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.

worklife

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?

How did I live without TpT?

TeachrsPayTeachers is perhaps the most brilliant idea ever. Until I discovered this gem, I constantly re-invented the wheel each year. I created all of my own handouts. I worked furiously from the time I arrived home from school until about 10:00pm getting lessons prepared for the next day.

Obviously, this cycle led to burn-out come November and the bulk of my paycheck going toward nightly purchases of wine (because lesson planning without wine is just absurd).

'I need five weekly lesson plan books. Not only do I tend to overplan, but I feel more comfortable with contingency plans.'

Because I value my work-life balance each more with every passing year, I end up spending a good amount of money on TpT. I also wonder how the teachers who create the items on TpT have time to do so…

When I first started using TpT, I felt like a cheater. Was I taking the easy way out, not making my own materials? Did this make me “less-than,” the fact that I just clicked “purchase” and had my next day’s lessons downloaded in an instant?

Clearly, I got over those feelings rather quickly. I also realized that while many of the items on TpT do not need to be modified, most do. So while I still spend a good portion of my time tweaking my purchases, it’s way less than the amount of time I used to spend. And that is everything.

Here are some of my favorite TpT purchases. What are yours?

1.) Peer Editing Stations and Rotations. I have tried a myriad of peer editing tools, most of which are confusing and mediocre at best. I love this station idea and I plan to use it this year.

2.) Writing No-Prep Printables. I use these as mini-lessons and then give quizzes over the skills. Since I teach reading, writing, vocabulary, etc., these practice and assess handouts correlate nicely with whatever writing piece students are working on. Also, I just love Lovin’ Lit’s TpT store – check it out!

3.) Back to School ToolKit. This download is filled with lots of great stuff. I use the classroom sign-out sheet all year and the textbook tracker is a great way to keep track of those class novels. Lots of great first week activities that the kids really get into!

Let me know your favorites in the comments!

 

My advice to pre-service teachers: Get a job

I vividly remember my college graduation (many years ago, mind you). I was fresh-off a semester of student-teaching tenth grade English. My college cohort spent a semester visiting “urban” schools (my college was situated in a rural part of Ohio). I tutored middle school students in Cincinnati for their upcoming state tests. I was certainly prepared for my own classroom.

Or so I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The article, “What Should We Expect Pre-Service Teachers to Know?” offers many salient points. Yes, I video-taped myself many times and while I detested watching myself in action, it helped me tweak my teaching craft. I learned that communicating with parents (and keeping records of doing so) can help a teacher tremendously. Worksheets are not always the answer (and really “ditto” machines are a thing of the past).

However, the article missed the mark in some respects. Because the only way to actually know how to teach is to teach. Get a job. Get your feet wet. Jump all-in. You’ll either sink or swim (most often, you’ll tread just enough water to keep you afloat, even as a seasoned teacher).

burnout

My first year of teaching included a lot of yelling, crying, frustration, wine and Tylenol. It was hell. I hated it. There were times (like when an eighth grade student threw my class radio on the floor because I wouldn’t let him use the bathroom) that I thought I just wasn’t cut out for teaching. The administration offered no support and my mentor tried to comfort me, but was biding her time and wasn’t necessarily interested in improving her craft or mine.

Despite my feeble attempts to instruct students with very little resources and help available, I kept on treading water. A few colleagues checked in on me periodically, telling me “it would get better.” Eventually, it did. But not without major struggle.

Experience = everything in the teaching world. Once I had two years of experience, I was able to get a job at a school with more support, resources, and higher pay. I was, for the first time in my career, happy. I felt like I was making a difference. No one slammed my classroom radio into pieces. In my mind, I was thriving.

Teaching is like riding a roller-coaster. There are times of great joy and excitement, but sometimes things are scary as hell. And sometimes you get “stuck” and go off-track. I’ve taken a total of two years off during my tenure as a teacher. Regardless of popular belief, teachers are not the Energizer Bunny. Eventually, they stop.

What should society expect pre-service teachers to know? I have a few ideas:

1.) Communicate with parents often. Keep a log of ALL methods of communication. Be professional, even when a parent is rude or blames you for their child’s behavior, refusal to turn in work, etc. You must keep your cool in all communication with the parent. Tell your husband/friends how you really feel at home while drinking a glass of wine.

2.) Avoid the teacher’s lounge. Or any area where teachers are gossiping about students. This is SO HARD! However, it’s also negative energy. You don’t need it. Avoid like the plague. Do not fuel the fire. If you do, your words will come back to haunt you.

3.) Do that cool/innovative lesson. Use the school lap-top carts even though you’ll spend half the time instructing the class on how to connect to the Wi-Fi. Don’t be afraid to teach “outside the box.”

4.) Ask for help. Your colleagues are a great resource. Have some of them pop-in and do a peer observation. You can bet you’ll get some excellent tips and tools.

5.) Management, Management, Management! If your classroom management sucks, then your year will be twice as difficult. Spend the first month of school (or longer) going over procedures, etc. Practice lining up. Make the students walk silently in a line and practice this over and over. Be a hard-ass about how you manage your classroom. Seriously.

Lastly, allow yourself to make mistakes. I still make plenty. And I’m sure I’ll make more. Give yourself time to reflect. Allow yourself down-time on the weekends. Re-charge in the summer. Because in the end, teaching really is the most rewarding profession.