I think for a lot of teachers, the words ‘Zoom classroom’ might have you running in the other direction with your hands clasped over your ears – and I don’t blame you! After what was, in some cases, almost a year of distance learning, I for one am VERY ready to leave that behind in 2020.
However, I do think that this time did give a lot of non-teacher parents a window into just how freakin’ hard it can be, balancing work and family life. For teachers, you already feel like there’s not enough of you to go around at school sometimes – so when you throw parenting in on top of that, the juggle is real!
As I’ve begun to share more of my family life on Instagram, I’ve heard from a lot of you that juggling all this teaching and parenting has left you feeling like you’re failing at both. Well, I’ll stop you right there – you are NOT failing at anything, and in fact you’re an amazing teacher and parent (in case no one has told you that today).
Being a mum and a teacher is definitely a challenge, but here are a few tips that might help to restore a little balance between the two!
Leave work at work
Oh gosh, I KNOW this is definitely a case of ‘easier said than done,’ but I promise that setting boundaries between work and home life (and sticking to them!) is key.
If you’re the type of person who gets stuck in a thought loop trying to remember all the things you need to do/check over/follow up on, then getting this all out on paper before you head off for the day might help!
I made a template for this (called Brain Dump, because… well, that’s exactly what it is!) as I find that getting these persistent thoughts out of my head means I don’t feel that I need to carry them around with me any more.
Say no to overtime
I remember starting out as a new grad and thinking that hours and hours of overtime was just part of the deal that you signed up for when becoming a teacher. And while you definitely don’t finish up when the bell rings, and school holidays aren’t just a free pass to hang out at home for two weeks, I also learned that stepping up my organisation made it SO much easier to make excessive overtime a thing of the past.
Your roles as a parent and partner are just as important as your work shaping young minds as a teacher – those are three cups that need to be equally poured into. Plus, you can’t pour from an empty cup! Keeping your nights and weekends (mostly) for you and your family will help to prevent burnout in the long run.
Learn to prioritize
That organisation I talked about earlier? It’s one piece of the puzzle (a pretty big one, too!) but once you know WHAT you need to do, it’s just as important to have a plan of HOW you’ll tackle that list.
Teachers’ to-do lists have a nasty habit of multiplying at the rate of gremlins – have you ever crossed two tasks off, only to realise that you’ve added another five in that time?! It is so easy to let your list overwhelm you, and so hard to know where to start. A little tip I stumbled across lately is the idea of ‘important vs. urgent tasks’.
Okay Chantelle, but EVERYTHING on my list is important – that’s why it’s on my list! Hear me out, friend! You might also know this strategy by the name of the ‘Eisenhower Matrix,’ and it’s all about helping you to put aside the ‘busy-ness’ of teacher life and hone in on what deserves your attention.
Draw four squares on a piece of paper. Along the top two squares, write ‘urgent’ and ‘non-urgent.’ Along the two squares with left edges, write ‘important’ and ‘non-important.’ You’ve got your matrix!
Now begin to categorize your tasks by importance (things that align with your/your students’ goals, growth and wellbeing) and urgency (things requiring immediate attention). Report deadline coming up? Important AND urgent. Email inbox filling up with volunteer requests and bulletins? Urgent, sure, but not so important. Long-term goal setting? Definitely important, but not so urgent. Filing old assessments to free up some space? That one might belong in the non-urgent, non-important sector.
This system isn’t about trying to squeeze more into your day, but rather how to make sure you’re making the biggest impact with your time in the classroom every day. That way, you can leave for the day (on time!) knowing that you’ve ticked off those things that really needed your attention.
Phew! This is really just the tip of the iceberg, and the struggle to achieve work life balance for teachers isn’t one that’s going away any time soon. Your students and your kids, though? They think you’re a literal superhero – and so do I, friend!
Whether you’re a new teacher parent or have been at this juggling act for a few years now, I’d love to hear more about your experiences in the comments!