I struggled for years with balancing my teacher work life with my home life. Here is a quick story about the night (morning really) that I realized I needed to make some changes in my work life. It was a Saturday night and I asked my husband if he would “pretty please” put the kids to bed without me while I went to school to get some work done for a “few” hours. Feeling a little (lot) guilty, I went off to school. While I was at school I decided to rearrange all of my furniture, clean out my filing cabinet, start planning for the following week, pull materials for the next week’s lessons, start labeling new books for my classroom library, and so on. I was so frantic to get everything done that I went from task to task not even finishing what I had started. At this frantic pace, I didn’t notice how much time was going by. Finally, exhausted and defeated I looked around at my chaotic room and realized it was 1:30 in the morning and I had finished nothing!
The chaos that was my Classroom.
I wish I could say that this happened in my first few years of teaching, but no. This was after teaching 10+ years! Needless to say, Sunday morning I started working on a plan to get my life back. Here is what has been working for me to help balance work and home:
1. Log how you spend your time
For 2-3 days keep track of how you are spending your time when you don’t have students (before school, planning time, lunch, after school). This really helped me to see where all of my planning time was going. It also helped me to see that I wasn’t prioritizing my work.
2. Arrive early
I know this can be hard for some people depending on various factors in their life. If possible, I recommend getting to work at least 30 minutes early. Getting to work early means you are more likely to have uninterrupted work time. I noticed that when I stayed late I was more likely to use that time chatting and honestly, by the end of my work day I didn’t have the energy to get things done.
3. Limit trips and email
Try to limit the number of times you are checking your email, going to the office or copier. Visits to the copier and office are known to eat up entire planning periods! Try to get most of your copying done for the next week on one day. Finding a parent volunteer is another great way to deal with your copying. If you need to make trips to the copier daily try to choose one time instead of making several trips throughout the day. A great way to deal with trips to the office is to go once in the morning and then have your students pick up your mail for you toward the end of the day.
I check my e-mail three times a day – once when I get to work, mid-day, and at the end of the day. I give myself 5-10 minutes and then make myself move on to other things. Something else that has helped me to keep up with my emails is to take action on each email that I open rather than just reading my email. If the email is something that I really can’t deal with in that moment I mark the message as unread, so that I remember to go back to it later.
4. Have students help
The classroom belongs to the students too, so they should also be responsible for keeping it picked up. Schedule a little time at the end of the day for your students to clean up around their desks. Have end of the day jobs where students sharpen pencils, put mail in mailboxes, clean up the library, pick up any extra items off the floor, and distribute morning work for the next day.
5. Plan each day
Create a schedule with planning tasks to do each day. Every Monday you could plan for next week’s math lessons, Tuesday could be the day to plan your read alouds for the week, Wednesday your day to plan for science/social studies, and so on. As you plan, keep a list of any prep work that still needs to be finished and keep a folder of any copies that need to be made.
Once I finally came to terms with the fact that a teacher’s work is never done, I truly realized the important of prioritizing. It helps to use a to-do sheet with the days of the week on it. As I add to my to-do list throughout the week I highlight or star the tasks that are the most important. Each day I start with working on the highlighted tasks on my to-do list and then move on to the less important items. These are some of my favorite to-do printables:
7. Have set times to work
Set a schedule of work times and stick to it. What worked for me was to come into school an hour early and leave no later than 30 minutes after my contractual hours. I do not bring work home during the weekdays. I now spend that time with my family! I do any extra work on Saturdays between 8am-10am. I stick to those times unless I have something that I absolutely have to finish, like report cards, but I found that if I remember to prioritize daily there are very few times that I need to do work outside of my set times.
I hope these tips help you to find your way to balancing work and home. I would love it if you could add any extra tips in the comment section below.