“All teachers are underpaid, overworked, and stressed out.“ That’s how one teacher described her job. Teacher work life balance is something that almost all educators struggle with. This teacher said that she felt like she was always running late for school events, meetings, and parent conferences. And when she wasn’t working, she was trying to keep up with homework assignments, grading papers, and planning lessons.
In teaching, there is always something more to do, and it’s often to the detriment of our family time. It was like this for me. Even when I finished one thing, there was always something more to do. It does not need to be that way, though. Over the years, I’ve made some changes to my teaching and life that has greatly improved my teacher work life balance and allowed me to be a better spouse to my wife, father to my kids, and teacher to my students.
Teacher Work Life Balance – Top 5 Tips That Actually Work
If you feel anything like the teacher above, this post is for you. If you’re tired of the blog posts and professional development meetings that tell you that you need to practice self care, this post is for you. Raise your hand if you’ve been told that you need to make YOU time, do yoga or practice mindfulness. Puh-leeeeeze! If we had time to do that, we would’ve been doing that already! Am I right?
If you want to really get a better teacher work life balance, these are the things that have worked for me. And, I think, they can work for anyone.
Tip #1: Automate
What things can you automate? What are things that you do every year? Every semester? Every month, week, day? Make a list of those things that you do at home and at school that you repeat. These are things that you can automate.
Lesson planing? Start making a bank of your lesson plans and organize them by unit, topic, semester or whatever makes the most sense to you but have a way to organize those plans. If you don’t make that step to organize them, then you won’t be able to use them next year! Am I saying that you should use the same plans over and over? I’m saying that, many of the things that you teach are fairly similar each year and you can make those small tweaks every year. Making small tweaks is a lot easier than making things from scratch every year! But sometimes our curriculum changes, right? It sure does! Not everything you teach changes every year, though. When it does, though, you’ll still have a lot less to do if you save and organize your lesson plans!
Shopping? This can be automated too! Those things that you buy every week you can probably order online and pickup at the store. Those things that you want to pick out yourself, you still can, but now you have a lot less to shop for because you ordered the regular purchases and the store has already grabbed it and bagged it for you!
Cleaning? Ooh let me tell you about something that has literally changed my life. Two words: Robot vacuums. If you’re skeptical about whether robot vacuums are worth it or not, check out my post: Are robot vacuums worth it for teachers? Robot vacuums are not perfect and vacuuming is not all of your cleaning but it’s sure a big part of it! Remove vacuuming from your chores and have a robot vacuum do most of it while you’re sleeping or at work, and you’ve just gained a lot more time for fun family time! Think they aren’t for you? I’ve got 2 toddlers, a big white dog, and a big black cat, and I’ve got 2 robot vacuums that do most of my cleaning automatically.
These are just a few examples of things that we all do that we can automate. There are so many more examples too! (My pets get fed automatically too!) What can you automate in your life at home or at school? What is something that stresses you out a lot or takes away a lot of your time? How can you automate it?
If you’re overwhelmed with lesson planning, there’s a great place you can start. I have HUNDREDS of lesson plans for over 450 books for grades K-5. Literally YEARS of lessons for every grade level to help you teach whatever you want and need to teach. It’s called the Picture Book Brain Trust and you can try it out HERE.
Tip #2: Create Systems and Templates
Not everything can be automated. I wish a lot of things could be automated, but they can’t. I need to do a lot of things myself. For those things that I need to do, though, I have tried to create a system for doing those things. If I have a system, a process or a template for doing something, I have to think much less and work much less when I do it.
Here’s some examples of systems and templates:
Lesson plans – I have a standard lesson plan template that I use for each subject. It’s a template that I can use no matter what the lesson is about. I also have a standard template for slides to display to students for lessons. You might think: Isn’t that kind of boring to students? NO! The content changes, but students actually appreciate the routine and predictability. It’s the parts of the lesson and the content that draws them in. The system and template I use helps them grasp the lesson better. It’s better for my time and for my students’ comprehension! Want to try out some of my lesson plans? You can learn about how you can use my lessons and activities here.
Grading, Rubrics and Report Cards – I have comments saved and ready to send to students for different assignments. I try to use a standard rubric depending on the content that I can tweak for specific assignments. I also have report card comments saved and ready to tweak based on the student. A student who struggles with reading? I’ve got comments ready to go. A student who struggles with writing paragraphs? I’ve got comments ready to go. I organize the comments in Google Docs and even have them organized by semester so they look a little different each semester. Put in the work one time, and you reap the benefits for years to come even if you have to make small tweaks!
Clothing- Struggle to choose what you’re going to wear? If it’s not terribly important to you, you can make a system for clothing too! Make some set outfits that you don’t mind wearing each week and organize your drawers to go by outfit. I’ve got a 2 week rotation of clothes that I wear every week for work. I don’t struggle to get out the door as much anymore, and I get a few more minutes of sleep!
Cooking – We’ve all got set meals that we like to have every few weeks. Figure out a system that works for you and your family whether that’s meal planning (not with how my wife is), knowing that you’ll have spaghetti for dinner one day a week, or that you’ll be cooking certain days and having take-out other days can really help you take some of that uncertainty out of your life and feel a better teacher work life balance.
You can also set up systems for your work at school. Make Mondays your grading day or your planning day and hold yourself to it. The most difficult part about this will be setting up the routine. Just like with your students, though, once you have the routine set up, you’ll reap the rewards!
Tip #3: Set Boundaries For School and Home
This is one that I’ve seen before, and every time that I see it, the person is always saying something ridiculous like, “Don’t take on new responsibilities” or “Tell your principal that you can’t XYZ.” When’s the last time that you could realistically tell your principal that you weren’t going to go along with the new all-school initiative or adopt the new district curriculum?
When I say set boundaries for school and home, I mean: do school things at school, so you can do home things at home. If you’re a person struggling with your teacher work life balance, this is one that a lot of us are guilty of not following, me included.
Things to Stop Doing at School:
- Checking social media – ain’t nothing happening during the school day that can’t wait until after school
- Checking email more than twice a day – is anyone going to fault you for not checking your email during the school day when you should be teaching? If a parent has something so important that it can’t wait, then they should be calling the office. If a principal has something so important that it can’t wait, then they’ll call you or come to your room.
- Personal things during planning time – Christmas shopping, online banking, the list goes on. There are so few times during the day that you get planning time to yourself with no students. Sometimes (or a lot of times) you even lose planning time to meetings. This is all the more reason to keep your actual planning time sacred. Know what you’re going to do during your planning time, and get it done! Reward yourself with something for getting it done.
I’ll admit, I have a hard time not checking Facebook and my email at school, but what the heck is happening during the school day that can’t wait until after school? What other personal things do you do at school that distracts you from getting your schoolwork done? Pick the one that is the most difficult for you to stop and stop doing that thing first.
If you’re doing personal things at school before you get your schoolwork done, then you’ll be doing schoolwork at home.
For me, the most difficult thing to stop doing was checking my email. So I literally told my families that I would only be checking my email once a day in the morning. I was worried about how they would react. Not a single person complained! In fact, I got a few that said, “Wow, I wish I could get myself to do that.” Just because we can be reached or reach anyone at any time of day thanks to technology, does not mean that we should. Respect your time and others will respect it too.
Things to Stop Doing at Home:
- Checking school communication – last I checked, our contracts don’t require us to answer emails and Class Dojo messages outside of school hours. DON’T DO IT!
- School work including planning and grading – remember how just earlier I said that you needed to stop doing personal stuff at work? If you stop yourself from doing school work at home, you’ll be more focused at school because you won’t be able to tell yourself that you’ll just do it at home. You’ll have to get it done at school because working at home is not an option.
Tip #4: Be Comfortable With B+ Work
We’re teachers. We want everything about our teaching to be perfect, right? Guess what? Our teaching will never be perfect! We’ll always think of something that we could’ve done better after giving a lesson. You could spend a lifetime trying to create the perfect lesson or the perfect assessment. This is where I mean that we need to be comfortable with B+ work.
I don’t mean we need to be fine with our students turning in B+ work. I mean that we as educators need to be fine with B+ work FROM OURSELVES. Make a pretty good lesson, save it for next year (see Tip #1) and make it better next time. Are there times when you should be almost perfect? You bet I’ll be overplanning my planned observations!
You don’t need to have the perfect picture/gif/meme/emoji in your lesson slides, though. I don’t ever remember an admin telling me that my emojis were what made a lesson or that I need to really think about including more gifs in my lesson next time.
This also works at home. Things will never be perfect at home. That’s why I let my robot vacuums clean my house. Do they clean everything perfectly? Nope! Do they do a pretty good job and save me time? HECK YEAH!
Be comfortable with B+ work! Doing this will not only destress you, it will also save you so much time. You don’t need to have the perfect lesson, you just need a pretty good lesson. Know what you need to have a pretty good lesson? To make a lesson! Make a lesson and improve upon it. Then reuse it next year and make it better!
Tip #5: Give Yourself Grace
If you try to do all of these things at once right out of the gate, you’ll go crazy. Start by doing one thing at a time. See what works for you. Do what gives you a better teacher work life balance. Listen to yourself. You can get a better teacher work life balance. There is no such thing as the perfect balance, and you will not always have it. If you change schools or change grade levels, you’ll have to find a new balance. You’ll get behind sometimes, but by making just a couple of these tweaks, you’ll be able to maintain a better teacher work life balance.
Conclusion: Teacher Work Life Balance
You are a passionate, talented teacher. You are also a human being who deserves a personal life and to spend your time outside of school thinking about things that are not school-related. There is not magic bullet. This is mental work. It may be a mindset shift. It will be worth it, though, and it will help you feel more balance in your life at school and at home.
The thing that helped me get a better teacher work life balance was systematically making YEARS of lesson plans and activities for every grade level to help me be ready to teach no matter what grade level I’m working with. It took me years to make these plans and activities, and thousands of teachers have used these plans since then in what I call the Picture Book Brain Trust. You too can use my lesson plans and activities to get a better teacher work life balance by joining the Picture Book Brain Trust.