A good work-life balance seems mythical right?
As teachers, it is easy to let our own wellbeing get lost within the role, as we spend our whole day caring for others.
I wanted to share with you a few tips on how you could learn how to find a good balance of working efficiently, still having a happy personal life and not burning yourself out.
Yes, this can sound and feel like a Herculean task, and naturally, these tips will have to be tailored to fit you; each of us is different.
Doubt, Over-thinking, Listening to others instead of knowing our own worth and Work-related Stress.
These feelings can leave us feeling like we want to go home, wrap ourselves in a duvet, like a hotdog sausage snuggled in a cocoon of bread, onions, ketchup and mustard and stay there for the rest of the day.
And because of this overwhelming feeling of anxiety, too many of us have considered, at one point, leaving the profession we love.
We have to find a way to overcome these emotions which can take over our life.
Making time for self-care, friends, family and other things we enjoy doing is essential if we are to have a long, happy teaching career.
Small changes could make a huge difference!
You can find a balance as I have. It is my experiences which have made me become such a strong promoter of teacher wellbeing.
We need to prevent outstanding, creative, experienced teachers leaving the profession because this balance is so hard to currently achieve.
Making time for the things we enjoy, may seem obvious but it is something that we, as teachers, constantly find hard to prioritise.
Our to-do lists become never-ending, and it can be tricky to know what to prioritise. We often over-commit leaving us no disposable leisure time for ourselves: ‘me time’ which we all desperately need.
1. It is ok to say no.
Damn, right it is! We know that at times the cloud of guilt sets in and we feel that in order to display our dedication and commitment to the school and the students, we have to say yes.
But this isn’t the case.
If you take on too much, it will never be done to the best of your ability – be honest with yourself, and your colleagues; what amount of work can you do that day, week or even term?
We can do anything…but not everything!
2. It’s ok to switch off!
I used to find this one of the most challenging aspects of the job. Sometimes we feel teaching is a vocation, not just a job.
This meant I often found it hard to leave school and go home. There is always something more I could do. But, as cliche as it may be, you cannot feed from an empty plate.
Sometimes, you need to completely switch off and just spend time on you.
If you go out to eat, how often do you give the waiting staff positive feedback?
Sadly it is more common in society to complain about something than compliment the people who work very hard to bring us our tasty treats!
Would you treat your friends like this?
No, Of course not! So why do it to ourselves or our colleagues?
This is the same mindset we encourage the children to have in our classes.
By creating a culture of positive feedback and complimenting colleagues but most importantly, ourselves, we are modelling the same growth mindset we encourage our students to have.
4. Make time for the things and people you love.
This is often the most important and personal component of finding balance. It is easy to prioritise work over your own life.
Reports to do, resources to create, marking to finish. But people won’t look back in life and think, ‘I wish I worked more!’.
Is the world actually going to end if that set of books has to wait for a weekend?
So, schedule at least two days a week to spend time with people who matter the most to you.
Otherwise, what’s the point of working our butts off?
5. Finding support is vital.
Twitter, Facebook groups, Instagram or even the pub with colleagues on a Friday evening all are great places to find support. Whether you just need a rant about something that happened that week, you need advice on “that tricky class” or you just need to de-stress, you can find it, there are thousands of teachers around the world in the same boat as you and they all struggle with the same issues!
Don’t try to be a lone wolf, reach out to others! Teachers are amazing and will ALWAYS be there to help another teacher.
Together we are strong.
If you want to reach out, I’m happy to be your first port of refuge. Find me on:
But don’t just take my word for it.
Work-Life Balance Advice from other Teachers.
I asked a teacher/writer friend of mine, Melissa, who had recently done a study on how teachers can maintain a better work-life balance. Here, she shares her findings.
Organising Your Work-Life Balance with a Teaching Workload.
Finding a work-life balance is really hard in a career that can totally take over every waking (and some sleeping) moment of your life. It’s not unusual for me to be marking/grading papers or planning schemes of work well into the night. I’m not the exception, this is normal for most of us.
The problem with this is, we fell like we have to do it BUT….at what risk? Your health, your friendships, your family?
It’s not unusual for me to trudge out to my car in the afternoon with several bags of papers that need to be graded. I have watched with envy, however, as many other teachers left the building empty-handed, and thought, “What am I doing wrong?”
I know I’m not the most efficient person in the world, but I imagined myself having a more manageable schedule and workload at this point in my career. I regret that I am often unable to indulge in an evening sitcom, read a new book, or go out to dinner.
I regret even more so that I frequently shush my own children when they approach me with something important or ask me to read them a story. “Mommy’s grading essays,” I say. “Come back in a few minutes.”
Oh, the guilt!
I feel guilty for ignoring my children when I need to grade or plan. I have not achieved what many refer to as a work-life balance, and I have wondered if this concept is even possible in teaching.
On the drive home from a writing conference recently, I explained to a coworker that I sometimes feel I am not doing enough for my students, despite my overwhelming workload. I worry they may not be prepared for the next grade level or for college, but what more can I do when I already spend many of my evenings’ grading and planning?
“I think you’re being too hard on yourself,” my coworker Patty, said. “Teaching is a job, like any other job. Yes, it’s important, but so is having a personal life.” We then discussed how teachers are often portrayed in movies and that the expectation from society is that we ARE supposed to sacrifice personal relationships and families in order to do all we can for our students.
Completely selfless is the way teachers are envisioned, but that should not be our reality.
I admit that I am struggling to find my work-life balance, and I doubt that I am alone. So, I spoke with some veteran teachers to gain advice about efficiency and leading a more balanced life. Here is their advice:
1. Loretta, Retired English Teacher (33 years of experience).
“Try to get grading done before leaving school so you have quality time at home. I tried to get graded work returned to students in two days. If I didn’t, I couldn’t move on to the next thing.”
2. Kristie, Current English and Journalism Teacher (8 years of experience).
“Pick and choose the things you will grade. I wish I hadn’t graded so many assignments. I’ve had 40 assignments in a quarter before, and it’s way too much. Also, find a place to hide to get a few things done. I usually come in early to get uninterrupted work time.”
3. Linda, Retired Early Childhood Teacher (39 years of experience)
“When lesson planning, write down all the materials needed for creative projects. Prepare in advance all cutting, paperwork, games, books, and related themed teaching aids. It is difficult to wing it when things start falling apart. Preparation worked for me. If I spent one day working after school, it set me free for the daily trials and unknowns that inevitably happen.”
4. Sigita, Current English Teacher (16 years of experience)
“Work out a strategy for grading small and large scale assignments so they don’t all happen at the same time. To be efficient, I have to use every crevice of the day. This means extreme time management, not getting bogged down by trivial things, and keeping a good calendar and sticking to it. “
“If I have a 10-minute stretch, I tackle a small task and leave more time-consuming tasks for my planning period. I try not to plan heavy graded work before holidays and other breaks so that my time with family is not fragmented.”
5. Lisa, Retired English, Theatre and Speech Teacher (33 years of experience)
“Work-life balance is a real thing, but it takes conscious effort and is not easy. Clear planning and clear expectations are key. As a teacher and a parent, you do not have to be perfect.”
“Teaching is ultimately about relationships and students need to know that while they are a priority in your teaching day, you have a life outside of being “their teacher”. While I was learning these lessons as a teacher, my then five-year-old precocious son said something to me that stopped me in my tracks.”
“He said, ‘Mom, sometimes I feel that your students get the best part of you, and I am jealous.’ WHOA…. that is when my life as a teacher totally changed. I had to re-examine what I was doing in the classroom, how that impacted my family, and then make those changes that made me more effective in the classroom and, more importantly, more effective as a mother.”
A Conclusion from TeacherOfSci.
Perhaps schools should address managing teacher work-life balance as part of new teacher training or even through ongoing staff development. Sharing strategies and experiences is so helpful, and it may reduce teacher burnout and keep quality teachers from moving out of the classroom and into positions that have far less take-home work.
After reading these snippets of advice, I found myself wishing I had posed these questions to experienced teachers years ago. I know I can learn to work more efficiently. I’m grateful that one of the benefits of teaching is that each year we get a clean slate, a chance to do things better, or at least differently.
In my own career, I have learnt the hard way. Last year I had to take three months off sick with stress, anxiety and ultimately a rather horrid depressive episode. Luckily I came back fighting.
Since going back to work, I have focused on my weakest area; organisation. I have now blocked out one planning period per week where I will ruthlessly, plan my next week, order everything I need and set homework. This has been a revelation to me, I am much less stressed and I have more time to do incidental jobs that crop up.
Ultimately, this one change has lead to me being more productive at work, my lessons are better and I have much less work to do at home (usually I bring zero work home with me).
Be good to yourselves folks, it’s all about little mindset changes.
Work-Life Balance FAQs
How can we find that perfect work-life balance?
The issue of teacher wellbeing is interesting because opinions differ so widely on the internet, social media and even within the staff room.Reading pedagogical books, writing curricula, planning lessons and marking can be frowned upon by others when you do it in the holidays. ‘Take a break!’ people cry.
But isn’t wellbeing all about what works for you?
If someone chooses to take a day of holiday getting work done, even choosing to go into school, maybe it reduces their workload for the following term, allowing them to have some early evenings at home with the family. As teachers, we need to do what works for us: we are all individuals and our lives will need differentiation. We wouldn’t expect all children to work the same, so why do we think it’s one-size-fits-all for our own ways of working?
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