This post is cross-posted on Mari, Meagan, & Aubrey’s blogs.
Mari is a middle school Science & AVID teacher and Blended Learning Specialist in San Diego, CA.
Meagan is a middle school Math, AVID, & Technology teacher and the Team Technology Leader in Hesperia, CA.
Aubrey has been a music teacher & Summer Learning principal, and is currently an Educational Technology Specialist in Boulder, CO.
Teach kids all day, then bring grading and lesson planning home at night. Does this sound familiar? If you asked a room full of teachers, I’m sure nearly every head would be nodding – this is the story of our lives! According to an NPR article, “Attrition is high, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen some 35 percent over the past five years — a decrease of nearly 240,000 teachers in all.” Budget cuts, paperwork, behavior challenges, and ever-increasing demands add extra stress to our already stressful jobs.
Work/life balance has always been struggle for all three of us. We have this tendency to work many hours past the required hours of our teaching days. It’s very common for us to get into work early, leave an hour after our days finish, and spend a large portion of our nights working on lesson planning, grading, blogging, or various side projects. If you’re thinking this sounds like some “Woe is me” story – it isn’t.
In the end, the underlying issue is that we love what we do. We love being teachers, working with students, developing lessons and, yes, even grading and reviewing their work. Education has never been just a “job” to us – it’s a major part of our identity. It’s our passion. And we spend a large portion of our days working on various projects because we enjoy it. However, we began to realize that it isn’t healthy for our work/life balance or the relationships with those around us to work the majority of the week.
Enter the idea of Work Rules. We each began to create boundaries for ourselves, unique to our specific situations, and write them down. We were amazed (and horrified) at how challenging it was for us to try to define some limits to our work! We also included reminders of what we could do instead of work [behavioral therapy concepts – you can’t just extinguish a behavior without developing a replacement behavior] and why we were doing this in the first place. Then we gave permission to hold each other accountable, which has been key to changing our habits.
Aubrey: I’ll be honest, there is no silver bullet to finding and maintaining balance. I still bring more work home than I would like and don’t always follow my “work rules”. That being said, I have noticed a definite difference in my mindset as we’ve gone through this journey. A night without work is becoming something to be celebrated, rather than a reason to feel guilty. I find myself asking, “Does this really need to be done at home, or could it wait until tomorrow?” more often. And I am slowly getting better at setting limits for myself, such as only bringing one project home (instead of everything that needs to be done) or setting a timer for how long I work (once it goes off, no more work for me)! The accountability and camaraderie has been huge – for picking me up when I am struggling, for spurring me on to do better, and sometimes just to have a place to share how hard this is! In this ongoing journey of living LIFE to the fullest, I am grateful for friends who are not afraid to ask the tough questions and provide gentle reminders when needed. It’s not always easy…but it is worth it!
Meagan: A couple of months ago, I really began to reflect on my work/life balance. Around this time, Aubrey and Mari shared their idea for “work rules” and…it was amazing! I quickly began to develop my own set of rules in hopes of developing some balance in my life. As Aubrey mentions above, I still struggle with maintaining balance and following these rules but I can tell that there has been a definite shift in my mindset. Although I have always been a good time manager, I’ve started to balance when I will do “work-work” (site/district) and when I will do my “side work” (blogging, presenting, etc). I’ve been able to use much of my time at school to finish my lesson planning, grading, and projects which has opened opportunities to work on my “side work” projects at home. Before, I was doing both and it was clear that this would not last forever. I have also tried to set aside one day of the week where I do not do any “work-work” and at least one night where I do not do any work related to education. I’ve definitely broken these rules several times but it has been helpful to have friends who check-in and encourage me to keep with these goals. I still have a long ways to go on truly creating a work/life balance but…you have to start somewhere, right?
Mari: It’s been a constant battle for me to find the right work/life balance because teaching is both my passion and my job. However, I began realizing that in order to be the best teacher for my students, I also need to take care of myself. Prior to creating the Work Rules with Aubrey and Meagan, I felt guilty if I didn’t work all weekend and most weeknights. That pace was neither sustainable nor healthy for me. Now, I give myself all of Sunday off from anything education-related, and use this time to recharge, relax, and pursue fun things (like napping!). As both Aubrey and Meagan said, there are times the rules have been bent or broken; while I’m routinely committed to my Sundays off, I haven’t always given myself a few work-free weeknights due to school commitments or interruptions/distractions during my prep period. I’m so grateful for our group. Not only do they keep me accountable to my work/life balance commitments, but also they encourage and push me to be a better person!
We are on a journey together – far from perfect, yet always growing. Frequently just before or after work, we check in with each other to see what the day looks like and what our work/no-work plans are for the day. This keeps us centered throughout the day and into the evening.
What steps are you taking to balance work and life?