By Andrew Hawk
The concept of an eight-hour workday was designed long ago to help employees find an appropriate balance between work and family. The idea was simple: eight hours to work, eight hours to be with loved ones, and eight hours to sleep. Though the idea is basic, it is very effective to help adults live lives that are both happy and productive. The problem is that some professions do not always give their workers the opportunity to capitalize on the eight-hour system.
Teaching is one such profession. It is possible, at times, for a teacher to fit life into the eight-hour system. Theoretically, a teacher can capitalize on planning times to complete a large portion of his or her grading and resource preparation. The teacher can then use a portion of the weekend to complete weekly lesson plans. This may take two to four hours on Saturday and Sunday, depending on the teacher and teaching position. All of this is possible, and a system like this probably works for many teachers.
Pieces That Do Not Fit
However, there are parts of teaching that have not been factored into this equation. These factors include things like being a member of a school committee, being a sponsor for an extracurricular activity, offering tutoring services for struggling students, attending professional workshops (often a yearly requirement), being placed in charge of an optional project, grant writing, and of course, continuing education (a legal requirement in some states). These are the professional factors. Personal factors can be anything from an extended illness to the death of a loved one. Personal factors are unavoidable and often place teachers in impossible situations where they are expected to complete highly scrutinized tasks while in the midst of stressful situations.
The Danger of Burnout
In the middle of all of this, teachers must be able to find the appropriate balance between work and life, or they will fall victim to the dreadful teacher burnout. Once teachers reach that point, they either leave the field or struggle to continue teaching (often with a less than desirable attitude). I teach in the state of Indiana. We currently have a shortage of teachers that have more than ten years of teaching experience, and teacher burnout is widely accepted as the cause of this situation. Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts that can help teachers stay fresh and continue working toward perfecting their craft:
Do Realize There Are Times You Will Be Out of Balance
Teachers must recognize that there are going to be phases of the school year when their lives are out of balance. The reasons and times for this will vary from teaching position to teaching position, but it will happen at some point. This is okay, and these periods can be overcome with little or no struggles if you have the right plan, which brings us to my next “Do.”
Do Plan Long Term
How far in the future you need to plan will depend on your individual position. Being a special education teacher, I start off the year writing the necessary dates for my IEP meetings on a calendar. This way, I can identify what times of the year I will have the most extra work to complete (drafting the IEPs). I have had periods where I had to host ten IEP meetings over a series of three days. Each IEP can take up to four hours to prepare, depending on the student’s needs. IEPs are highly scrutinized legal documents. Completing them correctly is crucial to my position. When I have IEP meetings in clusters, I make and follow a strict schedule to space out the period over which I draft them. This helps me prevent being overwhelmed and overworked.
Similarly, I can remember being an elementary classroom teacher preparing for parent-teacher conferences. This presented the same kind of challenge as I tried to finish report cards, collect work samples, schedule the conferences, and still complete all of my typical tasks. No matter what teaching position you hold, there will be a time when you are overworked (hopefully for only a short period of time). Planning and prioritizing is the best way to handle these periods.
Do Include Your Family in the Planning
One family member being overworked can really upset the balance of a happy home. If you have family at home, talk to them about the periods when your work will put your life out of balance. Often, teachers can lean on their family for support if the family understands the reason for and duration of the extra work. Merely entering into these periods and assuming that family members will know what is going on will often lead to friction in the household.
Do Plan Brain Breaks for Yourself
These short periods that teachers often offer to their students are important for adults, too. It’s hard to stay engaged in professional tasks for long periods of time. Plan something mindless for yourself to do when your mind is numb from work-related tasks. I have heard teachers say they enjoy doing something that takes little or no concentration, such as washing the dishes. Adult coloring is something that is becoming very trendy right now. You can find coloring books geared toward adults, and coloring is said to be very effective for helping people decompress.
Do Choose the Right Continuing Education Program
Many teachers pursue a master’s degree at some point in their career. It’s important to find one that is going to be the right fit for you. Traditional and online programs both have advantages and disadvantages. Some online programs are self-paced with no hard deadlines for work completion, and some traditional programs offer classes only on the weekends to accommodate teachers’ work schedules. Working on master’s level classes is a major commitment that should not be entered into lightly. When the time comes, this is another situation where planning with your family will be vital to a smoothly running household.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
It’s important to know your limits. If you’re feeling stretched thin and your principal asks you to take on an extra duty, just say no. Even if he or she is disappointed, it is still better than having your work performance drop across the board.
Don’t Keep Working Once You Reach “That Point”
That point is different for everyone, but most teachers will know what I am talking about: It’s the point when your focus is diminishing. When you reach this point, call it a night and start fresh the next day.
Don’t Always Put Your Family Second
There are always going to be tough choices for teachers. Do I go to my sister’s birthday party, or do I go to my school’s family night? Prioritize and let your family win at least half the time.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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You have offered some good advice here, Andrew. Finding the balance between the imposition of others’ (including system) expectations and my own expectations of what I thought was best for and wanted to offer my students was the part I always found difficult.
Thank you for your comment Norah! How much is too much? This is one of those questions that each of us will have to look inside of ourselves to find the answer. I it can feel impossible sometimes to try and find the right balance. Thanks for reading my entry!