Figuring out how to achieve work-life balance as a teacher is a huge challenge. Teachers enter the profession because they hope to change lives, but they often find that there are obstacles in their path, and the expectations teachers face can seem impossible to live up to. Finding the sweet spot between achievement and work-life balance can help teachers build a long, happy, and healthy career. Here are some tips on how to achieve work-life balance as a teacher.
Respect Your Time
Teachers tend to be hard workers. It's not unusual for teachers to stay at school until 7 p.m. helping students, to stay up until midnight correcting papers, and to spend weekends planning lessons, chaperoning field trips, or attending conferences. And make no mistake about it: I understand that teachers' duties are almost impossible to accomplish without putting in extra hours. However, recognizing that you cannot plan countless field trips, attend every school event, and serve on all committees can help you focus on what will have the most impact on your students' success.
Recognize That You're Having an Impact (Even When It Doesn't Feel Like It)
If you've been a teacher for as long as I have (23 years and counting!), you recognize that you don't always know the effect you've had on your students until many years later. Eddie, for example, was a bright but oppositional student in my senior English class. He was so defiant that I initially wanted him moved from my class.
He had a great sense of humor, though. He responded when I matched wits with him, and his grade climbed. He still drove me a bit crazy, but he graduated, and I didn't hear from him for almost 10 years. Then, one day, he stopped by my classroom. He told me that my class was transformative for him, and he was now studying to be an English teacher.
Further reading: What Makes a Teacher Memorable?
I was shocked, but perhaps I shouldn't have been; every teacher I know has a story like this. So remember, you might not see the immediate results of your hard work, but teachers do change students' lives each and every day just by being themselves and building connections. Keeping that in mind can help when you feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of teaching.
Shut Off the Electronics
With email and online education platforms like Schoology, students and parents can now connect with teachers at any time. While this can be very helpful in some cases, I found myself replying to student posts at 11 p.m. and answering emails in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes, those posts and emails would get me excited or upset about something, and keep me awake. Now, I let my students know I will not get to anything posted after 7 p.m., when I shut off my phone. Forcing myself to switch off electronics at a certain hour was difficult at first, but it has had a profound impact on my mental and emotional health, as well as my energy level.
Know When to Say No
The other day, my principal sent me an email asking me to present at an event. I was already teaching a credit recovery course and Saturday school, running two clubs, serving on two committees, speaking at another conference, and mentoring three new teachers. I knew this new assignment might break me.
I went to speak with him, explaining what I had on my plate so he understood that I wasn't just being lazy. I then recommended another teacher who had expressed interest in presenting at that event. Too often, teachers are reluctant to say no, but it is absolutely essential if we want to stave off burnout. This is a key part of learning how to achieve work-life balance as a teacher.
Prioritize Your Health
This year, I vowed to practice what I preach in terms of taking care of my physical health. So far, I've lost 22 pounds, and I cannot begin to tell you the effect that it has had on my mood, my energy level, and my endurance. Staying away from sugar and caffeine has made me much calmer, so I'm less likely to lose my temper or fall asleep at 4 p.m. Exercise has helped me deal with the daily frustrations of being a teacher and cope with issues outside of my control.
Don't Forget Your Friends Outside of School
Because teachers spend so much time with one another, they often socialize together, too—and that can be an important stress reliever. But don't forget your nonteacher friends. Schedule outings and dinner dates with people outside of the education field.
Further reading: 5 Tips to Be a Happy Teacher
This weekend I spent time with a friend who is a real estate agent and another who is a filmmaker. I found talking about their careers to be fascinating, and it took me outside my classroom. It was a breath of fresh air.
Let It Go
As teachers, it's easy to fixate on small things: the lesson plan that didn't go quite as well as we had hoped, the assessment that needs tweaking, the email that should go out today. But sometimes you just have to let it go. The earth won't fall off its axis if you don't write that email or add that extra lesson on commas to the curriculum tonight. We do our best, but we must recognize that some things are out of our control. Take a deep breath and let it go.
Learning how to achieve work-life balance as a teacher—especially in those early years—can be tough. It is, however, absolutely essential for survival. These strategies can ensure that your teaching career is not only impactful, but also healthy and long-lasting.