Nothing in a teacher’s day is ordinary. Our days are filled with intense decisions involving the well-being of dozens of students. Instead of downtime to relax, hang out with other teachers or eat a leisurely lunch, we carefully watch over our classes while engaged in a whirlwind of papers to grade, meetings, lesson plans, high-stakes tests and countless other pressing tasks.
The profound intensity of our profession is one of its greatest joys—after all, many of us chose our profession because we wanted to make a difference. That same intensity, however, makes it difficult to keep our professional and personal lives in balance. And without that balance, we open ourselves to the harrowing experience of burnout—a miserable situation in which even the most stalwart educators struggle to fulfill their professional responsibilities.
Unfortunately, keeping our professional and personal lives in balance does not follow a prescribed one-size-fits-all plan. Each of us has to find what works best for us and what does not.
One of the most important first steps to ensure that there is a balance between your professional and personal lives is to adopt a panoramic view of your profession. Learn to look at the big picture of what you do instead of getting bogged down in the daily grind. For example, every teacher experiences discipline problems. Instead of just reacting, looking at the bigger picture will allow you to adopt a problem-oriented approach. You will be able to understand that the problems you experience now probably won’t matter in a week or a month, and certainly won’t be important in a year.
Another key action that can help you keep your professional and personal lives in balance is to place great value on your personal time. While all of us need to actively participate in our school communities, learn to tactfully refuse professional tasks that will require you to spend more time than you are willing to give. Your personal life is important; treat it as a valuable commodity.
Becoming the most efficient teacher you can be will cut down on the time you have to spend on school-related tasks—such as photocopying, grading papers, or arranging classroom furniture and equipment—that probably don’t bring you a great deal of satisfaction. Creating efficient work routines not only will make your school life easier, but also will create free time to spend on productive activities that will enhance your life.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed at times during a school term. When you are approaching a period in which you will have more school work than usual, prioritize the tasks you have to do and set about accomplishing them in an organized manner. If you approach an overwhelming situation in this way, you not only will work efficiently, but you also will be able to better control the workload. That, in turn, will help you pace yourself.
To keep your life in balance, live one day at a time. Many experienced teachers have found that first making a master list of all of the tasks they need to do, and then assigning tasks to specific days, makes it easier to accomplish what they need to do each day instead of being overwhelmed with the immensity of their workload. Approaching your school workload one day at a time is much more productive than just wasting emotional energy being overwhelmed.
Finally, to find a balance between your professional life and your personal life, it’s important for you to set clear boundaries for yourself. Instead of futilely worrying about something that went wrong during the day, make a plan for dealing with it before you leave school so that you can go home unencumbered with useless worry. At home, do something productive such as exercise or spend time on a hobby or other enjoyable activity instead of fretting needlessly. It takes determination, but learning to leave school problems at school will allow you to focus on your personal life when you are not at school.
Focusing on school issues while you are at school and home issues while you are at home will make it easier to achieve the balance that you need to have the successful, rewarding career you want for yourself.