6 Insider Tips for Work/Life Balance for Educators

6 insider tips
Finding work/life balance is so difficult and such a common problem that it’s almost silly to even attempt to add to the discussion. Yet I’m going to try because I care deeply about so many educators, both classroom teachers and homeschooling parents, who struggle with it.

Several of my former students have become teachers, which is wonderful on so many levels. Recently, one of these amazing, energetic, passionate young people emailed me with a hint of desperation. She was feeling overwhelmed with the demands of teaching at a struggling school and trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life.

I realized that the advice I shared with her was worth sharing with those of you, whether homeschool parents or school teachers, who find yourself feeling a little bit worried that your best isn’t good enough and than unless those tesseracts in A Wrinkle in Time turn out to be real and you are going to find a large number of hours squirreled away somewhere, you are not going to be able to keep all of the balls in the air indefinitely.

Here are my six insider tips for work/life balance for educators.

Tip #1: Stop Grading So Much.

Not all work needs to be graded. That’s a huge issue for so many teachers. The dirty secret of gradebooks is that by the second week of a grading period, the grades look just like they did the last round, so don’t stress about it.

What students need: feedback.

What we think that means: grading.

Give feedback on everything, but save real grading for stuff that really counts. For feedback, you can use a check plus/check/check minus system, lead a class-wide self-assessment session, or look at one section of an assignment as opposed to the entire piece.

Grading every single thing has a deleterious effect on both educators and students. It takes too much time, and it creates the false impression that work should only be done in exchange for a grade. This is a dangerous idea for students to have, and too burdensome for teachers to maintain.

Tip #2: Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Divide and conquer the lessons. Figure out what lessons need to be created, divide them up, then share the burden with other educators.

If you don’t have people on your campus who can do it, find them online. Teachers share, so you can find great {free} stuff others have done.

Obviously, I love the ones I write and share at MensaforKids.

I also love the lesson plans at the Library of Congress.

The United Federation of Teachers compiled a list of places to find lesson plans.

And I like this compilation of sources as well.

Let go of the idea that every lesson needs to be the best lesson ever in the history of the world. It’s okay to be okay sometimes.

Tip #3: You are not responsible for the entire world.

You can’t change everything in the students’ lives, even if they are your own personal children. You cannot change the whole school. You can’t own all of the dynamics of a school and mentally function in the long term.

Set boundaries, strong ones, about what you will and won’t do, and time you will and won’t spend. Sufficient to the day is the email thereof.

If the administration is unhappy, they’re unhappy. They have their own pressures on them and it all rolls downhill.

I’ve heard so many teachers say things like, “I can’t do xyz because the administrators won’t let me.”

I’ve been an administrator, and my experience is that effective teachers have more freedom than ineffective teachers. If you want freedom to do cool stuff, worry less about the constraints and more about being awesome in the best way you know.

Set times when the teachers you’re working with will get together to share/vent/support and stick to it…don’t feel like you have to always be available for everyone. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Tip #4: There is no one more important in your life than your family.

Give them the time they need. Jobs will be there. Work will be there. Grading will never be caught up.

Give them dedicated time and full attention (resist the temptation to give them half of your mental CPU while you think about grading and lesson plans). When you’re with them, really be with them. Give them everything you’ve got in those moments.

Set aside entire weekends (one a month?) that will be just for the family.

You are already a great teacher, and you will be an amazing one, but only if you realize that you’ve can’t lose yourself in it or you will lose what’s making you great.

Tip #5: Invest in yourself.

Teaching is a profession, and professionals invest in themselves. They go to conferences, join associations, keep their CVs current, have business cards, reward themselves with the cool toys of their business, and  have LinkedIn profiles.

So, go to conferences, even if you have to pay for it yourself. Better yet, speak at conferences. Join the association of teachers of whatever you teach. Get a good CV and maintain it. Invest in a professional library. Start a blog. Join Twitter chats. Order cool business cards from Moo Cards. Get cool toys like great pens and stamps and stickers and neon index cards and my rockin’ labeler (I became a teacher because I like office supplies. Don’t judge.). Create a LinkedIn profile.

You’re worth it.

Tip #6: There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Yes, there is light at the end of tunnel, but there is also always a tunnel.

It gets easier and easier the longer you teach because you can reuse lesson plans, etc., but this job is like swimming in a cage in shark-infested waters – you may not get eaten, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want a piece of you.

You are not a failure at work/life balance just because you always feel like something is chasing you. It’s just that kind of job. And you can do it.

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