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Teacher Work-Life Balance: How to Create Harmony Between Your Relationships and Teaching Career

A couple sit together at a kitchen table, working on their laptops.

Teacher work-life balance means being aware of how much work you're taking home and how it might be affecting your partner.

Because teachers are so committed to their impact on students' lives, they may sometimes struggle with striking a healthy work-life balance. Here’s some helpful advice. Teachers work long hours, including many at home. The daily stresses of the job—and the stories that come along with it—often permeate your relationships, from family and friends to romantic partners.

Teachers want their partners to be supportive, but they also need to strike the right balance between their relationship and career. Here are several strategies to maintain the best teacher work-life balance you can and ensure your home life remains happy and healthy.

1. Help Your Partner Understand Your Job

Teaching is not an easy profession. Some partners or spouses may need time to understand that helping students learn and achieve goes far beyond the time spent in school.

Often, work must be done at home. Teachers need to plan lessons, create and grade assessments, and communicate with students' families; unfortunately, not all of these tasks can be completed during the day. School meetings and events also sometimes take place in the evenings. Explaining this to your partner early on can help.

Many factors out of a teacher's control can also affect their workday: Funding cuts, the pandemic, political upheavals, and even natural disasters can create frustration. In addition, teachers can feel depressed or overwhelmed when their students experience difficult circumstances at home. If a partner understands and recognizes these challenges, they can help create an environment where their teacher partner feels supported and listened to.

Further Reading: How to Achieve Work-Life Balance As a Teacher

2. Prioritize Your Relationships

Couples therapist Erika Boissiere writes in Forbes that it's essential to "always reserve a few gallons in your tank for your spouse" no matter how tired you are. This means teachers need to check in with their partners, ask questions about their day and their job, and listen to the struggles they face.

Boissiere advises asking yourself the simple question, "What did I do today to connect with my partner?" If that answer is frequently disappointing, dedicate some time to connecting with your partner with curiosity and attention. Relationships take work and care, and they can't run on autopilot. While your partner should be listening to your challenges, you must be present for your partner, too.

3. To Be Happy at Work, Invest in Your Relationships at Home

The Harvard Business Review reports that people who thrive in their jobs are anchored by at least one or two nonwork communities. Meaningful connections outside of work broaden our perspective and tap into aspects of our identity that doesn't depend on job success. These nourishing relationships can also help buffer against draining interactions. Partners who work outside of a school setting can offer perspective, advice, and outside-the-box ideas for conquering challenges. For example, my husband's viewpoint as an engineer has led to some incredible strategies for helping my classroom run more efficiently.

4. Set (Reasonable) Time Limits

Invariably, there will be papers to grade or parents to call from home. But teachers should aim to set time limits—or at least give a heads up that midterms are due and they might be unavailable—so that they can fight burnout and give their relationship what it needs to survive.

Building a schedule can go a long way toward creating time for both partners to do what they need to do outside the relationship without guilt or disappointment. In addition, since teaching, as a profession, often requires an employee to buy and pay for what they need to do their job effectively, a partner may not understand the need to add this to the budget. Seeking out ways to find resources, such as grants and funding websites, can help.

5. Know When Conversations Should Be Left in the Classroom

There's a scene in the classic '90s movie "Freedom Writers" when teacher Erin Gruwell babbles on to her spouse about her students. It's clear her husband is uninterested and tired, but she's clueless, and it becomes one of the reasons their marriage eventually disintegrates. There are a million stories in every classroom: some are hilarious, others are inspirational, and some are sad. It's almost impossible for a teacher not to share nonconfidential stories, but it can wear on a partner. Be cognizant of how much you discuss your job at home, and know your partner's saturation point.

Just like no one who's married to a lawyer wants to be cross-examined at breakfast, teacher behavior can also invade a relationship. Once, early in my teaching career, I used my teacher voice on my husband, instructing him to get the laundry done by a certain time. He responded by snapping, "Don't talk to me like I'm one of your students!" Being aware of how you treat each other can reduce arguments and create a smoother home life.

Further Reading: Better Work-Life Balance for Teachers: Four Strategies to Make Your Life Easier

6. Learn to Leave Work at Work

To maintain a strong teacher work-life balance, it often becomes necessary to learn how to compartmentalize. Psychology Today defines compartmentalization as "a defense mechanism in which people mentally separate conflicting thoughts, emotions, or experiences to avoid the discomfort of contradiction." It can be unhealthy if used too much, but it works well in situations when life can benefit from a little separation. Taking a deep breath and leaving your work issues until the next day will go a long way in helping you sustain relationships and be present outside of school.

Teaching is a job that can penetrate nearly every aspect of a teacher's physical, emotional, and intellectual life. By following the strategies presented here, teachers can ensure they have a robust and sound teacher work-life balance.