Teaching is exhausting. It really is a 24/7 job because even when you leave the building, you more often than not have a bag of grading or prepping to do at home. It also difficult to shut it off mentally. A teacher is always thinking about his/her day and looking to the next. Being and feeling prepared for the next day at school is incredibly time-consuming.
Research shows a startling amount of new teachers leaving the profession within the first five years of teaching. I completely understand because after six years of teaching high school I resigned and became a literacy coordinator for adult basic education and English as second language program. I was unable, at the time, to find a healthy work-home balance.
When I threw in the towel, I was 28 years old, had a one-year-old son, and going through a divorce. My personal situation alone was enough to want to resign, but I also had six years of bad habits of not prioritizing and making time for the people and things that mattered most, and I knew I had to step away and regroup. I would work ten hour days at school, come home spend a smidge of quality time with my son, put him to bed, and grade essays until I fell asleep and then repeat the next day.
Leaving my teaching position at the time I did was necessary. I was no longer the best version of myself in any role: wife, mother, teacher. Now I am back in education as an English professor, and I have excellent balance in my life. My workload and my grading load have not changed, but I have. I want to share a few things I have learned to do that have helped me have more quality time with my family and more quality time for myself.
Time Management and Prioritizing:
My workload has not decreased these past couple years, but the way I approach my work has. I have become a master scheduler. I schedule everything: work hours, grading hours, office hours, meeting times, family time, time at the gym, time to watch my favorite TV shows, etc. I now have two young children and a new husband I love dearly, so if I don’t schedule time for all of us to be together without me checking emails, grading papers, or on my laptop posting in an online forum, then I won’t be the mother, wife, and instructor I want to be. I am still able to get all of my work and grading done, but I schedule it ahead of time. There are evenings when I go in my home office as soon as the kids are in bed because I have papers to grade, or mornings when I get up extra early and grade while everyone is sleeping, but I am prepared for it and it is communicated with my family that I will be working. Then the next night I might schedule no grading or prep and snuggle up and watch a TV show with my husband.
Now that you have scheduled your time to work, find a space that you work best in: at school, home, coffee shop, etc. Eliminate distractions, including electronic devices, and make the most of your time. See my previous post Death by Essays: A Teacher’s Survival Guide to Grading Marathons for more tips on being an efficient grader. And lastly, collaborate and use colleagues’ materials. I know you have heard this before, but it is so true. It might feel strange the first couple times you use another teacher’s lessons or worksheets because it is a little different than what you would have created, but that’s okay.
Learn to Say No:
The key is to be assertive. Tell people firmly and politely that you won’t have the time or be able to do something. It could be a coworker or an administrator, but people will respect you for telling the truth. If you know that you struggle with saying no, maybe you need to practice and rehearse what you will say and how you will say it; the first time you do it will be the hardest. Many of us are wired to take on too much. I’ve been there. During my second pregnancy, I was working full-time as a literacy coordinator and teaching an online class for a career college, and I had a three-year-old at home.
My boss called me; he was in a jam and begged me to teach two more classes that term (which was at the start of my third trimester!). These classes were not online so I would teach four hours two nights a week after leaving my full-time job. I accepted, and it was awful. I survived and finished out the courses, but at everyone’s expense: time with my son, my health, and my poor husband dealing with a very pregnant, very stressed out wife. If I could go back and explain to my boss that three classes were too much and I didn’t want to over-commit myself, I would, and looking back, I know my boss would have understood.
There is a huge potential for burnout in this profession. So you need to do things to keep being you. Your career as an educator is a huge part of who you are, but it doesn’t have to define you. Keep your other hobbies and relationships thriving to be a happier and healthier person, which will then make you a better teacher too.