Sunday, September 18, 2016

On Finding A Work/Home Balance.

I had an incredibly difficult school year last year, which is part of the reason why I disappeared from the internet, blogging, and reading. There were many factors-among them: a tense relationship with a co-worked turned toxic, too much grading, and too much pressure put on myself. I was also horrible at managing my time and giving myself the space and time needed to focus on myself.

By the time school ended in June, I was ready to leave. I was exhausted in a way that I haven't been in years, and I was done trying to keep it all together. I walked out of there on the last day of school ready to get back to myself and make a better plan for a healthier lifestyle overall.

The truth is, I'm a workaholic. I love working, and I love being busy. And with teaching, there is always something you can be doing-grading, lesson planning, writing emails, volunteering for committees, hosting clubs, and the list goes on and on. My problem is that I solely focus on these things September-June. And I use the rest of June, July, and August to recuperate and rest up before running another marathon.

And last year, it caught up to me. Perhaps it was the stress of teaching two hours of an AP class and the immense amount of grading that came with it, or perhaps the tense working environment, but I felt overwhelmed for a majority of the year. In October (nearly a year ago), my grandmother passed away and I was out for a week. And I felt that I was playing catch-up after that all year. For months. It also put me into an incredibly bad place, that was only amplified by conflicts at work. For months I felt I was skating around tension, barely keeping my head on straight...and I lost all sense of myself.

I'm trying really hard to fix that this year. I'm no longer teaching AP history, and while I miss it, I'm grateful for the change and the reduced workload. I didn't start out my year with 70+ essays on the first day. I'm not spending hours preparing lecture notes and finding historical documents, and putting it all together to fit into a week's span of classes. I feel a lot lighter letting go of that course, and the tension it brought with my co-worker. I feel free. And much more like myself.

I'm also working to be better about creating a division between work and home, especially with grading and lesson planning. I brought work home with me every night last year. And grading every weekend. By March, I was tallying up the hours I was working at home (which I am in no way compensated for), and it was reaching ridiculous numbers. It was not uncommon for me to spend 12+ hours every weekend grading and planning. So, this summer I decided I needed to figure out how to grade smarter.

It starts with making the determination that I don't need to collect every thing I assign. I've known for a few years that I needed to stop doing this, but I think it finally sank in. And after talking with colleagues in both my departments, I realized they were collecting and grading far less than I was. I also decided I needed to utilize the kids more-let them grade short multiple choice quizzes in class, so I would just have to scan and enter them. And, by being more selective of the assignments I collect, it puts more pressure on the kids to make sure they are keeping up.

I also made the decision to set aside my weekends for myself. For the most part, I'm going to try to NOT grade on the weekends (Unless I have essays). If I bring home something, I can set a time limit. Otherwise, it can wait. This hopefully allows me to be an actual adult-to clean and do laundry and not feel like those chores are taking away my work time (that's an unhealthy thought, you know?).

I'm also setting aside more time for myself on weeknights-leaving school at a reasonable time (4 instead of 5 or 5:30), and leaving work there if I know I won't get to it. Allowing myself to go to the gym afterwards to decompress and feel better. And letting myself read a little. Because I went 4 or 5 months without reading last year....and it was horrible.

Truthfully, I'm only 2 weeks into the year and while I've failed at some of these things, I'm making strides and feeling better about the balance I'm making between my work and my home. I can still be a great teacher without killing myself and pushing my body to the brink of exhaustion. And I can still have me time and be a human without it hurting the quality of my work. I still have a ways to go to get it down, but my routine is better and I'm feeling better about the changes I'm making.

How do you make a balance between work and home? Can you give me any other tips?


  1. Oh Allie you've brought back heaps of memories about my teaching years - and why I eventually had to leave.

    For people (like us) with a strong work ethic, teaching can become this all-consuming thing. I spent 18 yrs trying to find a work-life balance that was healthy and satisfying.

    After about 10 yrs I was able to cut back to a 4 day week, which cut into my ability to travel, but gave me back my life. I made sure that day off was completely free of work. I joined a choir, got a massage, caught up with friends for morning tea, had an afternoon sleep, read, wrote letters, gardened, went for long walks. All the things I love. If you can make one of the days on your w/e completely work free - & do the stuff you love - then that will refresh you each week.

    Learning to let go and not take it so seriously is probably an impossible ask if you're like me, but it's worth trying for :-)

    The planning and prep stuff does get easier and less as years go by. Look for time-saving methods. Focus on the important stuff - your relationship with the kids in your classes - let everything else fall around that.

    I'm not a great example of how to make it work, since I had to actually leave teaching to finally get the balance right, but some do manage it. Only take on jobs and extras that DONT require onerous paperwork, taking care of your health (go to the gym, get a good nights sleep, eat well), stay in touch with your non-teaching friends (they wont understand, but you can talk about stuff that has nothing to do with school with them!). Think about what parts of teaching really work for you - where your passion lies - & do more of that. And laugh. Have fun. Find the joy.

    In the end I had to give myself a time limit - I wanted my 15yr long service entitlement, so I worked towards that & had the best month long holiday with my new partner (now husband). It still took me three yrs to find something else and to make that work, but there is life after teaching. And that is good to know during the challenging years.

    I'm glad I threw myself into teaching 120% - it was my passion. I loved it and hated it. I embraced it and resented it. And I'm very proud of what I did. I made a difference in a lot of young people's lives, I inspired some, & annoyed others! I supported a lot of families during trying times & I have lifelong connections that were forged during that time.

    Take heart, give it all you've got, but also know when its time to get out. Quality of work is important, but quality of life is more important. It took me a while to work that out. Being a great teacher was important to me too for a long time and I had (impossibly) high expectations of myself. I tried being a good teacher with better life balance, but I always felt the frustration of the stuff I wasn't doing that would make me great again. In the end I just didn't have the energy for it anymore.

    I'm beginning to realise that this may not be helping you at all - to press publish or not?

    Okay I will publish, because on reflection, if someone had told me that it was possible to have a life after teaching, it would have helped me a lot. Love what you're doing now, give it everything you've got, be the best you can be (as my hubby likes to say) but it doesn't have to be for always.

    Good luck and be kind to yourself.

  2. Thanks for opening up and sharing this. I have to say that I've learned self-care is crazy important after having a kid, helping take care of my mother-in-law who had lung cancer, juggling my graduate studies, a job and our home life. Thankfully, my graduate program focuses on self-care because burn out is huge in the Student Affairs world (higher education). Two of my teachers were conducting a study using mindfulness and yoga, and seeing how wonderful that made me feel in the classes we practiced it in made me want to keep it going. I'm lucky enough that I can attend a yoga class during my lunch one day a week (the college gym is right beside my building), and I'm working out with a coworker. I review books for a couple newspapers, so while that can be stressful in and of itself, it means I have to make time for reading. I've learned that I have to ignore my work email when I'm out and about with my family, so that I can really enjoy the time I have my son. I'm learning to step away from technology, though that can be hard. There are times I've realized I've spent an hour scrolling on facebook and that upsets me. I try not to bring my work home, and since I'm an advisor and not a teacher, that is a bit easier for me to do - though my current job wants to me thinking of projects and extra things to bring to the table. There is always stress, but we have to figure out what means the most to us, step back, and take steps to get there.

  3. Ufff, working on your priorities is very difficult, and good for you that you're starting to figure out how to get closer to the balance. I guess it's very easy to get addicted to something (in your case work) that gives you so much energy and inspires you. But if you pay more attention to other things, they will become rewarding too. That's what I repeat to myself when I'm in doubt if I should limit my attention towards something that's taking most of my time. I don't know the above advise is of any use, but I just hope you don't stress yourself and feel happy both at work and out of it!

  4. Work/life balance is difficult for all of us. I know I work insanely long hours at the detriment of my health. I still make time to read and take care of the household, but I do not go to the gym or work out in any way. I do not bring work home with me, if I can help it though, and that helps. I think you ultimately need to decide the few things that are must-haves for you at home and at work. Be uncompromising about them but find ways to compromise on everything else. Once you do that, you are halfway there to finding that ever elusive work-life balance. Good luck!

  5. Work/life balance is such a mean term. I have a degree in Work Psychology and the term basically implies that there is such a thing as a perfect balance and that we should all strive to achieve it. That being said, I prefer to think of it as a puzzle and the big picture should be my overall well being. I am super early in my career still and there is not much stress yet so I can't offer very much advice other than: don't talk about work in your free time/do so sparingly, address any problems early such as tension between you and your colleague and try to solve them before they turn into even bigger problems. Try to schedule your free time as well. For example, on Friday I knew that I was going to go to work, go to the gym until 19.00 and then arrive to a concert no later than 21.00 and be home by 00.00. Of course, your priorities are different than mine just if I hadn't made the schedule beforehand, I wouldn't have gone to the gym at all. Plus, I guess that we should all come to terms with the fact that some things will have to go...which ultimately forces us to prioritize and realize what is really important in our lives.

  6. Good for you for trying to find that balance. I taught elementary school for ten years and was frustrated by the amount of time I spent on schoolwork at home. I can only imagine how much more it would be with high school, especially AP classes. I'm a stay-at-home mom now, and while it was tough to have the school year start without me and I desperately miss my students, I haven't for one second missed grading papers! I hope that you can continue to find a balance that works for you and allows you to take care of yourself. You will only be a better teacher for it.