5 Easy Ways to Achieve a Better Teacher Work-Life Balance

The COVID-19 pandemic blurred the boundaries between school and home life, and it feels like we haven't hit the reset button. At times it can feel impossible to prioritize self-care, but isn’t it time to take back our personal lives again?

teacher work life balance


People discuss personal boundaries in many aspects of life, from romantic relationships to friendships to work relationships. However, rarely do people apply these boundaries to the teaching profession. The increased demands on teachers have created a culture in which teacher burnout is almost the norm, not an exception. 

Why Teachers Often Don’t have a Good Work/Life Balance

Teachers are in a unique position because we have faced increased pressure over the last couple of school years to work longer hours. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the boundaries between school and home were blurred considerably for those forced to suddenly teach remotely. Our to-do lists grew as well. We had to not only create dynamic lesson plans but also modify them for online learning. These expectations took away more of teachers’ personal time and took a toll on our mental health. The pandemic created a “new normal” for teachers, one in which we still feel pressured to go above and beyond, to the detriment of our health and well-being.

Related article: 7 Biggest Challenges for Teachers in 2022 [According to Teachers]

It may seem obvious to others that blurred boundaries lead to stress and overworking, but teachers are people pleasers. We don’t like to say no. We love what we do, and we love our students, so we tend to go above and beyond to help them. We answer parent emails at all hours of the night, spend extra time preparing lessons and work outside our contract hours. Often, we feel forced to bring grading home with us because we don’t have enough prep time at school. It’s not a matter of poor time management; we don’t have enough time to manage during our contract hours.

When we permit ourselves to blur our personal boundaries, we sacrifice our ability to teach at our best. As work seeps further and further into our home lives, the guilt of not being able to keep up affects our mental health and our relationships with our loved ones. When we have a poor work-life balance, we aren’t fully ourselves in either aspect of our lives.

So, what can we do? There are no easy answers, but there are some small steps you can take to establish boundaries, whether you’re working from home or taking work home with you.

"Figure out some moments throughout the day when you can walk away from your technology."

How to Achieve a Work/Life Balance as a Teacher

1. Find Time to Disconnect from Tech

We are practically living online these days. So much of our job involves finding lessons online and grading in front of our computers. We also feel tied to our phones, constantly checking social media and chatting with friends and family. Not only does constant screentime affect our eyes and our sleep patterns, but it also drains our energy from us.

Creating some healthier habits is a great start. Figure out some moments throughout the day when you can walk away from your technology. Leave your phone behind when you walk the dog, for example. Clean with some music on, but mute notifications on your phone. Replace some of the time you’d be sitting on your phone with a physical activity that will increase your energy instead of draining it.

Maximize your time with our Time Management Workbook created purposely for busy teachers.

2. Engage in Self-Care

Self-care looks different to everyone. It may be exercising, reading a book, or watching reality TV. The hardest part about taking part in self-care for many of us is not finding an activity to do; it’s finding the time to do it. When you sit down each week to figure out your schedule, find little pockets of time when you can engage in an activity you enjoy or which relaxes you.

Anything that helps you recharge and feel better will make you a better teacher. If you don’t know what activities relax you, that’s a clear indicator that you’ve become too engrossed in your career and set your life off balance.

Our Self-Care Tips eBook can provide practical tips for changing your routine.

3. Give Yourself a Break

Yes, literally take breaks whenever you can. Instead of working through lunch every day, allow yourself the time to do deep breathing exercises or take a walk, even if it’s only one day a week. 

Also, give yourself some grace. You are not superhuman and cannot be expected to answer emails as soon as you receive them, function without lunch on a regular basis, or work 12-hour days.

One key to a better work-life balance is to set more realistic expectations for yourself. Realize that you can’t compare yourself to your fellow teachers. Only you know your own boundaries and what you are capable of. Try not to compare yourself to an overly enthusiastic new teacher, for example. If you’re overworking yourself because you see others overworking themselves, you’re setting yourself up for burnout. You’re also contributing to the larger problem plaguing teachers today.

"The hardest part about taking part in self-care for many of us is not finding an activity to do; it’s finding the time to do it."

4. Set Clear Boundaries and Say No

Decide on a daily schedule that you know you can follow—schedule times for planning lessons, grading, etc. Don’t forget to allow time for rest, relaxation, and family time in the evening. As part of your plan, set boundaries for when you will stop working or stop answering parent emails. For example, you can decide that you won’t answer parent emails after 6 pm or on weekends. You can also set a hard stop time for yourself if you have to bring work home with you.

No matter what boundaries you set, you must communicate them to your students’ parents and stick to them! If you start emailing a particular parent at 8 pm, other parents expect you to answer their emails at night too. Setting boundaries does not work without communicating them and following through with them.

5. Work Smarter, Not Harder

You may enjoy creating engaging new lessons for your students or love reading and responding to their essays, and that’s great! You should focus on those things. However, consider what things on your to-do list you can simplify by not creating something new or from scratch. What worked for you in the past? Keep that resource and reuse it every year. Only update something when it feels unengaging to you or the students or if you need to differentiate the levels.

If you’re new to the profession, use some of the websites online that allow you to purchase materials from more seasoned teachers. Or take advice from veteran teachers about classroom management, managing behaviors, or interacting with parents. They’ve been where you are; they can help ease some of the stress you feel when juggling so many responsibilities so you can get back to the teaching you love.

The Benefits of a Good Work-Life Balance

1. You won’t burn out as quickly

The number one benefit of maintaining a good work-life balance is the decreased likelihood of burnout. You likely enjoy teaching, or why would you have chosen it? However, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by duties and expectations without some sense of balance. One of the biggest reasons why teachers leave the profession is that they feel overwhelmed to the point where it harms their well-being. Teachers don’t usually leave because they dislike teaching; they leave because they don’t take the time to take care of themselves.

"One key to a better work-life balance is to set more realistic expectations for yourself."

2. Your relationships will improve.

Creating a better work-life balance also helps you improve your relationships with friends and family. You’ll have more time and energy to see your loved ones in person. Your family life can significantly improve when you’re not constantly bringing work home with you.

3. Your productivity can increase.

I know it feels counterintuitive, but sometimes when you work less, it actually helps your productivity. When we’re stress-free, we can work more efficiently. That means lesson plans can be done in a shorter period, but you won’t be sacrificing quality.

4. Your sleep patterns and general health will improve.

When we feel more relaxed, we worry less, sleep better, and feel better about ourselves. Our bodies feel healthier when we allow ourselves some downtime. And when our bodies feel healthier, we can maintain the energy required to keep up with the demands of daily teacher life.

If you think your teaching career is beginning to affect your health, it’s not too late to make changes that will help you achieve a work-life balance. We are naturally creatures of habit, and our people-pleasing tendencies can take over if we allow them to. Try making one or two small changes now, and soon you’ll create new, healthier habits that will decrease your likelihood of burnout. Together, we can create a new culture of healthy boundaries among educators.

If these insights and tips resonate with you, you’ll love our Self-Care for Teacher’s Hub. And sign up for our Self-Care Newsletter for more teacher self-care and well-being support, tips and advice.

About the author

Crystalee Calderwood


About Crystalee

Crystalee Calderwood (B.A., MFA, M.Ed.) has 20 years of teaching experience, having worked in a variety of settings, primarily as a high-school English and ESL teacher.… Read more

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