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[Teacher Tips] Four Ways to Maintain Your Sanity & Work-Life Balance During the School Year

Tuesday, September 12, 2017 -- Scott Sterling

For all of its joys, teaching comes with no shortage of stress. And, for many teachers, especially those new to the profession, facing the prospect of another nine months of preparing students for high-stakes testing, dealing with copious administrative work, and managing the demands of their own daily lives (not to mention helping students with their personal challenges), the start of the school year can feel overwhelming.

As an educator, it’s important to acknowledge this stress up front and make a plan to prioritize you in order to have a successful school year and avoid burnout. Here are four ideas to help you maintain the balance between the classroom and your life outside of teaching in the short and long term.

Make time for a favorite hobby

Classroom demands can easily eat up a majority of your free time if you let them. Regularly making time for a hobby, sport, or other interest (cleaning the house or taking your own children to after-school practice doesD not count) can help you feel as though you don’t need to be “on” all the time. Join a tennis league, sign up for an art class, schedule a biweekly movie night with a friend—it doesn’t matter what you do, just be sure to take some guilt-free time for yourself.

Don’t discount meditation

People can be scared off from meditation for a variety of reasons—most commonly because they don’t believe it actually offers any benefit or they think it takes too much time. However, the reality is that meditation does make a difference, and all it requires is a few minutes of quietness and reflection. No mantras need to be chanted nor incense burned.

Just take a couple of quiet minutes (preferably before the most stressful part of your day) in a comfortable, peaceful space, and try to focus on your breathing and clear your mind. If thoughts or worries pop up, notice them without getting mad at yourself—mindfulness is called a practice for a reason! If you would like to start with a more guided practice, there are plenty of mobile apps available, and both Spotify and YouTube offer a variety of mindfulness playlists.

Don’t get mad at your yourself over to-do lists

When the school day is done, teachers often still have a mountain of work to accomplish. Setting goals, keeping to-do lists, and prioritizing tasks are key to managing your time and staying on top of the workload. But, what happens if you don’t accomplish everything you set out to do?

For most educators, the initial impulse is to get angry at themselves for not being as efficient as they needed to be. However, there’s nothing to be gained from beating yourself up. Instead, take a look at a sample of your tasks from the past few weeks. If your internal schedule wasn’t met, why not? If the reason was worthwhile (for example, spending time helping a student after class or making time for family), simply reprioritize your tasks and move on. If the reason isn’t as valid (i.e., procrastinating or online browsing), be honest with yourself about what happened and come up with some concrete strategies to help remedy the situation next time. And, no matter what, always keep your to-do list in perspective.

Build a strong support network

Most teachers have several professional networks within their school, including professional learning communities and the people with whom you may have lunch. But, can you really share your struggles with them? Of course, these relationships are valuable—but sometimes the colleagues you’re working with on a day-to-day basis are not the ones you want to vent frustrations to.  

Instead of relying solely on your coworkers, try to build up a diverse support network and know who to go to with different challenges. Staying in touch with other teachers who work at a different site (whether they’re old coworkers, former classmates, or others you’ve met outside of your job) can be a great way to fill your support network with individuals who understand the struggles of the job and allow you to avoid feeding the teachers’ lounge gossip mill. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with being the person who initiates a lunch date or happy hour. In fact, it’s good networking.

No one ever said that teaching is easy—but nearly every educator will say it’s worth it! Looking for a little extra motivation to get through the challenging days? Check out these Four Inspiring TED Talks for Educators!