You have finally been offered that job you have been working toward for years and you’re so excited you can’t stand it! You are already thinking of how you are going to run the classroom, what great lessons you will teach and the strategies you will use. You are about to revolutionize education and it all starts with you and your classroom! As exciting as this is, I am here to tell you that if you are thinking this way you have skipped a vital step. Before you even step foot into your classroom to set it up or jump on the computer to look up lesson ideas for your subject you first need to focus on one simple thing, yourself.
Before the year starts it is vital to your overall success to find out how you are going to balance your work and personal life. If you take the time to do this now you will have a game plan in place that you can refer to when times get tough and you start to struggle. Today I will tell you how I managed to balance my work and personal life during my first year and I hope that you will find it helpful and in some way effective for you and your own situation.
For me I found it helpful to break up my personal life into three main categories. The physical, the spiritual and the emotional.
Teaching is a unique profession that takes a toll on you mentally and physically by breaking you down one day at a time. As I got a few months into last year I started to feel this on my own body and realized that something needed to change. I was getting up early and going into school so I could prep lessons, write IEP’s, respond to parent E-mails and clean/organize my classroom. The lack of sleep started getting to me and to make up for it I was drinking a lot of caffeine to get me through the end of the day. I was stress eating at lunch which consisted of whatever unhealthy thing I could get my hands on and sneaking more cookies from the faculty room than I probably should have. I wasn’t working out and I was constantly feeling tired and sick.
This type of behavior is a spiral that you can quickly feel like you can’t get out of. I wish I could say I corrected all of these behaviors, but the reality is that I didn’t catch them all in time. By roughly half way through the year I realized what I was doing was actually hurting my performance in the classroom. I was focusing so much on my professional life that my physical health was falling behind and thus making it hard to fulfill my professional responsibilities. So how do we fix it? With that question in mind and as I look to this coming year I have decided to work on the following parts of my physical health to make sure I keep a good work-life balance.
HIT THE GYM
I know it feels like we don’t have enough time as it is to get everything done. Adding a trip to the gym might feel nearly impossible. I know that is exactly how I felt last year. I made every excuse in the book to not get up and go to the gym or even go on a quick run in the morning. Before last school year I would workout a few times a week. My workouts weren’t intense or at the level of any professional athlete but I was being active. This activity gave me the energy I needed to get through the day and made me feel better about myself as well. So whether it is going on a walk during lunch to take time away outside the four walls of your room or taking a morning or afternoon to get a full workout in at the gym, you need to stay active because the benefits from it are overwhelmingly positive and you will feel it in your professional life.
Okay, this one is by far the hardest one for me. As I said before I am a stress eater and when things get tough I reach for the sweets faster than anybody I know. When I get overwhelmed or when I finished a long stressful day I reached for food. Whether it was a candy bar or a cheeseburger it didn’t matter. I just wanted something to eat and a way to escape from the stresses of the school year.
This is not a healthy living post or an exercise blog so I will not take up your time with all the details. But I will say that by the end of the year and during this summer I have learned some simple ways to get the healthy food I need into my body. Meal plan and prep your lunches and snacks before the week starts. This will make it easier for you to manage what you eat during the week and makes it simpler during your break to open up your lunch rather than run to the local burger place to get something to eat. It is just that simple. You will feel better and you will save time by doing this.
GET SOME SLEEP
If you take anything from my list of advice please take this with you! Sleep is so important for your overall success as a teacher and as a professional. I know it is tempting to get up early and get stuff done but it is also tempting to stay up late and grade papers or plan for the next day. I understand all of that and I understand that it feels as though there isn’t enough time in the day. I will not tell you how to schedule your day because that is up to you. I will say that when you schedule your day don’t sacrifice sleep in exchange for more time in your classroom. If you get a sufficient amount of sleep you will be more productive during the day and you will feel as though you still have a life after school is out for the day. You will not just want to go home and crash. You will be able to maintain a personal life and even go out and do fun things. If you are sleep-deprived you simply will not feel like you are able to do anything but work and sleep. I am here to tell you that is no way to live.
Making sure that you are taking care of your spiritual side is a bit of a difficult topic to discuss. Primarily due to the fact that not everyone is spiritual or religious in their personal life. With that said I still think there are some important points to bring up in this area of your personal life that will benefit everyone, no matter your religious views or level of spirituality.
In my home, Sunday is a special day where we believe it is set aside from the other days to take time with family and to take time for our religious services and activities. This became increasingly hard to keep up with as the school year went on. I found myself sitting in church reading blogs about teaching lesson ideas, or reading through e-mails and looking at what IEP’s I had coming up that week. My Sunday became blurred with the other days of the week and was almost becoming a work day, just without kids in the classroom.
My solution for this is as simple as I could get. I simply shut it off! On Sunday I worked hard to not focus on the classroom or worry about what I had going on that week. I did my best to set myself up on Friday so I was all prepped for Monday. This way I didn’t have to worry about going in early on Monday or taking time on Sunday to prep for the next day. I worked at limiting my time on my phone and on other electronic devices. I was not perfect at this but I did make an effort and I feel that it was a positive impact on me and my family. I was less stressed about work which meant I could spend more time with them.
For those who might not fall under the religious or spiritual category, I say that you still need to find a way to take the time for yourself and your family. Whether it is on Sunday, Saturday or any other day during the week, you need to take time to collect your thoughts and take a break from the world. Go on a hike, take a yoga class, read a fun book, turn off all electronic devices and simply sit in silence. This meditation will give you the chance you need to recharge and let your brain take the well deserved break it needs.
No matter your religious beliefs or level of spirituality, you need to take time away from everything and shut out the world. You will feel the difference this makes in your life and you will see the positive impact in your classroom.
As I have already clearly stated and as any teacher will tell you, being a teacher is a draining experience. The emotional fatigue that you will feel is unlike anything else you will experience. In my first year teaching I sat and watched a student cry at my desk while telling me about their rough home life. That same week I watched a student literally jump out of their seat with excitement because of their grade on the test. The emotional roller coaster you will go through is something I will never be able to prepare you for. However, I can warn you that it is coming and I will give you some ideas on how I dealt with it.
TALK ABOUT IT
We are supposed to keep details and certain pieces of information private and confidential. ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT! However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about it a little bit. You go through a lot and it is good to discuss it with someone from time to time. Maybe you can find another teacher who knows about the situation with a student, you can talk to them about it a little bit. This can help you realize that you don’t have to deal with it all on your own and you can see how that teacher is working through it.
Talk about it with someone at home, again remember to keep confidentiality! You can keep details and names private but you can talk with someone about the overall situation or more importantly how it has taken its toll on you. I know my wife has been an amazing resource for me to go to when I have had a frustrating or overwhelming day. The alternative to talking about it is to keep it all in. When you do this it doesn’t get resolved and the next time you feel that emotional fatigue it will be even worse.
In addition to talking about it with others I would recommend that you remember to have fun throughout the year. Take time to have dinner parties with friends and socialize. Adult interaction is vital for your emotional health. We have our extroverted sides fed all day but it is usually with kids and that just simply isn’t enough. Get together with friends and do something fun. The stresses of your classroom can wait until the next day. You need to do something to make you laugh and forget about it for the time being.
Take up a new hobby or restart an old one. As I said before, it can feel overwhelming to add something to your already long list of responsibilities. However, if you find something you enjoy that you can do in the small amount of extra time you have then go ahead and do it. Take time to draw, write, play an instrument, play a sport. Whatever it is, just go out and do it.
REMEMBER WHAT YOU DO
One of the best ways to get over the emotional stress and fatigue that teaching can give you is to remember the huge impact you have on the lives of each student you teach. When you are stressed out and feeling emotionally drained just take a second and sit back to think. Think about the high fives you gave when a student did well on a test. Think about the hug you got from the student who just wanted to say thank you after you talked to them about what is going on in their life. Think about the fun thank you cards you got on teacher appreciation day. Even think about that one kid who acted out at the start of the year who is starting to at least listen and respect the rules a little more. Take every success you have had and realize the impact you are having on kids in your class. This is the ultimate stress reliever and is one you can take with you wherever you go.
I could go on for another 2000 words to tell you how I deal with my work-life balance, but the reality is that you are the one to determine what is best for you. Take some of the advice I give here and look at how it might help you out this year. Maybe it doesn’t fit you and your circumstances, if that is the case then find other ways to help you keep a good balance. The important thing is that you think about it and realize that you need to find that balance in your own life.