties. My friends from that time now have interesting careers in many different fields, and we all enjoy hearing about each other's families, places we've visited, and new things we've learned.

4. Set Boundaries—and Keep Them

Set "bright lines"—crystal clear boundaries you do not cross—when it comes to the amount of time you spend in school. Maybe you decide you will not stay in school past 4 p.m. or you will not answer your emails past 6 p.m. Set limits on the conversations you have with people outside of school about school—including your teacher friends.

5. Don't Try to Do It All

Learn to limit or say no to committee work, school activities, and other work that might bleed into your personal time. A recent article in The New York Times suggests talking to your employers about creating a "schedule that's sustainable — and healthy." Suggesting other interested co-workers for positions you need to turn down can help you handle those difficult conversations.

Further Reading: 3 Ways to Avoid Teacher Burnout

The Economic Times warns that deriving your entire identity from your job can be dangerous. It can cause failures in other parts of life, and it can lead to burnout and damaged relationships. It can also be devastating if you lose your job or when you retire. Using these techniques to create a stronger work-life balance now can assure you have a healthy and happy life both in and outside of your classroom.