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Teacher Work-Life Balance: 5 Helpful Tips for a Smoother Daily Transition from the Classroom to Home Life

Finding work-life balance as a teacher, hand holding hour glass

Teacher work-life balance is a tricky thing to achieve. And, certainly some (like us at humanworks) would argue that achieving true work-life balance in teaching is an impossible pursuit. But hold on, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! It simply is the reality of the job and it certainly doesn’t mean that teachers can’t find some balance. Part of the struggle many teachers have with the idea of work-life balance is the belief that it is an all-or-nothing equation – you either have balance in everything or you don’t have any balance at all – and this is simply not true. 

The inescapable reality of teaching is that there are absolutely times throughout the school year when the job requires nearly all of your attention and focus, resulting in you having little, if any, energy to divert to other aspects of your life. The upside to this is that these times tend to all have loose beginning and end dates and occur with relative predictability – i.e. report cards, the holidays, spring break, etc. More importantly though, there are also periods in between where you have the space to create better structure and clearer boundaries; which will ultimately help you establish some form of balance in whatever way that looks like for you. This is the natural ebb and flow of life as a teacher.

Teachers wear many hats

Part of achieving more work-life balance as a teacher is finding time where you can stop being “the teacher” and be present in whatever moment or role you find yourself in – whether it be as a parent, spouse, care giver for an aging parent, friend, or even more simply just being home. Teachers wear so many hats and it can take a real concerted effort to only wear one at a time.

Teachers wear so many hats and it can take a real concerted effort to only wear one at a time.

We also know that creating rigid boundaries between your work life and your home life might not always be realistic; nor is it realistic for you to instantly clock out when the bell rings at 3:30 p.m. every day. As we discuss in Chapter 1: Teacher Wellness in The Well Teacher on balance, there may be times where it is necessary for you to stay later a couple days a week to stay on top of the workload; but, in doing so, you can schedule yourself to leave “early” or “on time” the other nights of the week. Similarly, if you can’t stay late because you’ve got to chauffeur the kids to their various activities most nights of the week, it may mean that you have to work at home for a couple hours after the kids get to bed. Again, working from home for those few hours is not necessarily a bad thing as it enables you to be present and participate in your family’s life. The skill to master here is to create boundaries between these things – your work life and your home life – so that you’re fully present and able to focus on each of the task at hand in the moment.

The key is to be intentional with your attention.

humanworks Founder & President Jack MacNeill recently shared his 5 tips on transitioning from work to home in his latest column for the British Columbia Principal and Vice Principal Association (BCPVPA) eNews. Although the column was originally written with administrators in mind, these 5 tips really are universal suggestions on how one can more successfully transition out of the classroom and into home life; and, in turn, create a little more balance in their day-to-day life.

Note that the following tips have been adapted slightly for our teacher audience. A link to the original post can be found here.

Woman writing a to-do list

Create a list

Create a priority “To Do” list before you leave work for the day – whether you’re leaving at 4:00 p.m. or at 8:30 p.m. – that you can quickly reference the following morning. This will create a roadmap you can follow the next morning that will ultimately help you feel more prepared and better equipped to take on the day. More importantly, it will help you let go of some of the worry and anxiety you may carry home with you about remembering important responsibilities you may have the next day. In the instances where you plan on working from home in the evening, make sure to include on your “To Do” list the specific tasks you will work on and decide on how much time you will spend doing it. By writing it all down and sticking to your plan, you can unburden yourself from some of the mental load that can prevent you from being present at home or in the company of your loved ones.

Say goodnight to your workspace

Say “Goodnight” to your classroom

Say “Goodnight” to your physical workspace and acknowledge the ending of your workday as you leave the building. Some find it helpful to use a mantra or reflect on a picture or image at work that sends the signal that the workday is shifting. Regardless of whether or not you plan on picking work up again later in the evening, it can be very helpful to acknowledge in that moment you are turning your “work brain” off until you pick things up again at the specific time you have set aside to work. The key is to be intentional with your attention.

Woman thinking on her commute

Transition during your commute

Take advantage of your commute, short or long, to help you prepare for re-entry into your personal time and space. Short commuters might wish to make a pit stop and get in a short-brisk walk or a slower walk focused on their breath. Maybe you enjoy a cup of tea or a stop at the local library. Those with longer commutes might wish to listen to their “transition soundtrack” of music that helps them reset, or a favourite Tedtalk, podcast, or audiobook. Not only is this transition phase important in delineating the boundaries between work and home, it is also an opportunity for you to engage in things that are beneficial to you, either mentally or physically. Whatever it may be, let it replenish and refocus you.

Women at an exercise class

Exercise

Taking the idea of “transition” one step further, if you have more time and flexibility between work and home, fit in some exercise, yoga or mindfulness classes. Depending on your needs, identify options that can help you “shift”, whether it be relaxing and settling or rigorous and exhilarating. If you can, make it your “you” time.

Slipping into the home life, grey slippers on white mat

Your home is your sacred space

As you approach your home and prepare to enter, remind yourself this is your sacred space. Some find a few deep mindful breaths helpful with the final shift in the transition. As you 
enter, mentally acknowledge your entry into the space – you are home now. Acknowledge your loved ones with intention, either with eye contact and/or physical touch. Connect. If possible and appropriate, check in with your partner and share a “temperature” reading. Identify who might need a bit more space/support as you rally to attend to each others’ needs. Be in this moment of re-entry. If tonight is a night where you are picking work back up again, allow yourself these hours in between to immerse yourself in your space with your loved ones. Work will be there when you cycle back to it.

 Be in this moment of re-entry.

Teaching is such a mentally and physically demanding profession that transitioning from the classroom to home life can feel downright impossible. We have heard many teachers struggle with feeling like they are present at home in body only. No matter the job or the workload, the inability to coalesce both body and mind into the present can leave anyone with an unhealthy sense of imbalance. How do you create better work-life balance as a teacher? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below for transitioning out of being “the teacher” and into the other roles and responsibilities you assume in your daily life.

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