Work/Life Balance as a Teacher

In my first year of teaching, some 13 years ago, a colleague gave me a great piece of advice. He told me to leave work at work. He must have seen me schlepping my over-stuffed teacher satchel to my car each day.

At first, I thought this advice was obvious – why would I take work home? At the time, my 22-year-old self took his advice to heart. I left work at school and enjoyed my newfound free time. I threw away more student work than I graded. My lessons weren’t very effective or engaging. Even though I enjoyed life more, my students and work were suffering. Something had to give.


Teaching is perhaps one of the few jobs where you do not go to work to actually do work. The grading, lesson plans, planning, parent contact, endless paperwork can’t be completed during the school day because we’re teaching! More often than not, I arrive home from work and open my lap-top to complete tasks I did not have time to get to between my on-the-clock hours of 7:15-4:00. Still, there is never enough time.

As a more seasoned teacher, I’d like to ask that former colleague of mine how he did it – how did he manage to leave work at work? I can’t seem to completely do it. I think most teachers take work home, because really, it’s difficult not to do so. However, I have devised some stipulations for working at home, which give me some work/life balance without making me hyperventilate.

  • No work Saturdays –Give yourself one weekend day where you do nothing for school. Not even answer emails (I’m still working on this one).
  • Complete lesson plans during the week – My lesson plans are due Sunday evening, but I make sure I do them during the work-week so they aren’t hanging over my head all weekend.
  • Work Hour Sunday – I carve out an hour (or two) on Sunday to grade papers and get materials ready for the week. I usually do this while drinking a glass of wine before dinner. It makes me feel prepared for the week instead of frazzled come Monday morning.
  • No work on weeknights – I’m still working on this one, but I typically do not do work on weeknights, unless it’s preparing a handout or lesson for the next day.
  • Use planning time wisely – This is one that I struggle with. I often get absorbed with meetings, conversations with teachers or student issues that arise. I also spend way too much time checking in homework and completing paperwork, which actually takes up most of my planning time. (Look for a blog about homework soon!)

What are some ways you keep your work/life balance in check?


Spruce up your classroom library

Last year, my classroom library was anything but a library. It consisted of one bookshelf and lots of leveled book bins. The bookshelf was always in disarray and the leveled book bins were never accurate. Students did not respect the books because, why would anyone respect a trashy space?!

As I’ve stated in a previous post, this year, I sought out to make my library an inviting place for students. A place they would never dream tossing books onto shelves hap-hazardly. Just the other day, a student noticed dust on top of my bookshelves and asked if she could clean it. I thought to myself, students are taking pride in books!

This year, my library is an organized, cozy haven for tweens. Each day, I allow three students to sit on fancy chairs during silent reading. I rotate through every student before starting over. All students should have a chance to read comfortably, so I do not use the flexible seating as a reward or incentive. Keeping track of who goes on what day has been difficult for me, so in the future, I intend to put that in the hands of students (who always remind me whose turn it is anyway!)

Book bins by genre
Book bins by genre
Cozy seating
Cozy seating

What does your classroom library look like?




Sharing Writing Publicly

Perhaps the most important aspect of writing is when your work is shared publicly. I’m most proud of my writing pieces that have been published in print and online, mostly because it means people besides myself have access to it. Students get the same excitement and pride when their work is shared publicly.

Making time and space for students to share their work is just as important as the work itself. Teaching students how to critique work and how to accept criticism is a life skill they will certainly utilize as they transform into adulthood. In middle school, a time when character development is critical, it is especially meaningful when teachers offer guidance and activities that allow students to become well-rounded individuals.

I’ve used Linda Christensen’s “Read-Around” activity for years (from this book, which is like my teaching bible) and it’s always proven to be a success with students. While I tailor it to my students’ needs each year, I find that with consistent implementation, students, 1.) Find more pleasure in writing; 2.) Learn how to give meaningful feedback; 3.) Learn how to accept feedback that is critical of their work.

A student reading her work during a read-around
A student reading her work during a read-around

My current class had their first read-around last week. I always have students move the desks and put chairs in a circle. This promotes positive classroom community and also ensures that the speaker and audience can see/hear everyone.

I create a rubric so that students are able to critique their peers’ work. It also holds them accountable for actively participating and listening. Since this was our first read-around, the rubric was rather basic, asking students to list one “glow” (something the author did well) and one “grow” (something the author could improve).

Students give feedback on a rubric
Students give feedback on a rubric

Prior to the read-around, we discussed examples of exemplar and non-exemplar “glows” and “grows.” For instance, saying a paper is “good” is not very helpful to the writer; saying their use of statistics helps to persuade readers is a better and more specific “glow.”

Since this was our first read-around, I had students volunteer to read their essays – no pressure! I tell students that my expectation is that everyone reads out loud in a read-around this year. I realize that for some students, public speaking is scary, so I never force them to read aloud at a given time, but I continue to enforce my expectation that they do it at least once and they always rise to meet it. What I’ve found is that with consistent implementation of read-arounds, these students will eventually become comfortable and feel that the space is safe enough for them to face their fear without pressure.

How do you allow students to share their work?