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How to avoid teacher burnout with work-life balance

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illustration by Courtnay Hough

Teaching is a rewarding, but demanding job. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and burned-out. To avoid this, you need to balance work with your personal life. We’ll show you how to achieve work-life balance through intentionality, frequency, follow through, upholding your priorities, and reflection.

Education can quickly become a 90 hour a week job. That is not sustainable, and the statistics on teacher burnout back that up. The New Teacher Project (now TNTP) found that almost 66% of teachers in the US continue to leave the classroom.

Luckily, you’ve come to a good place. We have recommendations and guidance on how to make a solid plan for work-life balance that aligns with your personal priorities.

I’d argue that the best time to set up a work life balance plan is before you step foot (back) into the classroom. That’s why we’re discussing this now, so you can set yourself up for a successful, healthy, and happy school year! 🙂

You wouldn’t imagine starting a class without a solid lesson plan. So, when it comes to yourself, give your personal goals and priorities the same level of thought, planning, care, and intentionality. You deserve it!

If you’re finding this mid-school year, don’t despair though! Self care is always a win, no matter when you start. It’s ok to be wherever you are.

Intentionality: a key component in work-life balance

You practice your classroom routines and make they’re followed consistently with your students. In your personal life as well you need to plan out your boundaries and schedule your self-care. They also take intentional, consistent practice.

Make a list of activities that bring you joy, make you the happiest, and/or the most at peace. If you get stuck, there are many great articles and ideas on Pinterest to get you inspired.

To get you started, here is my list of favorites:

  • dancing around my place to songs I love
  • discovering a new music artist
  • meeting up with friends or family for happy hour
  • trying a new food or restaurant
  • going to a concert
  • practicing yoga
  • meditating
  • coloring books

If any of those sound daunting, stressful, or boring, then pick whatever inspires you. They’re examples. Results will vary, and that’s ok!

Establish frequency

For example, if one of my favorite activities is going to concerts, I might strive for that 4 times a year. I schedule Yoga in 4 times a week based on my favorite classes and availability. I strive to meditate for seven minutes daily.

Based on your frequency estimates start to put together daily, weekly, and monthly schedule outlines for yourself.

Next, pick some times in the day when you would enjoy these activities. Set alarms for yourself, or ask a trustworthy friend or colleague to help you keep to your personal time boundaries.

My first years of teaching, a teacher buddy and myself would call each. This was at a predetermined time (for us it was between 3:30 and 4:00 PM). We then encouraged each other to go home to take care of ourselves.

 Vector Art by vecteezy.com

It can be easy to let the endless to-do lists carry you into the dark evening hours feeling overwhelmed at your desk in your classroom.

Some days that positive word of encouragement (or permission to step away) from a friend was just what I needed. Then I could tear myself from my endless to do list and head home for some well-earned rest and relaxation.

Setting up those reminders or calls from friends can help you establish the habit for good work boundaries. They can help you do what you need to take care of yourself.

You deserve to do whatever it is you need for your own health and happiness.

You will not be as effective if you work yourself to exhaustion. Those long hours are not a badge of honor, they’re a sign you are not long for the profession. You don’t only deserve your scheduled boundaries and relaxation. Without them you will not get through. Trust me!

Follow through: the secret ingredient

Consistency for your healthy boundaries is essential.

I find it helpful to plan several self care activities for myself each month and book them in advance.

 Vector Art by vecteezy.com

Booking those activities and appointments helps keep me faithful to my personal priorities. It ensures that I am scheduling time for myself.

For example, in one month I might:

  • have a monthly massage
  • Plan a happy hour with my best friend
  • get my hair done
  • see a play

The activities you select for yourself can be totally different. They should match up with your own personal priorities. They should be what refills your tank of well-being and happiness.

Additionally, I create a schedule or routine for myself.

My first year of teaching I knew I didn’t want to do any work on the weekends so I set my office hours from 6 AM – 4 PM Monday-Friday.

Office hours aren’t just for professors at college! Letting people know when you’re available will help them to schedule their needs around you. Predictability can ease their own concerns, knowing you’ll be around to help when they need it.

Upon reflection, despite being a good first step, these office hours were a baby step in the right direction. They did not provide me enough personal time.

Now, I try to go to 6 AM yoga several times a week and try to keep my school hours to the ones I’m paid for (7:30-3:30).

Uphold Your Priorities for Your Personal Life

Make a list of your personal life priorities, as you did with things that bring you joy and renew you.

Schedule time for them throughout your week. Hold to those appointments like you would a doctor’s appointment.

It’s ok (and even normal) for these priorities to change, shift or otherwise transform. Whatever incarnation they are, make time for them and be true to them.

I know one of my weaknesses was forgoing my personal time in the mornings. I was showing up to work earlier and earlier to take care of tasks for my students and classes. Thus, I started to go to 6 AM yoga for me.

It has helped me start the day grounded, positive, and open to creative solutions. Honestly, every time I instituted a healthy boundary for myself it has also made me more compassionate and effective.

 Vector Art by vecteezy.com

If this seems overwhelming to you, that is totally understandable. It was for me too.

I’ve worked with an amazing psychologist who helps me recognize my value and develop tools to continue making myself a priority.

You need to find a mentor, caring ear, counselor, trusted family member, psychologist, co-worker, and/or friend. It will help create a safe space for you to be yourself.

My grandma has this silly phrase, “Better out than in”. That always makes me chuckle and reminds me that venting and/or processing what happened at work can be a huge positive release. It works best if you are letting the stress go and not perseverating on what happened.

If I’m still getting upset about something after I have vented or talked it out, then I know I need to move on to another activity. Sometimes I meditate or take my dog for a walk to get a change of scenery.

Again, just reflect on what you need in that moment. It’s okay to be honest with yourself. I struggle with letting things go. Sometimes that means I have to work extra hard to let go of what happened to upset or stress me.

Be gentle with yourself. While this is an important journey, it is still a journey!

Don’t expect perfection. Give yourself permission to make changes depending on what your body needs. If you’re not feeling well, take a nap or bath instead of working out.

Reflect on the Process

I notice that when I book too many activities, no matter how fun, it can increase my anxiety. So now, I try to have no more than two events on one day.

Listen to yourself and enjoy the process. If you find you’re losing time for your activities, write out a new priority list and re-examine the office hours you have set for yourself at work.

Perhaps you need to rearrange those hours, so you have more time to meet your personal priorities. It can also be helpful to reflect on what items from work are trying to creep into your personal time.

 Vector Art by vecteezy.com

Do you bring grading home every night? Consider looking into more efficient methods grading. Peer grading, targeted grading or grading holistically could all save you time. You could also skip grading on certain assignments all together.

Maybe you need comprehensive lessons – we would love to help you out with that. 🙂

Or maybe your IEP paperwork is taking up too much of your prep/planning hours. We have materials available to help streamline that process. Some schools and districts offer extra planning hours or a paid sub day if you ask.

Reflecting on what you need is hugely powerful.

The Best Tool you Have is YOU. Take Care of YOU.

Hopefully, you are surrounded by a caring, intelligent, and powerful community of educators. We hope you are able to draw on their love to support to lift you up when you voice your concerns.

It’s easy to feel isolated as an educator. You may be the only one at your school teaching what you do, or you may be the only one with your particular philosophy of teaching but you are not alone. There are hundreds of people out there who feel like you do and face what you do.

Environment is important. If your current environment isn’t providing you the love and support you need find one that will. That may be looking to the larger school community or even finding a new environment to meet your needs.

 Vector Art by vecteezy.com

In the meantime, we would love to provide that type of community for you here!

That’s why, even after leaving our public education jobs, we couldn’t step away from education altogether.

We wanted to offer others the support, guidance, and materials we yearned for ourselves.

Because we know so many of you out there are still doing good work and fighting the good fight, we want you to have the best tools available.

But, if we’re being honest – the best tool you have is you. So, take care of you.

You deserve your needs to be met. Yes, you do powerful and incredibly valuable work, but even more importantly, you are valuable and deserving just for being you.

Model for your students the work life balance you hope they’ll establish for themselves some day.

3 Responses

    1. We’re so glad this blog is helpful to you! Is there anything else that would help you feel more afloat in your first year as an Ed Specialist?

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