Some people go into teaching because it seems like a family-friendly job: almost no travel, vacations at the same time as your kids, hours that match your kids’ school hours.
The reality, though, can be very different. Students may be emailing homework questions while your own children need attention. Teachers can spend hours on weekends and in the evenings putting together lesson plans and grading tests.
For some teachers, “it seems like they’re always running behind,” said Candace Alstad-Davies, founder and owner of A+ Resumes for Teachers and a career coach for teachers. “They always want to do better, to make the most creative lessons and activities.”
Conventional advice for finding work/life balance — whether the goal is to spend more time with an aging parent or to free up time for volunteer work — is that it’s important to learn to say no, to cut out activities from work and life.
This is true — yet Alstad-Davies says that adding can be just as important as subtracting:
Take time to create a vision
Work/life balance means different things to different people. For some teachers, it may mean that they want to immerse themselves in work during the school year but disconnect completely during breaks and summers. For others, the goal may be to carve out more time on school days for family responsibilities.
“What do you envision your life and your work to be like?” Alstad-Davies said. One way to discern this, she said, is keeping a journal about “what you want to get done in your career and in your personal life.”
It’s possible, of course, to envision an unrealistic life where you exercise every morning, spend hours every afternoon preparing detailed lesson plans and writing feedback on student work, and cook dinner from scratch every night. So once you have written down your vision, consider whether it looks achievable.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect,” Alstad-Davies said. “Sometimes we spend an enormous amount of time on detail after detail” in a lesson plan when a simpler activity would have worked just fine.
Add activities — don’t just subtract
It seems counterintuitive to consider which activities you should add to your life when the goal is to achieve better balance. But making time for a hobby or an activity can help put the other parts of your life into perspective — and keep you energized and enthusiastic.
“We focus so much on our work all the time,” Alstad-Davies said. “Take up a hobby or try doing something that you maybe have not done before.”
If you’re already pressed for time, how do you make time for learning golf or taking up scrapbooking?
“You also have to set boundaries, to know when to say no and be OK with that,” Alstad-Davies said. This doesn’t mean you always decline committee work or avoid school events — you just have to choose carefully when saying yes.
It’s also important to take small steps rather than expecting your whole life to change at once. For example, Alstad-Davies suggests, try going home 15 minutes earlier each day at first, or adding a new activity just once a week.
“People decide they’re going to have this major life change and implement everything,” Alstad-Davies said. “Then they burn out even more.”