Many of us struggle to balance our personal and professional lives, and I found that for me it only got harder once I had children. I knew I was going to have to loosen my hold on my workaholic habits, but it was still difficult to change. When I see my fellow teachers struggling to balance being a teacher and a parent, I want to help them.
Although I am not an expert in work-life balance, I have learned a few tips that can help teachers juggle work and family. And whether you have children or not, these suggestions should resonate with all of you teachers!
How To Balance Being a Teacher and Parent
5. Use school time more effectively through written planning.
This probably seems obvious, but I know how easily I can get sucked into a conversation during my preparation time or how quickly I can lose focus because I have so many items to accomplish in my rare moments of downtime at school.
I have found that if I write down three items to do each day, or use a calendar app to schedule the specific days and times when I will plan, or grade, or meet with a colleague, I am more focused and efficient as a result. Let’s face it — it is ridiculously hard to get work done at home once there are children demanding your attention. Plan your days not just in your head, but also on paper (or digitally) in order to keep yourself on track.
4. Ask for help.
For many years, I asked for a great deal of advice, but never requested any real help from others. I felt that if I couldn’t do something myself, then I wasn’t a worthy teacher.
However, each of us only has so much time in a day, and choosing to do one task may mean sacrificing the time you need to complete others. So, if you are co-teaching, arrange with your co-teacher to take half of the papers to grade. If you are working on writing research papers with your class, ask the librarian to teach students about using databases.
If you are teaching the same unit as another teacher, share the load. Each of you can do half of the planning. Finally, if you need some vocabulary strategies, just download a great activity or game off the VocabGal.com website (this is a shameless plug, but the activities really are easy to implement).
There is no need to be a martyr or to reinvent the wheel when you have colleagues who are ready and willing to help!
3. Get enough sleep. It’s important.
Almost all health and well-being experts agree that getting seven or more hours of sleep a night is crucial to maintaining a positive outlook and staying healthy. Although having small children at home may not allow you to get seven consecutive hours every night, it is more important that you stay rested than it is to grade papers to hand back the very next day. Plan the time to grade at school (see Tip #5), and know that more sleep is going to help you be a MUCH better teacher and parent.
2. Let go of the guilt.
This relates to my previous tip — do not feel guilty about getting enough sleep instead of grading. Also, do not feel guilty for not working on schoolwork after 9 p.m., or for working until 4:30 p.m. and then picking up your child(ren). Conversely, don’t feel guilty about taking a few hours on the weekend to plan or grade rather than playing with the kids.
You are working hard to balance being a teacher and a parent, and letting go of the guilt will help you to be fully present in your interactions with your students and with your children.
1. Embrace imperfection.
This relates back to my fourth point — you can ask for help. As a new teacher, I wanted each day in my class to be perfect and wanted all of my students to pass with exceptionally high grades. While these ideals were quickly squashed, I still tried to hold on to creating beautiful bulletin boards, producing error-free handouts, and giving detailed and specific commentary on every paper, along with other perfectionist goals.
I have learned, however, that I often do not have the time to proofread my worksheets more than twice. Of course, errors inevitably occur — which make for teachable moments! I’ve also moved to having the bulletin boards updated by my student helpers. That means that they aren’t always “perfect,” but they are colorful and educational.
Finally, my comments on papers are fewer and I expect my students to find their own mistakes and learn to correct them on their own. In addition to saving time, it is a better learning experience for the students than having me correct each mistake and simply retyping their essays.
It is always going to be difficult to balance being a teacher and a parent. However, learning to shift my priorities has also allowed me to relax a bit more in the classroom and with my students, as well as to learn to take time for myself and for my own children. Like all teachers, I want to fully live my life, and spending every waking moment in the classroom or at home grading papers is not healthy for anyone.