Finding teacher work-life balance is hard.
Some people choose to teach online. Most of these people absolutely love it. (If you’re teaching online NOT by choice and still trying to figure out distance learning, make sure you check out the article here.)
Others are in the classroom, but with our world being constantly connected through email and the internet, it’s not as easy as walking away at the end of the school day.
However, there is one issue that many did not consider before beginning to teach from a computer screen. It’s something that has plagued “work-at-home” employees since the beginning.
That’s the idea of teacher work-life balance.
The irony is that work-life balance is something that we have always struggled with as teachers, so if you teach virtually or in the classroom, this is something that you should consider (for your own sanity).
We know that when we are in the classroom, school has certain hours, and often we are also available by email in the evenings.
A teacher’s work is never done, right?
The issue is, with “work” being on the computer (especially if you are teaching virtually), there is no definitive “endpoint”.
Work starts when you power up and ends when you power down.
But when should you do that?
Why Work-Life Balance is so important for teachers
It is absolutely no secret how much time and effort teachers put into their craft. So many of us throw away the concept of work-life balance because it feels like it simply cannot exist.
It isn’t that work-life balance can’t exist, but more that there will never be a completely equal balance. Work and life will ebb and flow, but we need to make sure that it isn’t just one-sided. I think that is what we really mean by work-life balance.
Teacher work-life balance means setting boundaries. It’s about making sure not to put all of your life energy into work, and it’s also about making sure you take care of yourself. It means being your own priority sometimes instead of always being someone else’s priority.
Here are seven ways to help achieve a healthy teacher work-life balance:
1) Make self-care a routine.
If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you help take care of your students? The first step is admitting that you need to focus on yourself. Once you have admitted it, the next step is working out a plan for self-care and making it a normal part of your everyday life.
2) Stop overworking.
This advice is for both over-worked teachers and the ones who think they are not working enough. You need to remember that teaching is a marathon, not a sprint. What I mean by this analogy is that you don’t need to run yourself into the ground today in order to be successful tomorrow. If you aren’t sure if you are overworking or not, ask yourself how many hours per week you spend working. If you are spending more than 40 hours a week on work, then it is time to cut back.
3) Learn how to say no.
Learning how and when to say “no” can be very difficult for teachers and they end up taking on more responsibility than they really should accept. If you are taking on all the extra work that is being offered to you, then your students will suffer. They also suffer if you aren’t able to say no because you feel guilty.
4) Keep track of what you do at school every day.
This might sound like it would take too much time but I guarantee there are ways to make it happen. If you have a good work-life balance, then you will have time to sit down at the end of every day and list out what you accomplished at school that day.
5) Plan your weekends.
This is another thing I think teachers struggle with because they want to spend as much time as possible with their students – which is the best part of their job. However, you should plan your weekends (at least) one week ahead of time in order to make sure there is a good balance between work and free time.
6) Unplug from school during breaks.
It’s important for teachers to follow number five – even when you are on break! Get away from the school-related thoughts and put some real thought into your personal life.
7) Use your sick days for feeling sick.
If you are not getting enough sleep or if you feel physically ill, then take a day off from teaching in order to get better. I have been guilty of trying to push through an illness because I felt like students would suffer without me. This is not true! Your students will learn what it means to be sick, but they won’t benefit from having a sick teacher.
If you find yourself struggling with any of these points, don’t worry – we all go through times where we struggle and feel like we can’t get ahead. The important thing is to take a step back, reflect on your work-life balance, and implement changes as needed.
Let’s dive a little deeper into how to create a sustainable plan for your own work-life balance.
Determining Your Own Work-Life Balance
I am the first to admit I am terrible at this.
I am a to-do list checker offer and multitasker extraordinaire.
If I have 10 minutes, I want to use that 10 minutes to complete something and will scan my list to find a task that fits the mold.
So given that, it is easy to go from working in bed (if you start on your phone like me) to working in bed (if you end on your phone like me). This is especially true if you are teaching from home.
Y’all, not healthy.
Here’s the thing about doing this while teaching. The kids and their parents will pick up on it really quickly.
They’ll figure out fast that no matter what time they contact you…even if it’s for something that they absolutely should have handled hours earlier…you will bail them out.
Literally, that’s the first step. Just stop.
Make it clear. When school is not actively in session, or if you are teaching virtually, you have office hours. You will answer emails from x time – x time each day.
Make them work for you and then be realistic about when your students and parents usually email. If you find that they email at 3 pm, don’t say your email office hours are from 12p-2p.
There will be people that email you outside of these hours, but be clear when you set them that if they do that, you’ll get back to them the next day.
DON’T make an exception because then everyone will want to be the exception. Every. Time.
Also, resist the temptation to even check. Hold yourself to that standard. How else will everyone else respect our boundaries if we don’t respect them ourselves?
Step 2: Figure out what you NEED to do and create a schedule based on that.
I can’t pretend to know what you’re thinking about your online learning experience. I have a lot of ideas to make planning easier (like encouraging inquiry projects).
Only you know what your school requires, what you want to achieve, and what your students will complete.
So you need to decide. What do YOU need to learn to be able to CREATE the lessons and then DISTRIBUTE them to your students?
Then, how much time will you need to review the work?
Once you have an idea of that, make a schedule.
Make a Monday-Friday schedule and then make a weekend schedule.
Maybe you’re a person who takes off totally on the weekend.
Perhaps you spend one day of the weekend preparing for the next week to clear your head.
Either is fine. Whatever you do, in this era of distance learning, DON’T work both days of the weekend.
Figure out what balance you want and then create a schedule. This many minutes here, this many hours there.
Step 3: Write it down and hold yourself accountable to follow it.
This is really the best practice for any teacher. We all get sucked into the vortex of “just one more thing…”
What a great time to get out of that habit and start worrying about yourself a little more.
Seriously. Create a schedule. In the first week or so, tweak accordingly.
Then. Stick. To. It.
Didn’t finish something? Make it first on the list during that time tomorrow or adjust your expectations of what you actually needed (wanted?) to achieve.
The world will not come crashing down as you figure out this schedule. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with so many new things and so many bugs still being worked out.
You’re good. Promise.
Here’s a simple planner insert for teachers to help keep the little pieces on track.
Step 4: Make sure you’re taking care of yourself
Okay, so look at that schedule.
Are you taking time to exercise? Even if it’s just for a walk around your neighborhood (while social distancing, of course).
Are you making sure you have time to make yourself something healthy to eat? And then give yourself time to eat it (you’re not squeezing in a trip to the bathroom and the copier…which is jammed again…if you’re home!)
Once all those checkmarks are clicked, figure out what time at night you plan to unplug.
No seriously, you can.
I’m just as guilty as the next guy…checking your phone just “one last time”. What if they REALLY need something, right?
Whatever needs to be handled tonight, can be handled tomorrow.
And guess what? If it’s important enough, someone will get ahold of someone to call you.
So decide what time works for you, your family, your meal endeavors, and say, “That’s it. See you tomorrow.”
Honestly, if you don’t do these things, you’re going to end up sucked into a spinning vortex of non-stop work. Get into a good habit now and then whenever this time passes, you can keep the good habits going as you reenter the classroom and keep up good teacher mental health.