So where do I start? Firstly, let me introduce myself. My name is Alicia and I am in my sixth year of primary school teaching. I live in Western Australia so our education system is somewhat different to the United States and Europe – and no…we do not have kangaroos along our freeways and roads…only if you live in the country!
As an educator after an extremely tiresome and busy day at work, you walk through the door at 6.00pm, clean up the mess that you left in the sink before you rushed out the door that morning, cook for the family and then you finally sit down to do some preparation for the next day. Are you tired yet? Statistics show that 1 in 5 teachers burn out in their first 5 years of their teaching career! Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. So many teachers burn out because the work/life struggle is real.
“The question you need to ask yourself is what are you doing for yourself and your mental wellbeing?”
Teaching is an extremely demanding job and as educators, we sometimes forget what ‘ME’ time actually means. Educators always aim to please – students, parents and staff. We always make sure others are okay and we forget that we are human beings; not robots!
I am the worst when it comes to taking my own advice and I am sure you are too!
In my first 2 years of teaching, I was going in to work sick. I had every symptom under the sun! And why? Back then my answer was that ‘It’s even harder to plan a relief day than to actually come in and teach the lessons’. I was causing myself more harm than good and in the process, I burnt out.
In my fourth year of teaching, I had a lightbulb moment and I finally realised …. how can you give 100% if you are not 100%? I stopped going into work sick and made sure I was well enough to come back to work and give it my all. Teachers will sometimes only take one day off and come back mediocre. We never fully recover from the germ and flu epidemics that surround the teaching profession as we are too eager to get back to school because we have so much to do! We can only control our own actions, not the actions of others. We can only control the things we need to do, required to do and what we are asked to do. Unfortunately, teachers are great jugglers and no matter how tired, exhausted or stressed we are, we still get those jobs done!
So, the question is… what does WORK LIFE Balance mean and how can we fix it?
I made a deal with myself last year which was that if I worked hard Monday through to Friday, the weekend would be mine. A weekend where I would not have to pick up one bit of school work – unless it’s report season! We live in such a technologically advanced world that simple menial tasks can be completed by the taps of our fingers. At times, we need to be able to switch off from the tech world and take that time to unwind, gather our thoughts and relax.
Some top tips for those teachers struggling out there to get that work/life balance are:
- Time for yourself!
Aim to take out time for yourself once a week. You can get your nails done, read a good book or veg out on the couch with a good movie. It can be anything where you don’t need to think or dream about work and the endless to do lists.
- Write a to-do list!
Always write a to-do list. Prioritise what is most important at the top and then order the least important at the end. I can’t tell you how many sticky notes I have lying around everywhere to help me remember things. Whether you write or type your notes, make sure they are placed somewhere where they are visible to you. I love to use the Stickies app on my MacBook Pro!
- No Emails and School Related Technology after 5.00pm!
I found this the hardest thing to balance as I found parents would email me after 6.00pm which was the ideal time for them. At the beginning of the year, we told all our parents at our Annual Parent Teacher Information Night that emails after 5.00pm would be responded to the following day – a gentle reminder that we too have our own families and lives to attend to also!
- Set time limits!
A teacher friend mentioned that she sets a timer for herself to complete school tasks. Something I am currently trialling is just that. I set a timer for myself (e.g. 45 minutes) and complete what I can in that time. If I don’t complete it all, it’s okay! It can be completed another time. Setting those time constraints means that you are not distracted by other things such as the television; instead you focus fully on that one hour task.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel!
If you can, share your resources with others and vice versa. Don’t create resources that already exist! If you can, work with a buddy teacher as two heads are always better than one!
- Learn to say no!
Saying no is one of the hardest things to do and something I struggle with the most. You CANNOT do everything and even though it may be hard the first time to say no, it does get easier. You are not saying no because you don’t want to do that task, but instead because you may not be able to juggle all tasks at once. It is okay to say no from time to time!
- If you’re sick…you’re sick!
Going in to work sick will not make you feel better, make students sick and then the staff sick – which will not be a happy place to work in. If you are sick, take the time off to FULLY rest and recover. That extra day always helps!
The skill of mastering a work/life balance takes time and I believe it only comes with experience. I still have not yet mastered the art of balancing and time management and will forever be learning and testing out different ways to balance work and life.
We need to learn not to be so hard on ourselves and to remember to work to live, not live to work!
Fellow educators…we got this!
If you would like to chat more or come up with some awesome tips not mentioned here then please check out my Instagram and email below: