Secondary Speaks: Need help with Work/Life Balance?

The main thing most teachers struggle with is that elusive concept of work/life balance. Our Secondary Speaks round up dives into this topic head-on and provides tips for setting limits, health, timing, and to-do lists. Click through to read all of the advice from real secondary teachers!
Welcome back to Secondary Speaks! Today, we're talking about work/life balance and how to get a little closer to it as teachers.

There's no way to do everything, but we want to give our students the best of ourselves. We delegate and prioritize when we can, but there's always a grading pile, inbox of emails, or week's worth of lessons to make that we are responsible for... and somehow, we also try to be spouses, parents, good friends, and "normal" adults.

Though these tricks won't universally work for every teaching job and personal lifestyle, we've compiled our best advice to help new or veteran teachers to swing a little closer to center this school year.

(If you want to catch up on previous posts from us, make sure to click on the Secondary Speaks tag at the bottom of this post.)

Remember: Stay tuned for more posts, and comment below if you want to join in!

Q: "What tips or tricks do you have for other teachers struggling with work/life balance?"

  • I will say that once I had children I rarely took things home. If I HAD to get something done after hours I would stay late at school. When I was home, that was my family time and it was hectic enough between dinner, baths, bedtime, etc. The Math Factory
  • Family comes first! You cannot save the world, but if you lose your own family, you have lost it all. Scipi  
  • I set boundaries so that I am not available 24/7. For example, I let my students (and parents) know that I will not check my school email (or voice mail) at home (or after a certain time like 4pm). History Gal
  • Always remember that no matter how long you stay after school, there is always something more to be done. So go home at a reasonable time and leave it for another day...and DON'T FEEL GUILTY!  The ESL Nexus
  • Coffee... lots and lots of coffee...You can't do it all and no-one expects you to! Take time for yourself. I've bought myself a coloring book for adults. Amazing!! The Lab
  • I strongly recommend talking with other teachers,and setting a personal work and personal schedule. Sadly, you can not "have it all," Or get it all done, all of the time! This is true of work you need to do for home, and work for school. Set a firm schedule, even if it is geared heavily towards work, but include at least one solid day of rest, and one day for chores. You can't be an effective teacher if the rest of your life is a mess! Gina
  • If you are struggling with work/life balance, my best advice is to say no to more responsibilities at work. It doesn't always feel good to turn down being on a committee when you know your expertise is needed, but I can tell you from experience that it will move on without you. :) Mrs. M.
  • Take life day by day. You do not have to complete everything in one day. Do what is right for you. Pray. Larissa McMahan 
  • My advice is to keep things in perspective. Family first and then career. If this means postponing a career and cutting back on what you think you "need," then cut back. In the end, it won't matter what awards you garnered as a teacher if you failed to enjoy your life and family along the way. weatherly
  • Don't grade on Sundays. Remember that teaching is only one of the things you chose to do with your life. The time that you spend with your students is the most important part of teaching. It's not grading papers. Recognize where the learning takes place. If the students have learned by simply doing the activity, give them a completion grade. You don't have to mark everything. Many teachers grade for themselves - they add comments to justify the grade they gave. If students aren't reading the comments and improving, you're wasting your time. David Rickert
  • Take the time to do something non-school related every week that nurtures your soul and spirit. Literary Sherri
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise! I'm sponsored by an autism society to race in Ironman triathlons to raise money and awareness for Retts Syndrome. Therefore, to be ready for such an epic event, I have no choice but to make exercise part of my daily life. It's benefits are well documented for physical, spiritual, and mental health.  Brian Dalton
  • Exercise every day, even if you just do a few squats or leg lifts while you watch tv. Make sure you take care of yourself because you can't take care of others when you're run down and stressed out. Room 213
  • Make time for yourself. No matter you're working on, decide that at a certain time you're going to put your work away. Your work will always be there. There is always more you can do. More data, more grading, more activities, more lesson plans... However, you can't be an effective teacher if you're not well-rested and taking care of yourself. Eat healthy foods, exercise, sleep, spend time with loved ones. Everything else will still be there tomorrow. Mrs. E Teaches Math
  • Luckily I have a super active husband who drags me (okay... he doesn't have to drag me) up mountains, along beaches, and through the forest on amazing adventures. I'm lucky to live in Vancouver, BC and we take advantage of everything this city has to offer as a chance to unwind and relax. I'd go crazy without outdoor adventure and activity! Addie Williams
  • I do a weekly menu plan where I lay out dinner plans for the whole week. This helps me cook at home and not swing by for take-out. It also helps with communication among the hubs, kids, and me. I even plan leftover night or pizza night.  Sarah from Kovescence of the Mind
  • Keep exercising even when you feel overloaded. In fact, that is precisely the time to exercise more. My yoga teacher often tells us: "If you can control your breathing, you can control your emotions". Teaching can feel like the workload is out of control, but seek out the things that make you feel in control to balance out the demands of teaching. Allyson's Creative Corner
  • Have great emergency sub plans for those moments when your children get sick! Make time to take care of yourself. Walk with a friend after school, schedule a yoga class, join a recreational team. Being healthy and in good shape is so important! Find ways to make your life easier. If it means assigning duties to kids or reorganizing your desk, do it! Sleep. No, really. Find healthy snacks to keep you going. It will also help that 5-10 pounds that someone seem to accumulate during the most-stressful years. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Ask other teachers if you can watch their class. If you have been teaching for 2 months or 20 years, you will still walk away with a fresh perspective. Keep the cards that kids give you. You will be happy to look through them one day. Write moments on post-its about why you love teaching, and pull them out when you need motivation. Mme R's French Resources
  • Ten minutes a day is yours. I am a big believer in "stealing" ten minutes (or more when it is possible) that is just for me. For me, that is often running or yoga or taking a walk around the block, but it might be reading in the corner, having a chocolate, or just meditating. I think taking that 10 minutes a day is crucial to avoiding burnout in the classroom and beyond. DocRunning
  • Make time to exercise, preferably right after school. You'll feel healthier and happier and not bring that negative energy home with you. Brynn Allison
  • I find that, as a morning person, I am at my best if I go to the gym before my school day starts. Working out, even if it is only for an hour before school, helps keep me centered and sane. This is what works for me though. I can wake up at 4:45 and be ready for the day. Other people need more time to wake up. So, to that I say do what works best for you. The Daring English Teacher
Timing & To-Do's
  • I stay late at school and prep all the copies and resources I need at the start of every unit. The best nights of the week to stay late is Thursday or Friday after school as most people want to get home. This saves me a huge amount of time daily waiting for, walking to and preparing for the photocopier. I put this extra time towards marking or other teaching related tasks (phone calls, report cards, meetings). I also never leave on a Friday without laying out and preparing for Monday's lessons. This keeps my mind clear on the weekends when I want to spend time with my family. Kristy from 2 Peas and a Dog
  • Start a classroom blog. Link your homework assignments and spend two minutes describing your class everyday. NO MORE PAPER TRAIL.
  • Create targets for your day in the morning and then do these in the order that makes most sense. carry over incomplete targets and be sure to build in fun adventures on a daily basis.  Ellen Weber
  • When I return home from school on Friday, I get all of my lesson planning done for the upcoming week and I stay up late and grade papers. I don't always feel like it (actually, I almost never feel like doing that on a Friday night), but it gives me the rest of the weekend to relax and enjoy my family and not worry about work. Science Chick
  • Try to take as little school work as you can home with you, or attempt to only do it on certain days of the week. I know this can be hard (at least for me), but it's important to have time for yourself and your family, w/o working on grades, lesson plans, etc. Lit with Lyns
Any other ideas? Are you trying to do any of this? Tell us about it in the comments!


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