Achieving Work-Life Balance as an educator seems like finding the Fountain of Youth or the Holy Grail. Almost impossible, right? It took me a long time, but I think I have managed to create the systems I need to do my work at work, and leave school (at a decent hour) ready to dedicate the rest of my day to my family and the things I need and want to do. Today is my birthday, so I feel especially inspired to live my best life and help my colleagues along the way! Let’s start the New Year off a little happier and healthier!
In order to have good work-life balance, my lesson planning has to be be completely systemized. Over time I have honed in on the specific methods that work for me. Though this may not be possible for everyone overnight, start somewhere! In time you can have a system that works for you!
- Lesson Planning for the coming week takes place on Monday and Tuesday.
- I type all of my lesson plans in Google docs. This allows me to re-use them next year (or the next time I teach the same course). I tweak and change the parts I want to edit, but I’m not starting from scratch!
- Wednesday and Thursday are the days I create new activities and make copies or post to my Google Classroom.
- I link in all of the activities I created or websites I will use into my lesson plans. Again- this saves me TONS of time the next time I will teach this unit/class.
- If I’m lucky, I’m finished on Wednesday! That leaves maybe Thursday (and always Friday) for other things I need to do.
- Last, don’t feel like YOU have to do everything! Collaborate with colleagues to divide and conquer things you can all use. Or take a peek at Teachers Pay Teachers. There are WONDERFUL resources there, and sometimes it is worth the money to save the time. (At least for me it is… and I am a TpT author AND buyer!)
Ohhhhhh the BAIN of every secondary teacher’s existence!!! Each year there are more students in each of our classes, adding many minutes on to the time it takes to correct a class set. I would say that correcting, for me, is the hardest part of achieving work-life balance. I have accepted that there are times, when a big or complicated assessment comes in, that I will have a week or so when I am not so balanced. I can live with this because I make sure I am balanced the other 3 weeks of each month! But here are a few tricks that work for me to reduce the time I spend grading.
- PLAN when you will correct. Perhaps it’s during a planning period. Maybe it’s during your lunch, or after school. Whenever you decide to dedicate time to correct- make sure that is ALL you are doing.
- Do NOT allow yourself to get sucked into allllllll the other things. Checking email. Looking at your phone. Chatting with a friend. There are SO many things that can pull you away. And let’s face it. Those 10 minutes you spent doing something else were precious minutes that you needed.
- Stay focused. I get a laser-like focus when I’m correcting. I get into a groove and I make myself stay there.
- Set goals. Be realistic, but as you sit down to start, decide how many papers you want to get done in the time you have. Can you correct 7 essays in this session? Go for it! Having a goal will help push you through those times when you just don’t want to correct any more!
No Work After Work Hours
Having Work-Life balance has a lot to do with conscious choices we make. Last year, when my school started 2020 with hybrid learning, I just couldn’t bring work home with me any more. I will admit…. I was guilty of doing LOTS and LOTS of work at home in the past. But here are a few things you can do to be sure that you work day is over.
- Don’t respond to emails after work. You can set your time for when this starts. Though sometimes I get those questions from students like… “What do we have to study?”, it has just dawned on me that I’ve talked about that for 2 weeks, I have provided a study guide, that guide is posted in Google Classroom, and almost surely this kiddo has a friend they could ask. I have found that there are very few things that can’t wait until the next day.
- Once you get your system down for planning, you won’t ever have to do that at home. Then, searching Pinterest becomes something relaxing and fun to do, instead of frantic and frenzied as you try to find something for your students to do tomorrow!
How To Set Boundaries for Work-Life Balance
Have you noticed that people will take whatever you are willing to give? This applies to students, parents, colleagues and administrators. The more times you say yes to things, the more you will be asked. Again, I have been quite guilty in the past of agreeing to some of these things, but I’m suggesting that you politely say no to anything that doesn’t bring you joy. Here are the things I have said no to:
- When asked to give up my planning time (to cover a class, to attend a PPT, etc.) I NEED that. So I politely decline. I ask to have the PPT moved to another time.
- When asked to be part of a committee that meets after school hours.
- When asked to come in to do a presentation at night for parents.
- When asked to chair a major school-wide event, with no extra time or pay given, because it’s an interest of mine.
- When asked to preview a SEL lesson to deliver to my homeroom students on personal time.
- When asked to present something to my colleagues.
This list could go on and on. But I have come to realize that society as a whole expects 24 hour service of teachers. Why? Because we are kind-hearted, generous, and want to do what is best for our students!! But we need to recognize that we cannot be all things to all kids. We are human and have our own families and personal lives to attend to when our work day ends.
So How Do You Politely Decline?
- Remember that you cannot be fired or targeted for saying no thank you. Sooo many people are afraid to stick up for themselves!
- Remember that you do not have to be combative or rude to say no.
- Say, “It was nice of you to ask, but I can’t take that on right now.” “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m really focused on helping my students learn ABC, and I’m using my time to develop activities for that. “I’m happy to attend this meeting, but I can’t attend at this time. It’s my planning period. I am free X, Y or Z time.” “I have no problem developing, looking at, reviewing ABC. My planning period is already full! When is a good time for me to get coverage for my duty to do this?”
It’s really hard at first to say no. But it gets easier with practice! We teachers don’t like to disappoint others, and we like to be thought of as “Star Students”. But it’s been my experience that no one gets a poor review of their teaching practice, no one gets a detention, and no one dies when they say no politely. It helps me to think that when I say no and make a polite stand for my personal time, I am helping EVERY SINGLE TEACHER out there by not creating a precedence that allows others to think that we have limitless time and energy to devote. Our training, expertise and time should be respected and valued.
Teaching is one of those professions that are just HARD to find work-life balance! I’m sure not all of my suggestions will be things all of you can live with. Maybe pick one or two. Let go of the guilt. Life will continue on if you say no once in a while.
My last thought: At least in my state, teachers need to put in THIRTY-FIVE years to receive their full pension. This profession is not survivable long-term without drawing a line in the sand about when your work will stop for the day.
Please take care of yourself, colegas. Our students need us. What we do is a worthy way to spend our lives. What we do really matters. We are fortunate to have such positive influence on our students every day! These kids deserve the best version of ourselves that we can bring them.