Work/Life Balance and the Modern Teacher
Do you have any primary school memories from your childhood?
Is it the coffee breath the teacher suffocated you with as they leaned over your shoulder to mark your work ?
Or the sweaty armpits she had when she wrote on the whiteboard?
Who could forget the gut-wrenching memory of assessment days (aka, the only days when the classroom worked in complete silence)?
My decision to become a teacher was like a multiple choice question in an exam. It was a process of elimination.
- Lawyer (Out of the question because I've always been a terrible liar.)
- Pediatrician (Nope...I couldn't stand the sight of blood.)
- Teacher (Hmm...I am able to take care of kids longer than 2 hours without losing my marbles, so...)
Option number 3 it is!
Little did I know how much fulfillment this decision would bring into my life!
Before I move forward, allow me introduce myself: My name is Alicia and I am in my sixth year of primary school teaching. I live in Western Australia so our education system is somewhat different in the United States and Europe – I know what you're probably wondering right now, and the answer is, "No, we do not have kangaroos hanging out along our freeways and roads...usually."
Imagine this: As an educator–after an extremely tiresome and busy day at work–you walk through the door at 6pm....sometimes 7pm...actually sometimes later than that (oh dear!).
Anyway, you come home, clean up the mess that you left in the sink before you rushed out the door that morning, cook for yourself or your family, and THEN you finally get to sit down to do some preparation for the next day of work.
Are you tired yet? Statistics show that 1 in 5 teachers burn out in their first 5 years of their teaching career! Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. So many teachers burn out because the work/life struggle is real!
The question you need to ask yourself is: what am I doing for myself and my mental well-being?
Teaching is an extremely demanding career. A lot of people don't see it this way but we are big influencers on society (present and future). As educators we form and develop the way students actually think (which, of course,) plays a big part in their success!
But here's the thing, as important as we are, we sometimes forget how important we are! Educators constantly aim to please–students, parents and staff–but we fail to remember what ‘ME’ time actually means! We forget that we are human beings and not (news flash) robots!
I am the worst when it comes to taking my own advice and I am sure you are too! But do as I say not as I do!
In my first 2 years of teaching, I was going into work exhausted and, on some days, legitimately sick. I’d have every symptom under the sun and still drag myself to school! And why? Back then my answer was always, “It’s even harder to plan a relief day (what teachers in America call “making a sub lesson”) than to actually come in and teach my lesson.”
I was causing myself more harm than good and in the process. And I was starting to burn out.
In my fourth year of teaching, I had a lightbulb moment and I finally realized: How can I give 100% if I am not 100%?
Being 100% means that I have my work and my life in balance. So how can we achieve this Well, you are in luck! I have, here, some of my top tips for those teachers struggling to maintain the balance between their work and personal lives. So get your favorite pencil and notepad and start taking notes!
1. Time for yourself! - Prioritise it!
Aim to take out time for yourself once a week. You can get your nails done, read a good book or veg out on the couch with a good movie. It can be anything where you don’t need to think or dream about work and the endless to-do lists. Speaking of...
2. Write a to-do list - Post it notes everywhere!
Seriously, always write a to-do list. The way I create my list is I prioritise what is most important at the top and then order the least important at the end. I can’t tell you how many sticky notes I have lying around everywhere to help me remember things. Whether you write or type your notes, make sure they are placed somewhere where they are visible to you. I love to use the Stickies app on my MacBook Pro!
3. No Emails and School Related Technology after 5:00pm - Even though you just want to reply back to that angry parent!
This the hardest thing for me to balance as I found parents would usually email me after 6:00pm (because it was the ideal time for them). At the beginning of the year, we told all our parents at our Annual Parent Teacher Information Night that emails sent after 5:00pm would be responded to the following day–a gentle reminder that we too have our own families and lives to attend to also!
4. Set time limits - Short bursts!
A teacher friend mentioned that she sets a timer for herself to complete school tasks. Something I am currently trialling is just that. I set a timer for myself (e.g. 60 minutes) and complete what I can in that time. If I don’t complete it all, it’s okay! It can be completed another time. Setting those time constraints means that you are not distracted by other things such as the television; instead you focus fully on that one hour task.
5. Don’t reinvent the wheel - Sharing is caring!
If you can, share your resources with others and vice versa. Don’t create resources that already exist! If you can, work with a buddy teacher as two heads are always better than one!
6. Learn to say no - NO, I already have enough on my plate!
Saying no is one of the hardest things to do and something I struggle with the most. You CANNOT do everything. But, even though it may be hard the first time to say no, it does get easier. Remember that you are not necessarily saying no because you don’t want to do that task, but instead because you may not be able to juggle all tasks at once. It is okay to say no from time to time!
7. If you’re sick, you’re sick - Your IQ drops when you are sick!
Going in to work sick will not make you feel better. What it will do is make students sick and then the staff sick. Of course, this then causes other teachers to come in when they are sick, and then you have a miserable school where everybody is sick and annoyed and dripping with boogers (or worse). Not a pretty site. If you are sick, take the time off to FULLY rest and recover. That extra day always helps!
The skill of mastering a work/life balance takes time and I believe it only comes with experience. I still have not yet mastered the art of balancing everything (including my time), but I will forever take steps to learn and experiment in order to find that perfect formula. And if it takes me days, weeks, or even years, that's okay! Because here's the last tip:
8. We need to learn not to be so hard on ourselves!
Remember, we work to live, not live to work!
Fellow educators…we got this!
If you would like to chat more or come up with some awesome tips not mentioned here then please check out Alicia’s Instagram or simply email her!