If you’re an elementary school teacher like me, you’re probably aware of how difficult balancing teaching with life can be. The line between professional and personal worlds often blurs, leading to stress and burnout. I’ve been there. Here are the routines I use to establish a better equilibrium between work and personal life.
Step 1: Self-Assessment and Goal Setting
What do I need? What do I want?
Firstly, conducted a self-assessment to see where my time and energy was going. I created a mental list of my teaching duties and my personal responsibilities and compared them with my ideal work-life balance. I didn’t need to write them down. The stress was already alive and active like probiotics. I did write down my sleep habits, though. A consistent bed routine isn’t something I’ve ever been able to accomplish and with the upcoming year, as I pursued being a National Board Certified Teacher Facilitator and went back to school for my doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction, this was something I really needed. Routine and the ability to maximize my time was the only way I was going to survive. After this self-assessment, I set achievable goals.
Action Steps to Achieve my Goal
Afterall, if anything I’ve learned from my stint in social work and learning about CBT, I’ve learned that sustainability is important. For me, it meant promising myself to leave the school building by 4:00-4:30 PM at the latest every day to ensure I had the quiet space I needed and time with the people I love. I’m an introvert, so quality quiet time and space to myself for introspection to quiet the noise and distractions of a busy and hectic life is essential for me. Some people recharge through socialization. I recharge through solitude.
Step 2: Time Management Plan
I knew I needed a robust time management plan to keep me on track to achieve all my professional and personal goals. I also needed to carve time just for me. Alone. You may need to carve time where you get to do your favorite thing or what you need to recharge, such as time with friends or a date night with the hubby.
Therefore, I needed to start with prioritizing tasks: I ranked all my professional and personal responsibilities in order of importance. This is something that looks different for everyone and is highly personal to you.
Next, I included time blocking in my time management plan. I used a time-management app to designate specific hours for different tasks; I really like using Trello and decided to pay for the full version. Now, mornings are strictly for lesson planning and grading.
Most importantly in time management for me, was to create a cut-off time. I set a hard cut-off time for work each day, which has been a game-changer for balancing teaching with life. This is the most challenging part of work.
Step 3: Work Routines
Developing sustainable work routines has been a cornerstone in my strategy. No goal is worth it if it is not sustainable, doable or I’m willing to comply with it. I have to know my limits and slowly expand territory.
First, Efficient Planning is essential. Using early mornings for preparation has significantly reduced my daily stress levels. This is where I can go overboard, though. So, I need to be careful with this one. Overplanning, is just that sometimes. Then, you can’t sustain the overplanning, because you’re exhausted (if you’re me), and then because you can’t get everything done, you get down on yourself (again, if you’re me). Do you relate? Leave a comment and let me know how you plan efficiently and how this is incorporated in your life to balance work and life.
Next, I complete batch grading. I’ve chosen specific days to tackle all the grading of assessments (or I grade on the spot, as this is sometimes more easily accomplished in early primary grades), making the process more manageable.
Also, streamlining communication by checking emails and parent communication twice daily eased my stress. This helped me to have a dedicated mind space (get ready for any potential stressors or triggers) and have a consistent schedule to communicate others. I used to check my emails and phone several times into the evening at home and throughout the weekend. I just can’t dedicate the mind space or time it takes to do this with my additional duties and to keep life in equilibrium.
Lastly, if I can delegate simple tasks, I do. This is done most easily with a student teacher for simple things, such as bulletin boards and copying (not everything I ask student teachers to do), but it does help to have an additional body in the room helping. Though, think about this one. Having a student teacher is also a lot of work and it can be quite stressful if you don’t have someone who is as invested in the teaching profession. Also, kids can clean, even in kindergarten. They can clean up the floors and even the tables (I use dish soap water or shaving cream that is scent-free on Fridays for phonics instruction).
Step 4: Personal Life Routines
My personal life needed a routine as well, to ensure a healthier balance. This is probably one of the most important things and hardest things for me. I never had a routine growing up, and so perhaps you did. I’ve started making my bed at the ripe age of 37 in the morning before I go to work. Better to start late, then never at all! Other things are slowly falling into place, and after three months of having a routine over the summer for the morning (post-surgery), I can say that I’ve developed some positive habits. Now, it’s like I haven’t brushed my teeth in the morning if I don’t do these tasks. That’s great, because it is helping motivate me to wake earlier just so I can complete these things before the day begins.
Sleep and Wake Schedule
Firstly, I needed to wake earlier. For me, that is not something that comes naturally. In high school I took “early bird,” which meant classes started an hour earlier so I could get out an hour earlier (though I just went to college through running start). However, waking up early or calling me a morning person, is not something that describes me well. To get things done in the day that I need to get done, and get some of my weekend off to recharge, I need to wake up at 5:00 AM. So far, this routine is not going well. But, over time, I know I can get it down. Perhaps you need to go to bed earlier.
Scheduling Me Time!
Next, scheduled downtime went along with the previous paragraph on waking earlier. I need personal time and is non-negotiable for me now, be it reading a book, baking, making candles or binge-watching shows like Psych, Monk, NCIS, or Great British Baking Show. I also like long drives with my partner. We love long drives together. Though, sometimes I need down time and he needs to get out of the house. Since quality time is also my love language, I’ll also do errands with him around town.
So, making time for family and friends is hard for me unless you are in my close-knit connections. Like I said before, I’m an introvert at heart. So, I have my group of friends and that works for me. However, I’m working on extending my friend network and I need this to also stay charged. Though, I’ll be honest. Many need much more time with others socializing and being active at events than I do. I’m purely an introvert and just more of a 1-1 person.
Health and Wellness
Lastly, health and wellness are important aspects to reincorporate into my routine. I had hip surgery this summer and right now, trying to keep my appointments with PT and do my exercises is my primary health and wellness routine. I’d also like to eat healthier and meal plan. Incorporating exercise into my daily routine, usually in the form of a walk, has been a huge boost for my mental and physical health. I’m grateful I’m able to do this now.
Step 5: Execute, Adjust and Reflect
After plotting out this new routine, it was time for execution and to adjust. Characteristic of my personality, I planned more than I was able to accomplish. Flexibility was key here; if something wasn’t working, I adjusted. Every Sunday, I engage in a reflection session to evaluate what worked and what didn’t. I modified my plan for the next week based on these insights.
To conclude, balancing teaching with life is a feasible goal, not just a pipe dream. With the steps outlined in this guide, we both can be well on our way to creating a balanced, fulfilling existence both in and out of the classroom. It’s a work in progress and remember, it’s okay to adjust. What are some ways you balance your teacher work and life? Let me know in the comments below.