How To...Work Life Balance (A Story)

In my own personal effort to #ExpandMTBoS, I'm continuing a category of blog posts called 'How To' so I can share the strategies behind the resource. I hope new and veteran teachers alike can find something useful. Click on the tag to the right for more posts!

For years 1-7 of my teaching career, I had no work life balance.

I was fresh off the university stage and they handed me a textbook series. That's it.

I had spent the previous 6-8 months reading blogs from Dan Meyer, Sam Shah, and Kate Nowak. Sam's was the first edublogger I ever read and I was hooked. I read all their posts and comments and anything they linked to and eventually to Twitter.

During my first year of teaching, I got on Twitter, and asked everyone to share whatever they had for what I needed the next day. I did that every night of my first year.

In years 2-5, my school won a huge school improvement grant and with it came a math coach. In year 2 I was able to see how horrible I was in year 1 and actually have a mentor type teacher to help me fix it. Then it became almost a rush of 'how much can I actually suck out of this person while I have them'?

Year 6 was my slump. My most depressing year. My worst classroom management. My first year teaching trig. The year where I went to school every day thinking my job is pointless and what's they use in trying.

Year 7 was a little better but about halfway through, a basketball player was suspended and received 0's. When he came back, he was able to improve his grade in every class but one other and mine. This was two weeks before Christmas break. I had a parent/principal/superintendent meeting where the mom didn't understand why I couldn't fit in another unit test before exams and the end of the semester. The superintendent really made me feel bad by comparing how many points I had in the gradebook compared to another teacher and that I was not giving enough points for students to pull up their grade. I almost had a break down in the meeting and asked them what they wanted me to do. They wanted me to give another test right away. So I did. In the middle of a unit. I talked to the superintendent later and with the help of a colleague explained that I felt attacked and stuck and overwhelmed. All this to say, I ended up asking them to buy me curriculum because I couldn't keep doing what I was doing night after night. 

I promise I'm getting to the point.

After receiving my curriculum, I was determined to make my life easier. I committed to working every Saturday in year 8 but not working any nights. So every Saturday I spent time basically just reformatting and relabeling my curriculum to fit into interactive notebooks and taking apart multi skill quizzes into single skill quizzes. I would make two lessons, two practice activities, and two quizzes for all four preps. 

That led to my year 9- it was a breeze! By already having my materials created and organized and ready to copy, my brain cells were freed up to think about cool introductory activities or how to improve sucky lessons. It was the first year I was not in survival mode.

This summer I have worked more than all other previous summers combined- but I've enjoyed it. I think all my previous summers were spent recovering. But this year I spent revising and improving and that carried over into my free time- I actually had ideas and the energy to do them.

From here on out, I am working on incrementally improving- by creating systems I can organize and implement change quicker and more efficiently.

So here are my tips (I promised after all):
  • Get you a curriculum, in some way, shape, or form! Teaching and curriculum writing are two different professions.
  • Commit to one time a week that you can work uninterrupted for a few hours. You can achieve more when you are in a state of 'flow' than spreading it out at random times.
  • I do not bring grading home. Grading does not bring me joy. Grading brings me procrastinating. If there are things on my list to do, I keep grading at school and whatever else is on the list goes home with me. I would much rather spend time at home creating or planning (if I have to). Also, I owe my body more than 32 years before I start having back and shoulder pain. 
  • Prioritize- My plan period is the last period of the day. My first priority is grading all the things. Second, copies and an e-mailed list to myself of what I'm doing in each period for the next day. If it takes me all period to grade, I don't mind staying after school to make some copies. But the other way around makes me want to put it off.
  • Use up every minute of your contracted time as efficiently as possible. If students are working on a study guide or taking a test, I am either grading or planning or printing things to be copied. If a class is gone on a field trip or testing or whatever, I am either grading or planning or printing things to be copied. On in-service days, I do not wander around chatting with people and such, I go straight to my room and I am either grading or planning or printing things to be copied. Do you see a common theme yet?
  • Excel To Do List- I keep a spreadsheet with five different tabs- Alg I, Geo, Alg 2, Trig, and General. For the first four, I list all the units and skills in each unit. As we go through the curriculum, if something needs to be fixed or changed, I do it immediately or add it to the list. The general tab can be anything- ideas I want to try, things to change overall, resources, supplies etc. This makes a different because anytime I have free time, I already have a built in to-do list. It also helps me focus over breaks because there are tangible things to accomplish instead of an overwhelming sense of obligation and then guilt.
  • Pick your day off. Mine is Sunday and I try not to think about school at all and I definitely don't do anything school related. 
  • Prepare before bed. Every night I pack my lunch, fill up my water bottles, and lay out my outfit. I set out as much stuff as possible: jewelry, shoes, teacher bag, etc so I don't have to think in the mornings.
  • Structure- In addition to teaching four preps, I am the cheerleading coach, Student Council sponsor, Prom sponsor, and recently EEA Union president. Structure is the only way I can do all this and still live. For each of those jobs, I created a handbook/binder. I have forms. I have lists. I have structure. It doesn't matter if you start out crappy. As soon as you create a structure, it becomes that much easier to improve it. Structure gives you a focus for finding solutions. It holds everything together and makes everything stronger. There's nothing a list can't fix!
  • Focus on one big change per year. There's something out there about you can only change 10% a year of your teaching....I don't know how it goes. But take it from someone who tried redoing everything every year. Someone who every time she heard a good idea, thought that meant it must be implemented 100% in every prep right away. While I may try cute little Pinterest ideas, management tweaks, teacher hacks; I'm only going to choose one big thing that affects my teaching. This year is whiteboarding. If you change everything every year, you have no structure. You can't get good at anything that way. By changing one thing and keeping everything the same, you can see what works and what doesn't. You can slowly make changes that build.
  • Say no. You have to know the things that light your fire. While one extra job could be the straw that broke the camel's back, if it's your fire then you want to do it and you know it will motivate you. If not, say no. Time is not your most valuable resource, it's energy. You have to know yourself well enough to be self-sustaining. Trust me, I am the worst about thinking "If I don't do it, who will?" But I usually say that when it's something I want to do. The world is not on your shoulders.
  • Take naps and baths. I've never met a problem yet that those two didn't solve.
Disclaimer: I don't have friends, I don't go out, and my mom still cooks family dinner for us every night. I have no significant other and no children and no pets. I have a lot of free time. Take this whole post with a grain of salt. 


  1. THANK YOU! I am entering my 7th year teaching and I needed to read this. I always appreciate your honesty, I feel other blogs only post about the good. Teacher burn out is real and no one talks about it until it is too late. I switched schools in hopes of avoiding teacher burn out. This is the first year I will be teaching the same curriculum as the year before and that has me excited to really take a giant step towards a work/life balance. I cannot thank you enough for this post!

    1. I have no problem blogging about failures except that I’ve had so many, I can’t remember them all! Lol Let me know if there is anything you specifically want me to blog about- bad stuff and all!

  2. Would you ever consider sharing your cheer stuff?