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Teaching is an amazing gig! It's the kind of job that lets you shape young minds and make a real difference in the world. But let's be honest, it's also one of the most demanding careers out there. If you're a new teacher, you might feel overwhelmed by the job's demands. If you're a veteran teacher, you may be feeling the same way with the new demands from the district, not to mention the post-pandemic effects on student social-emotional response and behavior that have thrown many for a loop!
Regardless of where you are in your teaching career, finding balance is essential. It can help you avoid burnout, improve your relationships, and increase your overall happiness. That's why it's so important for teachers to develop a few tricks up their sleeves for balancing work and life. Here are the four most effective strategies that have helped me with balancing my work and life as a teacher, mom, wife, and business owner.
At the Top of my list is, and always will be prioritizing self-care. As a teacher, you spend your days taking care of your students in so many ways that people outside of the field just don't understand. We are not just teachers of the curriculum we are counselors, therapists, friends, and mother and father figures. It takes a lot out of you when you care about your students and your role in their life. I have found many times in my teaching career that I've had to take a few steps back and remind myself that I can't be everything to every one of my students at every moment that they're with me.
As much as I would love to take their pain away, or to make their negative life situations disappear, the hard truth is that I can only control what goes on in the four walls of my classroom. It's essential to remember to take care of yourself too. Make self-care a priority in your life, and schedule time for activities that make you feel happy and fulfilled. Some things I like to do are gardening, baking, binging my favorite shows, and spending time with my family.
Think of some things that you love to do that you haven't done in a while and start tackling that list by adding one thing a week to your calendar. If you are in a relationship you could schedule a regular date night with your partner, or make time to hang out with friends. Buying something for yourself often is an easy start to your self-care journey. Cute Teacher Things is an online store for not just teachers, but all school staff that sells personalized drink ware, stationery, and apparel for affordable prices. You'll be sure to find something that will make you feel appreciated on their website. They even have a teacher t-shirt subscription for only $19 a month! That's less than what most of us spend at our favorite coffee house in a week! Whatever it is that makes you feel good, prioritize it in your schedule.
Getting caught up in the never-ending to-do list that comes with being a teacher is easy. But, it's crucial to set realistic goals for yourself. Make a list of what you need to accomplish each day or week and prioritize the most important tasks first.
For example, if you have a big project due at the end of the week, break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. That way, you can make progress on the project each day without feeling overwhelmed. I just used this strategy when I had to do my self-evaluation with my admin but I was in the middle of a huge assessment for my kindergarteners. Assessing kindergarteners is overwhelming in itself, so to add on the 10 or so questions I had to answer to be prepared for my evaluation along with my lesson, almost sent me over the top! I decided to assign myself two questions a day so that I can get them done without feeling so overwhelmed with all the other things I had to do get done in my day.
Consider this strategy anytime you feel overwhelmed with the tasks that you have to do because the truth is they don't all have to be done right now! Be sure to look ahead at your schedule and break those tasks down into manageable pieces.
It can be tempting to take your work home with you, but it's essential to create boundaries between your work and personal life. This one is still a struggle for me and instead of beating myself up about it because every other TikTok video on my feed alludes to me being a “bad” teacher because I bring work home…I decided to give myself permission to step outside my boundaries in seasons. As a new teacher to either a new grade, a new school, or a new curriculum, there is simply not enough time in our contract hours to learn it well enough to feel confident and be effective when teaching a lesson.
When I switched from third grade to kindergarten, I gave myself some time outside of my contract hours by scheduling it in my planner for me to bring a curriculum book home to learn and to prep my lessons and the materials. Being prepared and comfortable with what I’m teaching fits my personality style. For me, if things are not in order and I don't have what I need before I begin to teach then I feel extremely overwhelmed and as a result, I am not the best teacher for my students. I am a very organized person and when things are out of order especially when it comes to my job and the students whom I’m serving, I get very overwhelmed so I need to make sure that I am prepared the best that I can within reason. It's not every single day that I come home and pull out all my lesson plans and study away, or that I'm bringing home stacks of construction paper to cut out art activities for my students. I choose one or two projects that I want to do with my students for the month and add them to my planner to bring home to prep.
What I don’t do is compare myself to the other teachers on social media who change do a new art project every week, or have a Pinterest-perfect classroom. Not to knock anybody who has a system down and the energy for it… that is amazing but for me, I’m just not there.
Another thing I have been practicing is mindfulness and I have to give the credit to the twins. Having twins has forced me to be more aware of my wondering mind. I remember them having to repeat their question to me several times, or another family member pointing out that they were calling me because I was lost in my thoughts. I realized I needed to figure out how to quiet my thoughts and be present while with them.
So I decided that when I'm at work and I get a personal text message unless it is from my husband and my kids I'm not reading it because I want to stay fully present with my students and with the work I need to complete while I'm at work, and vice versa when I'm at home and it is not the day that I have planned to do prep work or when an email or a text message comes through that has anything to do with work it will wait until I am at work so that I can be fully present with what I am doing at that moment and that's being with my family.
This practice is, and probably will always be a struggle for me as a business owner, a full-time teacher, and a mom. All of these aspects of my life intersect with me and am always trying to make space in my mind when I don't want them to. I try not to beat myself up when a thought comes to my mind about the business as I'm pushing the twins on the swing or if I'm at work and I wonder if my husband got my daughter to school on time. Those are normal and that's okay, I simply refocus my mind by reminding myself where I am and that I can entertain that thought or that conversation after 4:00 p.m. when I'm home or after 6:00 a.m. when I’m at work. Don’t worry, eventually, it will become easier and easier to build that pathway in your brain the more you deny the distractions and stay focused…I promise.
Technology can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to work-life balance. On the one hand, it can make it easier to stay connected with students and colleagues. But on the other hand, it can make it difficult to disconnect from work. I use some apps that are very helpful for me as I'm practicing mindfulness and how to be present. I really like the app Calm: Calm is a popular meditation app that offers guided meditations, sleep stories, and relaxing music. It also includes breathing exercises and mindful movement sessions. Calm has been named Apple's "App of the Year" and "Editors' Choice" by Google Play.
To keep my life and business organized I use the app Trello: Trello is a highly visual and customizable app that lets you organize tasks into boards, lists, and cards. You can use it to create to-do lists, set deadlines, assign tasks to team members, and track progress.
If you don't need a formal app simply, use your notes app to jot things down, reminders, and your phone and your calendar as a basic way to start keeping things organized.
Finding balance as a teacher can be challenging, but it's not impossible. By prioritizing self-care, setting realistic goals, creating boundaries, and using technology to your advantage, you can achieve a healthy work-life balance. Remember, taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your students. Be sure to give yourself permission to figure out what works best for you because my routine may not work for you and your routine may not work for me and that's okay. Just know that over time it will get easier. Anytime you start something new there's always going to be some resistance as those new pathways are being made in your brain, give yourself permission to be okay with that, to take it slow, and to just try to do better than the day that you did before.