No one can deny that educators are facing challenging circumstances and that it’s affecting teacher work-life balance. There’s the technostress of remote and hybrid learning, and a shortage of staff, teachers, and substitutes. The pandemic has exacerbated an already stressful profession, with almost three-quarters of teachers reporting that their stress is higher than it was before COVID.
While solving these problems is not teachers’ responsibility, teachers are clearly affected by these difficult challenges. Because these issues are systemic, they can take time to fix, but teachers face the task of having to prevent and remedy burnout today. Work-life balance is essential to this.
As challenging as it can be, a solid work-life balance can ultimately help you as a teacher find a happy and healthy mindset around life and work. Here are some strategies on how to have work-life balance as a teacher.
Define Work-Life Balance for Yourself
Just like every student is different, every teacher is also different. Balance for one person may not look the same for another. Take some time to reflect on what your priorities are and what balancing those would look like.
Elementary school principal Joe Mullikin lays out a simple yet helpful framework for thinking about and identifying what matters most in your life. In an article for Edutopia, he explains that obligations and responsibilities fall into one of three types:
- Glass Cups: The commitments and responsibilities that may eventually break if we drop them too often. A clear example of this is relationships with family and friends.
- Plastic Balls: Things that are important but will bounce back if they fall behind or slip through the cracks. One such task could be classroom decorating.
- Ghosts: Tasks that may seem important, but don’t even make a noise if they are dropped. An example is immediately replying to emails.
Identifying the things in your life that are glass cups, plastic balls, or ghosts can help you understand what your priorities are and what boundaries around work-life balance you may want.
Value Your Time
Teachers care deeply about supporting their students, and caring requires a lot of hard work, effort, and time. It may feel like you have to do everything all of the time. This can mean grading late at night, leading multiple clubs, lesson planning during time off, replying to emails and notifications from students, parents, and administrators immediately, and even multitasking to try to accomplish all of these things at once.
While there is not enough time in the school day for teachers to do everything, recognize that your time is a valuable, but limited resource. In order to keep burnout at bay, evaluate which tasks have the most impact on your students, focus on those high-impact areas, and keep some time from low-impact tasks as your time for yourself. As uncomfortable as it can feel to turn down a request, saying “no” is important to keeping your focus on your most impactful tasks and avoiding overwhelm.
To help accomplish this, try blocking off time on your calendar for work and for personal needs. Both are needed, and having that reflected on your schedule can be a helpful reminder. You can even schedule time to do nothing at all because you deserve a break.
You can also emphasize the value of your time in the classroom by defining a daily time that you will be logging off your email during the school year and communicating this to parents and students. Let them know that any email or question that comes in after 7pm, for example, will be answered the next day.
Disconnect from Tech
While technology has made the continued learning possible during COVID, the possibility for distraction and stress from devices has come with it. A quick way to minimize technology’s impact on focus is to remove apps for work from your cell phone. This will create more separation between your work and your personal life as you won’t be faced with reminders from work during your time off. It may feel awkward at first, but will become more natural over time.
If removing an app or account from your device is not an option, you can also turn off email notifications for your account. Instead, create 2-4 set blocks of time when you will check your email. This will make the task less continuous and distracting and more intentional.
Devices are ultimately meant to be tools that work for their users, not the other way around, and these strategies can help reinforce that.
Take Time or Space to Transition Out of Work
Creating a physical transition between work and personal time can help create a healthy boundary between work life and personal life that encourages balance. This separation can look different for everyone depending on their needs.
For some teachers, this may mean staying later at school to complete work and refraining from bringing any materials home. Others may prefer leaving work earlier and continuing from a dedicated office set-up from home where they can walk away from when they’re done. Still some may find comfort in getting to enjoy their cozy couch, central kitchen table, and relaxing bed while they work from home. For these teachers, putting away or turning off their devices at the day’s close can work as a transition.
This does not have to be a stagnant decision and may change over time, but it’s important to take stock of what is working for you and pivot when needed.
Celebrate Your Wins
Humans have a natural tendency to notice negative experiences more than positive ones. With limited time and so many things to accomplish, it can be easy to let this practice fall out of your life.
However, taking the time to remember what you have accomplished as a teacher, the ways you’ve supported students’ achievements, and any other small or large positive moment can work as a way to ease burnout. Go a step further and reward yourself for your accomplishments with a midday walk, your favorite food, a fun activity, or anything else that brings joy to your life.
While none of this is a cure to the issues education and educators are facing, these strategies can assist in decreasing burnout and creating a work-life balance that works in your favor as a teacher.