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Can Top Notch Teachers Have Work-Life Balance?

Who else out there has soooo many things that they want to do, but just can’t seem to fit them all in? I’ve read quite a bit about time management…

Who else out there has soooo many things that they want to do, but just can’t seem to fit them all in?

Being a teacher offers some unique challenges when it comes to juggling time. Top notch teachers need work-life balance to keep doing an exceptional job.

I’ve read quite a bit about time management and ‘making’ more time to fit in everything I want. I’ve also read articles that ditch the concept of creating more time; after all, there are only 24 hours in a day. But for me, it’s how can I better juggle my time to fit it in not only what I need to, but also what I want? I really want good work-life balance.

Why top-notch teachers struggle with work-life balance

Being a teacher offers some unique challenges when it comes to juggling time. There are many parts of the profession that pull at you and require your attention, and managing all of these aspects can be difficult and at times very frustrating.

Some of the many things that can challenge your time include:

  • Planning the curriculum/lessons for the year/term/week/day;
  • Researching better ways to engage kids and get them motivated about learning;
  • Assessing student learning and writing reports;
  • Meeting with parents to discuss their child’s development;
  • Creating an engaging learning space that kids will want to spend the day in;
  • Writing individual education/behavior plans for the kids that have special needs and /or challenges;
  • Attending professional development opportunities; and
  • Networking and collaborating with other teachers.

And I’m sure that you can probably think of many more tasks that ‘pull’ at your time. Now if you’re not a teacher, you’re probably thinking…geez, that’s tough it just sounds like any normal job. The difference is that between the hours of about 8:40am – 3:20pm, we are teaching and engaging with our students and pushing them to be the best that they can be. So all of these other things that pull at us need to happen outside of these hours.

Unless you want to spend your whole life living and breathing being a teacher 24/7 (which is not healthy and a sure way to teacher burnout), then I think it’s important to really come up with useful strategies for managing teaching tasks and making time for things you like to do outside of teaching (remember those things you love to do?).

I’m going to share a few tips that have worked for me—and I’m opening up a conversation because we can all use more ways to find work-life balance—ways that work for teachers.

Time management strategies for better work-life balance

These are my top 3 strategies for juggling my time so that I can fit in not only my teaching/school stuff but also stuff for myself.

1. Set a weekday work schedule

I find that when I allocate set times to certain tasks, then I am much more productive. This probably sounds very anal, but it works for me. I have a set time when I am at school and working at my job. I find that if I start to bring work home, then I never have away time. Instead, I try and have set hours at school, so that work doesn’t spill over too much into my personal time.

I normally try to arrive no later than 8am (generally more like 7:30am), and stay in the afternoon until about 5pm. Hey, don’t get me wrong, if these were the only hours I worked on teaching I’d be laughing. But by having this very structured and dedicated schedule, I find that I have to do less in the evenings and on weekends.

Then I actually allocate times for before and after school for particular jobs. For instance, I use the first 30 minutes after the school day finishes to ensure that I have everything set up and ready to go for the next day. I’m usually pretty tired straight after school, so I don’t want anything too hard to do when the kids leave for the day. Because I’m already set up the day before for the next day, when I arrive in the morning I have that time to do my ‘serious’ thinking. It’s usually quiet, I am most alert and I have at a minimum of 30 minutes of uninterrupted time. This is usually when I do my planning. It’s surprising how much you can get done in half an hour for 5 days a week when you’re alert and there are no interruptions.

2. Use to-do lists

Boring, I suppose, but having a to-do list really works for me. I’ve played around with the best way to create my lists. I’ve found that if I have too many things on the list, then it becomes overwhelming and I do none of it.

I usually put only my top 3 priorities on the list for each day. Having a short to-do list gives me a fair chance at success and helps me really focus in on what the most important things that need to be done in a day. As a teacher, if I don’t prioritize to do the most important things, then I’ll never have any down time.

3. Use the resources available to you

You don’t have to create your own worksheets or games for every lesson. By using resources that somebody else created, you can save time. You can use that time to take care of something else on your to-do list—or take a little extra down time.

In addition to choosing not to reinvent the wheel, use other teachers and resources to solve problems and find ideas. You can connect with teachers within your own school or district and tap into the teaching communities online, like the Top Notch Teaching Community.

Work-life balance requires time management skills and boundaries. Teaching is tough, but we can make time for ourselves. In fact, top notch teachers need work-life balance to keep doing an exceptional job. What will you do for better balance today?

We can all use more work-life balance tips. What are your best ways to manage time?

Finding work-life balance can be especially tricky for new teachers. You want to do your best by your students. You’re figuring out what it is really like to be in charge of a class. You don’t have experience or old lesson plans to fall back on. You can still THRIVE.

The Thrive New Teacher Support Program is open now with resources, tips and techniques, and a community to support you in being an exceptional teacher with work-life balance—even as you learn the ropes.

Tell me more.

Being a teacher offers some unique challenges when it comes to juggling time. Top notch teachers need work-life balance to keep doing an exceptional job.

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  1. Tiff

    Your post hit super close to home! I feel the burden of our monumental job as a teachers all the time. The job is never done, and like you said, there’s always more you could do. All of your tips are great! I try to do all of those things.

    On Thurs and Fri I set aside time to stay a little later after school to get caught up and get ready for next week. This allows me to not take too much home on the weekend. At school, I can get everything done in 1-2 hours, but at home it will inevitably take five!

    I also try to only grade the minimum amount of student work. At my school this is approx two grades per week. This doesn’t mean that I don’t check for understanding and provide feedback, but if I spent copious amounts of time grade and writing feedback on EVERYTHING my students do, I would be working forever. I mean middle school so I see 100+ students a day.

    When my students are doing independent work, I try to multitask and file papers, etc. This is generally frowned upon and you have to have eyes in the back of your head. It also depends on the age of your students.

    Long term planning! Pinterest! These save tons of week to week planning time.

    • Melinda

      Hey Tiff,

      Thanks so much for sharing your tips and stopping by. Hahaha I agree…Pinterest has been a life saver for me. I can’t recommend it strongly enough to teachers, it has saved me a heap of time. I agree it is so easy to get bogged down in the grading, assessing and leaving feedback on student work. I remember when I first started teaching I tried to at least write a comment on every single bit of student work. No wonder I worked for more than 12 hours a day for 7 days a week. I quickly learned that this was not possible, but it’s taken many years to find a balance and it is something that I need to continually work at.

      Thanks again for your great tips!

  2. Maggie

    Cutting down on grading definitely helps. I also have a schedule in which they turn in their notebooks so it’s only three students a day. I also do a lot of effort and completeness grades. I’ll look for specific things in the work (rubrics really help for this). Another grade saver is that i do a lot of grading in 1-1 conferences. while the students are completing independent work, i call them up to my desk, read their work and give them a grade. It also means they get immediate feedback. To-do lists are essential to me. Also having fully developed units. I remember last year (my first full year) I was planning and grading every night. I also make relaxation necessary. I always have a for fun book I’m reading. I schedule gym time. I find staying quite late one day a week really helps. I put on my headphones and go to work.

    • Melinda

      Hey Maggie,

      Thanks so much for sharing your ideas. I like the idea of the 1-1 conference and giving immediate feedback to students. I think sometimes I forget that feedback doesn’t always need to be formal…

      It sounds like you’ve found a pretty good balance and I’m glad to hear you have time for yourself, so very important!

  3. Andrea

    I do a lot of the same things, except I don’t come early or stay late. First thing for me is to make to do lists every day, including things I need to do at home. I then prioritize so if everything doesn’t get done, the most important still have and I don’t have to feel bad.
    When I lesson plan, which I try to do at least two weeks at a time (so far unit planning hasn’t been within my grasp, but that’s ideal), I plan EVERYTHING from do nows (at least the skill they will do) and homework and decide which assignments will be graded. One of their grades is always a weekly assessment so it makes it easy to decide which homework or classwork assignments to grade. I haven’t decided if it’s lazy or not but I try to grade as many multiple choice assignments so they can be done quickly or by students!
    I make my copies for the whole week on my planning on Fridays and organize them in day of the week/grade level folders. I sort the work and use a binder clip labeled with “do now”, “guided practice”, “independent practice”, and homework” in each folder. It takes me about an hour of planning to do this for three classes for the whole week so that leaves me with three planning periods during the week to use to plan or grade.
    On the homefront, I plan my meals and grocery shop for the week so I already know what I am cooking, what I need and how long it will take in the evening. I go to the next level and plan the easiest meals on the days I go to the gym.
    This is probably more detailed than most people would like, but it’s the only way I have been able to have time for my son and family. I still usually end up lesson planning on the weekends because I need to differentiate A LOT but this is the best I have come up with so far!

    • Melinda

      Hey Andrea,

      Well I’m glad I’m not the only one who relies heavily on To Do Lists. That’s a good idea with having a list for home and for work, I usually only do one for work. Thanks for sharing how you manage your household duties as well. For a very long time I have struggled with balancing all of the tasks that I need to do at home. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve really found something that works for me. I now get all of my groceries delivered straight to my door, the bread, milk, veggies and meat once a week. This is a set order so that it just comes and I don’t need to think about it. Then the remainder of the groceries I do a monster online shop once a month that also gets delivered. It took a little bit of time to make it all work, but now that it does it’s so awesome and it feels like I have so much more time!!!

      Thanks for sharing your great ideas!

      • Andrea

        Oh man I never thought of having groceries delivered! That would save me and hour and a half `of grocery shopping! Thanks! 🙂

  4. Tania Poultney

    Hey Mel,
    Here is my biggest thing that I need to be better at, “JUST SAY NO!” I am currently doing all the things on your list as well as organising the boys touch team to play 2 games and a gala day (not coaching though), organising the Stage 2 and 3 classes to be on Mathletics, organising a presentation on using DAily 5 and Cafe in my room, taking on a student teacher and finding 30 sets of headphones for the comp lab at a reasonable price. Did I JUST SAY NO! I did not, however I have made the promise to myself that I will….try really hard… say NO to the next organise this request. We have to know our limits and all this organising is now impinging on my quality planning time, which is now cutting into my family time. So my advice scale back on the less important things….JUST SAY NO!
    Mrs Poultney’s Ponderings

    • Melinda

      Hey Tania,

      You hit the nail on the head….that is soooo true. I’m not sure if this is a trait of teachers (or maybe Mum’s), but if I’m asked to take on something at work I so rarely say no. I’m surprised you have any time at all with all of those extra duties you’re taking on. I’ll send you my resolve next time someone asks….you can do it….SAY NO 🙂

  5. Norma Baker

    My most productive time is in the morning so I go in early each day (6:30 – 6:45) for an 8:10 start time. But, I run out the door the first second I can at 3:10. I am going to go in later on Fridays (7:30) so that it’s a shorter day.

    My goal this year is to work smarter rather than harder. Less chatting at work and pushing through lunch and prep time being extremely productive. I need to bring less home. I don’t mind some busy work while watching movies, but that needs to be the exception rather than the rule.

    Another thing that I find helpful is to make a big Sunday dinner. While it’s cooking I prep stuff for a crockpot meal for Monday nights (staff meeting day). This starts out my week with two good meals and lots of leftovers for lunch at work. Gets the week out to a good start from a food standpoint.

    Thanks to everyone for their helpful hints!

  6. Penny

    Thanks for your tips!
    I totally agree, planning ahead saves so much time. I like your idea to plan for the next day immediately after the previous day- because as soon as the kids leave is when I usually collapse into my chair and stare into space for 5-10 minutes! I always do it before I go home, you feel so good knowing the next day is sorted.

    I started planning specific marking and jobs for specific breaks in my day last year, and sort of saw it as non negotiable. That meant I forced myself to mark spelling books at the same time every week, meaning the kids knew not to pack books etc away but bring to my desk. I think it made me get through marking and grading more effectively.
    I’d also recommend thinking about tiny things which can save time. Eg my kids never close their exercise books, or any workbook. It goes open on the floor, meaning I never have to open up and find their page. That’s a good timesaver- and makes life easier.
    There is always so much to do in our job,I think part of winning the battle is knowing that your to do list will never be finished. Another part is prioritising things which are important but not urgent, like exercise and sleep. Actually I’m a better teacher when im doing these things, because I feel better. So it’s being kind to my whole class if I keep up with them!


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