On Work/Life Balance

When I started teaching five years ago, I quickly became known at my school for being at work late. I was usually one of the first teachers to arrive, and I was nearly always the last teacher to leave. I would be in the building for ten to twelve hours a day. I brought work home with me many nights, and every weekend I would spend hours marking, planning, finding ways to keep working long after I should have been finished for the week. I had the sense that if I didn’t spend that much time doing work, I would fall behind, my students would suffer, and my colleagues wouldn’t see me as a dedicated teacher.

(The funny thing about that, as an aside, is that I never thought any less of my colleagues who didn’t spend ten hours a day at work. I could see that they were all good teachers no matter how much time they spent at work. So why did I feel like I was any different?)

Two months ago, I went back to work after being on parental leave for a little over a year. One of the concessions I had to make, now that I have a child at home, was how much time I spend at work. I pick my daughter up from day care at 4 PM, which leaves us just enough time to get home, play a little, have dinner, take a bath, and go to bed. On days when I have to be at work later than usual (such as staff meeting nights or union meetings), I don’t see my daughter at all. She is just getting up as I leave the house in the morning, and she’s in bed by the time I get home on those nights. Because of this, I make it a point to leave as early as possible every day that I don’t have something after work.

Before, my hours were generally 7:30-5:30 or later. Now, I get to work between 7 and 7:30, but I leave by 3:30 every day. I am spending considerably less time at work. And here’s the thing: my students are fine, I’m fine, and my classroom is running pretty much the same way it always has. The only appreciable difference between my last year at work and this year is that I’m spending a lot less time “at work” and a lot more time with my family. I still bring work home sometimes, but I don’t feel guilty when it doesn’t get done. I still spend some time after work prepping for the next day, but more of my prep and marking is done during school hours (such as at lunch and recess). I’ve changed some of my assessment practices to make assessment easier and quicker (more on that in another post).

My professional life has not suffered in any way from me leaving at a reasonable time and leaving work at work. My personal life, however, has benefited tremendously from this new schedule: not only do I have more time to spend with my daughter, but I have more time for my husband and friends as well.

I am still behind on marking, just like I was when I would be at work late every night. There is still more I could do to prepare for lessons or plan ahead of time, just like before. There are many days when I am running around all day to get things done before leaving, and there are days when I bring a stack of work home because I have no choice but to get it done that night. But that’s my point: it was like that before, and it’s exactly the same now, only I’m spending a lot less time at work and a lot more time with family and friends.

And my students are okay.

If you’re a teacher doing what I was doing – spending over ten hours a day at work because you think you need to in order to be a good teacher – try taking a step back for a few weeks. Try leaving earlier, leaving work at home, changing some of your assessment methods so that you’re spending less time marking. You might be surprised at how little it changes your professional life… and how much it changes your personal life.

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Updated: February 28, 2016 — 8:10 pm

The Author

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird

Grade 4 Middle French Immersion teacher from Ottawa. Passionate about teaching (naturally!), board games, video games, music, and roller derby. Instilling a sense of wonder, curiosity, and critical thought in students since 2011 (or 2008 if we want to include Teacher's College).

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