As teachers we all know the demands and expectations the teaching profession entails. We are not just educators who stand in front of a classroom, we are mentors, trouble-shooters, guardians, role models and much more. Need we forget about the termly observations, marking of books, marking of assessments, spontaneous learning walks, book scrutiny checks and continuous CPD sessions. Our work can be very demanding at times! With all these expectations it is very important to strike a healthy work life balance.
So, the question is now, how do we improve our work life balance? There is no one correct answer because we all have different ways of managing stress but here are a few helpful tips.
1. When to say “no”
As obvious as this concept may seem, saying “no” when you have not got the capacity to take on given tasks may be hard for some people to say. As teachers we sometimes tend to take on a lot of responsibilities without considering the pressure, we may come under in order to be a ‘team player’. Instead of immediately accepting additional responsibilities consider responding in a way that gives you adequate time to find out whether it is something you can realistically commit to without adding unmanageable stress. An example of a response could be “I will have a look at my diary and get back to you tomorrow”. Being honest and assertive with what you can do will allow you to prioritise your already busy schedule.
2. Have a cut-off point
There seems as though there are never enough hours in the working day. By the end of a full school day we sometimes have a catalogue of unread emails and ongoing admin which needs to be completed. Ensure you prioritise and address any matters of high importance. Give yourself a cut-off time where you do not respond to anything work related. My personal cut-off time is 5pm. If I receive any work-related emails after this time, I respond to them the next morning. It is important to dedicate time for yourself to unwind and relax.
3. Health matters
With so much already on our plate many teachers are skipping meals and working through their lunchtime. Teaching requires an extraordinary amount of stamina and endurance and it is imperative that you take care of your health. As much as we may want to help students who come to us for extra support during lunchtime, we must ensure we have fuelled ourselves with the energy of a meal in order to be at our amazing best. Getting enough sleep and making time to exercise is essential for both our physical and mental health. This is easier said than done but we can all attest to the benefits it has on our minds and bodies. Regular exercise is a very good outlet for dealing with stress. Exercise does not need to be hours in the gym or in fitness classes, it can simply be getting off the bus/train a stop earlier or parking a bit further away from work to fit in a 15-minute walk. During the Summer terms I like to cycle to school. Cycling to my school and back is 40 minutes in total (20 minutes each way). Not only did this improve my fitness, it also improved my wellbeing. I always felt fresh and ready to tackle the day ahead after cycling into school.
This is my 7th year as a teacher, and I am still trying to find the right work life balance so do not expect to find the perfect balance overnight. With time you will become more comfortable with your curriculum, the processes at your school, and more confident in your classroom practice, which will save you time and energy in the long run. Whether you are in your first or tenth year of teaching, in order to have a good work life balance, you must be taking the right steps in order to lessen the stress our profession can sometimes bring. As we enter the Autumn 2 term, commit to spending a couple hours less working at home each week and spend more time doing the things you enjoy. You CAN do it!