March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Creating a Life-Work Balance as a New Teacher

Posted: Monday, October 1st, 2012

by Amanda L. Smith

Sometimes we’re asked the question, “How hard can teaching really be?” which is often followed with comments like, “I mean, you only have a seven-hour day, and part of that is lunch, recess, and a prep period…and you get tons of holiday breaks, and summers!” These sorts of questions and statements demonstrate that the public doesn’t truly understand the extensive workload that we take home with us each night. Teachers know that we often spend long hours of our weekends with lesson planning, grading papers, and making phone calls and emails to parents, etc. We also have workshops and meetings to attend, committees to serve on, after-school tutoring for our struggling students, detentions to monitor at lunch, grants to write for new technology, and discipline issues to document. With all of these responsibilities, it’s too easy to forget to take care of ourselves.

I was (and still am) guilty of not spending enough quality time with my family and friends, but it is getting easier the longer that I am in the teaching profession.  I often find myself sitting at home on a Friday night, thinking that if I went out to dinner or to see a movie that I would feel guilty for not being at home and grading papers, or writing lesson plans. But, on the other hand, I also know I should be taking myself out or spending time with my friends and family. Even though I know that it is not unprofessional to have a life outside of school, and be kind to myself, in general, that feeling of guilt still sits firmly within me. As I thought about what advice I could give to new teachers to help them reconcile the two, several things came to mind.

First and perhaps foremost, I also know that I need to make sure to look after my health. No matter how many years we have been in the classroom, teachers still get illnesses and injuries just like everyone else.  With all the long hours on our feet, climbing staircases, sitting under air-conditioned vents, staying up late grading papers, and being around children with illnesses, it is very easy for our immune system to become run-down. I have to continually remind myself to get plenty of sleep, which may include winding down sooner in the evening and doing less work at home. Even though many of us feel compelled go into the classroom even while ill, we are much more effective when we are feeling our best.

Another great idea is to try to create designated time for your hobbies, even if it is something simple like reading a book.  Not everyone is an adrenaline “junky” like me, but without my occasional SCUBA dive in the local ocean, an afternoon kayak, or a trip to the amusement park, I wouldn’t feel like “me.” Whether or not you knit, Sudoku, play chess, take road trips, go dancing, or bake, making time for the things that we love to do makes us healthier and happy in both our personal and professional lives.

In order to help you develop your “me time”, there are many things you can do for yourself and with your workload. Here are some specific ideas:

  • Say “no” and mean it.  Saying “yes” too often can impact our ability to get everything done that we need to, for our classroom, and for ourselves.
  • Help out a colleague, so they can help you in return.  The “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours” philosophy can be helpful in reducing tasks, such as photocopying.
  • Learn to delegate.  Students in your classroom can be useful at helping with simple tasks, such as collecting papers, feeding classroom pets, and organizing books.
  • Don’t procrastinate.  Sometimes just getting something out of the way now is better than letting it pile up to do later.
  • Only take as much work home as you know you can handle.  Often I find myself staring at large piles of papers to grade, and it becomes so daunting and unappealing that I end up doing less than I might have if I took it home in smaller stacks.
  • Social time with colleagues.  Going out to dinner or to grab an after work cup of coffee can really help you “blow off steam”, decompress, and talk through your problems.
  • And lastly, smile.  I know that we all have our good days and bad days, but smiling even when you are sad, or angry, can actually help reprogram your brain to feel better.

Written by Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith is a science teacher at Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter School and a member of CSTA.

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For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

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From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.